DESPITE controversy over his track record on human rights, the late Hok Lundy will be mourned by students in his native Svay Rieng province, who say they worry his death will spell the end for many ambitious educational projects in their area.
"We saw him as our second father because of all the help he gave to us students in Svay Rieng," 24-year-old Penh Sethea, a fourth-year marketing student in the Royal University of Svay Rieng, said of the former National Police chief, who was killed November 9 in a helicopter crash while flying to his home province in bad weather.
"Svay Rieng never had a university before. He understood the difficulty facing students here, so he built the university in 2005," she said.
Another fourth-year student there, Bun Tola, expected the loss of its main patron would "create major problems for the future of the university".
Hok Lundy was the driving force behind starting the Royal University of Svay Rieng, using personal finances to foot the US$2 million bill for its construction and provide free tuition and learning materials for the nearly 800 students composing its first cohort, according to its vice dean, Loek Virak.
He said Hok Lundy's death could drain the school's finances and postpone plans for its expansion.
The concern was shared by Hab Channara, dean of the university's faculty of business, who praised Hok Lundy's vision to allow the province's youth to pursue higher education while remaining close to home.
"He was just about to sign on for his plan to have more classrooms built, but now, with his death, there will be problems with the school's development," Hab Channara said.
While opposition lawmakers and human rights groups point to a litany of unsolved political murders and alleged links to crime rings that they say cast a dark shadow on the late strongman's tenure, Svay Rieng provincial Governor Chieng Om called him nothing less than a "hero" for his patronage of local education.