I received a call last week from Suresh (Rennie's eldest son) who introduced himself and said that his father was celebrating his 75th birthday, and would love to have friends from over the years at his party.
I did not hesitate for a moment to agree, but then I realised that I had a prior engagement on that same evening. I asked Suresh if the party will gone on late and that I can only make it after 10pm. Suresh said that the party will go on past midnight. I immediately promised Suresh that I will be there.
For those of you who are wondering who is Rennie Martin and why I am making such a fuss about him - he is among the dying breed of school teachers who were dedicated to sports and made a difference. Dying Breed (Read here)
I know Rennie since my early days as a sports journalist when I started stringing for The Malay Mail in 1979, as I covered the schools beat.
Rennie was a well known athletics coach who specialised in jumps.He started as school teacher athletics coach, and later became a national coach.
My respect for Rennie started as early as 1980 when one early morning on April 21, I got a call from Rennie at my home, asking me to be at the Merdeka Stadium in 30 minutes. He was then a coach in the Selangor Schools Talent Camp (Kem Bakat) and told me that if I wanted a good story, I should pull myself out of bed and be there! Rennie said that a 15-year-old boy from Kuala Kubu Baru is going to smash the State record in the 1,500m.
I got on to my Honda kapchai and headed for Merdeka Stadium. I was there in 15 minutes and headed straight to Rennie to ask him what was happening.
He replied: " In ten minutes you are going to see a future talent of Malaysia emerge."
And there was this lanky, skinny looking boy at the starting blocks for 1,500m. As Rennie had predicted, this boy - B. Rajkumar - went to rewrite the record with a time of 4:16.1s to beat the old mark of 4.17.7s by M. Raju in 1971.
Suresh (1st left) with the the Raj Kumar article I wrote because of Rennie's wake-up call in 1980.
Others in the picture: Tripadi, Rennie, Dennis Shepherdson and Jeya Kumar.
Rajkumar went on to become an Olympician. The point is, Rennie had an eye for talent and he seldom was wrong. It was that day too that I met another dedicated teacher coach, A. Tripadi - the coach who unearthed Rajkumar and coached him. Don't Forget The Grassroots (Read here).
My immediate reaction after Suresh's call was to get in touch with Tripadi and Rajkumar and bring them to the party. I had no problems getting in touch with Tripadi who was thrilled to attend Rennie's party, but I failed to get i touch with Rajkumar despite numerous days of effort.
In anycase, I picked up Tripadi that night at the National Sports Council in Bukit Jailil (Tripadi is an athletics coach with them) and headed for the Commonwealth Club.
When we arrived at about 10.30pm, we were greeted by Rennie's daughter Sumitha (whom I had known from her days in New Straits Times as a journalist) and Suresh (whom I met for the first time) and were taken to the hall to meet their father.
Indeed, it has been a longtime since I saw Rennie and when I saw him in the hall, he was not a day older than when I first met him in 1979.
As I apologised for being late, he just gave me a hug and said :"I am just happy that you have come."
I then moved on to meet some of the who's-who who are still around. Many had left and I certainly missed a golden opportunity to catch up with them.
I also missed a specially prepared "slide show" of Rennie's activities which was prepared by his children. I was told it was excellent and brought back memories of the glorious years of athletics.
Just to list out some of the 80 people who were present on Friday night include Tan Sri Porf Khoo Kay Kim, Datuk Arthur Edmonds, Datuk R. Yogeswarn, Datuk Nashatar Singh, Brother Felix James Donohue, Karu Selvaratnam, Freddy Vias, N. A. Baskaran, Nelson Chandran, A. Tripadi, Leslie Armstrong, Mike Nathan, Param, Ishtiaq Mubarak, P. Selvarani, Dennis Doss, Dennis Sheperdson, Karim Ibrahim, S. Vegiyathuman, Arumugam, Benedict Martin, R. Nadeswaran, a host of relatives and friends.
It was indeed a great night and all left with the hope to be around for Rennie's 85th birthday!
This article is long over due and I apologize to Rennie and his family who were wonderful hosts.
But for those of you still do not know much of Rennie, I will be posting another article about him. I interviewed Rennie early this week and it was indeed an interesting session. Watch out for it next week.
Happy Birthday again Rennie and till we meet again, cheers!
(From left) Rennie, Dennis Shepherdson and Karuselvaratnam.
Datuk Nashatar Singh, Nelson Chandran, Karu Selvaratnam, Rennie, Isthiaq Mubarak, Selvarani, Vegiyathuman and Arumugam
Brother Felix James Donohue (La Salle PJ former Headmaster) and Benedict Martin (Rennie's brother, former coach Ipoh)