Loke Wan Tho



Loke Wan Tho (陆运涛) (Dato) (b. 14 June 1915,1 Kuala Lumpur, Malaya–d. 20 June 1964, Taichung, Taiwan) was a prominent film entrepreneur who built up Cathay Organisation and established Cathay cinema.2 He was the first chairman of the National Library Board,3 and the first Asian chairman of Malayan Airways (later renamed Malaysian Airways).4 He died in a plane crash on 20 June 1964.5

Early life
Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, Loke was one of the three children of business tycoon Loke Yew and his fourth wife, Lim Cheng Kim. The elder Loke passed away in 1917, when Loke was two years old.6 Loke’s early education took place at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur.7 For the sake of Loke’s weak health, his mother brought him and his two sisters, Yuen Theng and Yuen Peng to Switzerland at the recommendation of their family doctor.8 He studied at Chillion College in Montreux, Switzerland (1929–33),9 and then read English literature and history at King’s College, Cambridge (1933–36). After graduating in 1936, Loke spent a year at the London School of Economics.10 He participated actively in sports while studying, and represented his schools in football, long jump and badminton.11 He was the school athletics champion at Chillion College, a long jump champion in the United Kingdom and the badminton singles champion at the London School of Economics.12 He was also well known for his keen interest in photography and ornithology, which are captured in two publications, Angkor (1958; later republished as Angkor and the Khmers13), to which he contributed photos,14 and A Company of Birds (1958).15


Loke returned to Singapore when World War II broke out.16 At the onset of the war, he tried to flee to Indonesia on board the Nora Moller, but the ship was bombed and sunk.17 Loke sustained serious injuries to his skin and eyes, and was rescued by an Australian cruiser.18 He left for India after he recovered, as Jakarta seemed set to be occupied by the Japanese.19 The time spent recuperating at an Indian hospital had a catalytic effect on Loke. Not only did he learn how the poor lived, he also realised how little he knew of his father’s business. As a result, he resolved to learn business upon his return to Malaya. It was also in India that he made the acquaintance of an Indian ornithologist, Salim Ali, with whom he scoured the countryside for birds.20

Film entrepreneur
After the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Loke rebuilt the film business that his family had been involved in before the war.21 On 18 July 1935, Loke, together with his mother, a relative, Khoo Teik Ee and Max Baker, founded Associated Theatres Limited in Kuala Lumpur.22 As Loke was still studying in England, the business was overseen by Khoo.23 The latter’s untimely death in 1953 left Loke to take on the role of chairman of several companies.24

Cathay was the first major cinema to resume operations after the war, with screenings of Desert Victory on 23 September 1945.25 In 1947, Loke travelled to the United States and England with his wife and mother in search of new facilities and equipment for his theatres. He later inked a deal with Rank Organisation in 1947 to transfer 35 percent of the shares in Associated Theatres to Rank’s subsidiary, Overseas Cinematograph Theatres. In December 1947, Loke formed Caravan Films to send mobile film units to screen movies in Malayan estates and villages.26 April 1948 saw the acquisition of theatres in Penang and the formation of International Theatres Ltd, giving Loke and Rank access to 19 cinemas. Under his stewardship, Loke expanded his chain of cinemas in 1948 to places such as Penang, Thailand and Borneo.27

By the 1950s, Loke was set to expand the film markets in Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Brunei.28 He set up studios to produce films for his cinema chain – Cathay-Keris Studio produced Malay films, and Yung Hwa Studio focused on Chinese films.29 He placed all the family’s cinemas, which then comprised Associated Theatres, Loke Theatres and International Theatres, under the Cathay banner in 1959.30 Cathay in the 1950s and the early ’60s was regarded as a powerful film empire, with Loke as the main driver.31

Death
However, Loke’s life was prematurely terminated on 20 June 1964 when the plane carrying him and his wife crashed shortly after leaving Taichung, Taiwan.32 The two had attended the 11th Asian Film Festival in Taipei days before the tragedy.33 His untimely death was a shock to the region.34

Social contributions
Apart from his film business, Loke was also active in other fields and social causes.35 Loke contributed a collection of 99 paintings and sketches by local artists to the National Museum. Known as the Dato Loke Wan Tho Collection of Paintings, an exhibition of the pieces was held in 1962.36 In addition to being chairman of Cathay Organisation and Malayan Banking37 at the time of his death, Loke had also been the chairman of Malaysian Airways (previously known as Malayan Airways) since 1959 – the first Asian appointed to that position.38 He was first chairman of the newly formed National Library from 1960 until his death.
39 He was awarded the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) posthumously in 1965 for his public service as chairman of the National Library and of Malaysian Airways, among others.40

After his death, his mother purchased and donated the Gibson-Hill Collection to the National Library in June 1965, in accordance with Loke’s wishes.41 Mrs Loke and her two daughters also donated $100,000, Loke’s reference books, photographs and tape recordings of birds towards the establishment of the Loke Wan Tho Memorial Library at Jurong Bird Park, which was launched on 4 February 1972.42

Family43
Father: Loke Yew
Mother: Lim Cheng Kim
Stepbrothers: Wan Piu, Wan Chok, Wan Chiew, Hon Chow, Wan Yat, Wan Wye (Alan)
Stepsisters: Yuen Hing and Yuen Ying
Sisters: Yuen Theng (Mrs Choo Kok Leong), Yuen Peng (Lady Percy McNeice)
Wife: Loke was married thrice.44 His second wife was Christina Lee (m. 1950–196245) and his third, Mavis Lim (m. 1963–d. 196446).



Authors

Michael Mukunthan & Joanna HS Tan



References
1. Morais, J. V. (1963). The who’s who in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Solai Press, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.0595 WWM)
2. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 1–29. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
3. Loke is library chairman. (1960, December 17). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Mainly people. (1959, September 17). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
6. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
7. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Pub, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
8. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM); Singapore chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore. (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 127. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
9. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM); Singapore chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore. (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 127. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
10. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM); Singapore chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore. (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 127. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
11. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Pub, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Mok-Ai, I. (1960, November 25). Behind the veil of vast wealth lies an artistic, lonely man with sense of humour. The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Pub, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
13. Macdonald, M. (1987). Angkor and the Khmers. Singapore: Oxford University Press. Available via PublicationSG.
14. Macdonald, M. (1958). Angkor. London: Cape. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.6 MAC)
15. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Pub, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Loke, W. T. (1958). A company of birds. London: M. Joseph. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.295 LOK-[GBH])
16. Mok-Ai, I. (1960, November 25). Behind the veil of vast wealth lies an artistic, lonely man with sense of humour. The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p.16. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM); Mok-Ai, I. (1960, November 25). Behind the veil of vast wealth lies an artistic, lonely man with sense of humour. The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore. (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
18. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p.16. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM); Mok-Ai, I. (1960, November 25). Behind the veil of vast wealth lies an artistic, lonely man with sense of humour. The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
20. Mok-Ai, I. (1960, November 25). Behind the veil of vast wealth lies an artistic, lonely man with sense of humour. The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 12–22. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
22. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
23. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
24. Rubber producers are badly hit by deaths in Comet crash. (1953, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 4; Mok-Ai, I. (1960, November 25). Behind the veil of vast wealth lies an artistic, lonely man with sense of humour. The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Film shows again. (1945, September 24). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
27. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
28. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
29. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
30. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM); Cathay’s dream comes true. (1999, April 21). The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
32. Error by pilot is blamed for Loke crash. (1964, November 4). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Film stars for Taipeh. (1964, June 13). The Straits Times, p. 24; Dato Loke to be buried in family plot in capital. (1964, June 23). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. King cables 'sincere condolences'. (1964, June 22). The Straits Times, p. 1; Leaders shocked at death of Loke. (1964, June 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
36. A display by local artists. (1962, July 30). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Loke joins board of Malayan Banking Ltd. (1962, August 25). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Mainly people. (1959, September 17). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Loke is library chairman. (1960, December 17). The Straits Times, p. 4; Gift of rare books to library. (1964, June 19). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. A posthumous award. (1965, November 15). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. National Library Board (2016). Gibson-hill collection. Retrieved on 2016, August 1, from National Library Board website: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/donors/gibson-hill-collection/
42. Tribute to bird lover Loke. (1972, February 5). The Straits Times, p. 19; Loke Wan Tho library to open on Feb 4. (1972, January 22). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. 陆佑博士 [Dr Loke Yew]. (1964). In 《马来亚古冈州六邑总会特刊 [Malaiya gugangzhou liuyi zonghui tekan] (pp. 51–52). 槟城, 马来西亚: 马来亚古冈州六邑总会 [Ipoh, Malaysia: Malaiya gugangzhou liuye zonghui], p. 52. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS q369.2595 MLY); Khoo, E. (2014, February 28). Loke Yew 陸佑. Retrieved 2016, September 13 from Overseas Chinese in the British Empire website: http://overseaschineseinthebritishempire.blogspot.sg/2009/08/loke-yew.html
44. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
45. Yesterday’s S’pore wedding. (1950, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 7;Loke divorce case. (1961, April 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Dato Loke weds quietly in London. (1963, September 30). The Straits Times, p. 5; London wedding for Dato Loke. (1963, September 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
$3,000 (a month) for Mrs. Loke. (1961, May 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Artist's pictures of the Interior. (1939, April 9). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Celebrating 60 years of entertainment history. (1994, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Dato Loke greets bride at airport with kisses. (1963, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Dato Loke weds quietly in London. (1963, September 30). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

From Dato Loke to Christina a cheque for $800,000. (1962, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Inside Singapore's Newest Cinema Opens On Tuesday. (1939, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Leaders of business in Malaya. (1952, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2008, November 16). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003259/03/01, p. 8]. Retrieved  from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

Loke application: judge reserves his order. (1961, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Loke leaves his millions to his two sisters. (1964, July 12). The Straits Times, p.1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

 'No such bequest to Lady McNeice'. (1965, April 30). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

 Rank buys a share in local cinemas. (1947, July 20). The Straits Times, p.1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

 Rank-Loke new deal. (1947, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Two decrees nisi granted by chief justice in Loke divorce case. (1962, February 15). The Straits Times, p.1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singapore’s first skyscraper. (1939, December 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Motion picture industry--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Leisure and entertainment
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Loke Wan Tho, 1913-1964