Neubert Ambrose is a man with two career paths – in education and broadcasting – and they ran concurrently. In both these careers, the Catholic church and its teachings featured prominently.
SEPTEMBER 20, 2019: He has a voice that flows like a gentle stream, both soothing and refreshing. Whether he is emceeing a wedding or a government official function, doing a voice-over, deejaying a radio show or reading Scriptures at a funeral mass, his delivery is always steady and controlled with no distracting theatrics or the need for attention. Always professional and friendly.
It was in church that Neubert Ambrose began his long career in broadcasting and the voice industry.
“Broadcasting sort of began from young when I was a lector/commentator during late Monsignor Anthony Thomas’s time in St Joseph’s Church (in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur).
“Strict as he was he cared for us. He passion was liturgy so he trained and moulded us to take liturgy seriously,” says Ambrose. His mother was his pillar of strength. “She was a simple woman and I owe my values greatly to her.”
He was born and bred in Sentul where his father worked in the railways. His father was strict when it came to religion and made sure his seven children attended mass almost daily before heading to school. To this day, his “church duties” continue.
Financial constraints got in the way of his education and he could not go on to do his Form 6 (local equivalent of A Levels). That, however, led him to another path – teaching. This was to be his other passion in life.
When Ambrose took a temporary teaching post right after he left school in 1976 in Convent Sentul, there was nothing temporary about it. The following year he taught in La Salle Secondary School, also in Sentul, and then he sat for his teacher’s training certificate and continued to serve in government schools for 32 years and then in Stella Maris School for three years. The Stella Maris schools are privately-run under the aegis of Tan Sri Dominic Vendargon Foundation, named after the former Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese.
It was during his early years in teaching in 1980, St Joseph’s parishioner Mrs Anna Morden asked him to join Redifusion Malaya as a part time broadcaster. She was then a supervisor at the cable radio station which started operations in Kuala Lumpur in 1949 and where many of the radio greats started.
“There I met the likes of Patrick Teoh and Geoffrey Nicholson. Geoffrey remains a close friend to this day. I learnt a lot especially from Geoffrey. Anna too was inspirational,” says the 61-year-old. There was a time it was not unsual for teachers, especially for English teachers which Ambrose was, to work in media organisations. Some worked part-time for the national news agency Bernama.
Ambrose moved from Redifusion in 1984 when there was an opening for a part-time presenter at government broadcaster RTM’s English language radio station the Blue Network (now Traxx FM), and also to World Service (Suara Malaysia), now discontinued and previously known as Voice of Malaysia.
“It was exciting when going on air. The preparation and the people we met over the airwaves. Some have become friends till today. One of my most memorable experience was talking someone out of suicide while being on air. I let the music run and started listening to her. After a good 45 minutes, I realised where this was going and managed to coax her out of suicide, pulling all the stop plugs I learnt from my faith. It worked.”
His time on the airwaves paved the way for emceeing opportunities at weddings and corporate events. “Charity functions was something I had passion for because it allowed me to give back to the less fortunate,” says Ambrose, adding that he hardly ever rejected a request to emcee a charity event and he hardly missed his church obligations.
One of the highlights was when Bishop Soter Fernandez was elevated to the position of Archbishop of the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese. “It was a historical event and I was the commentator.”
There was one time when he was the master of ceremony for a royal function at the Royal Selangor Club attended by the late Selangor Sultan. “I had to speak in Bahasa Istana. After the function, I was commended by the Sultan’s ADC (aide de camp) for a job well done.”
There were moments when his teaching and broadcasting career paths crossed. Due to his fluency in English and Malay, he was often called upon by the Education Ministry to emcee official functions and these included international functions. “This gave me a sense of pride. Of how far I had come,” referring to his humble background.
Despite the shining path his broadcasting career had taken him, he is a teacher at heart. “It is teaching first, then radio.” Ambrose adds: “The love for children kept me going despite the many bitter moments in my teaching career.”
He had always put in requests to be posted to schools in the poorer areas. He regards this as a service to God.
“There was one time when I had left a particular school years earlier and met a parent of one of my students. He said “You Cikgu Ambrose, you yang beli basikal untuk anak saya semasa di sekolah Kepong kerana dia jalan jauh”. (You are the one, Teacher Ambrose, who bought a bicycle for my child in the Kepong school because he had a long way to walk to school.)
“I shed tears – but it was for my parents and my God who formed me and instilled in me these values of love and kindness,” says Ambrose.
His service did not go ununoticed by the government. The Kuala Lumpur Education Department selected him as Ikon Pendidikan (Education Icon) at the National Day celebrations on Aug 31, 2015. This was two years after he left the civil service and was headhunted to help start the Stella Maris School in Damansara. He left after three years there.
Ambrose had also served as President of the Catholic Teachers Association for two terms.
All that is in the past. He is now enjoying his retirement back in Sentul where he grew up and continues doing part-time voice-overs and translation work.
“I still serve when called upon by the church. But there have been people asking me to start a school. Not sure if I have the energy to do so. Meanwhile I love my faith, my God, and will continue to do so.”