Loke Wan Tho

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Loke Wan Tho
Film HK boss 陸運濤 Loke Wan Tho.jpg
Native name 陆运涛
Born 14 June 1915
Kuala Lumpur, British Malaya (now Malaysia)
Died 20 June 1964(1964-06-20) (aged 49)
Taichung, Taiwan
Cause of death Plane crash
Spouse(s) Kay White (divorced)
Christina Lee (divorced)
Mavis Chew (m. Sep 1963)
Parent(s) Father Loke Yew
Mother Lim Cheng Kim
Relatives Sisters
Loke Yuen Theng (Mrs Choo Kok Leong)
Loke Yuen Peng (Lady Percy McNiece)

Loke Wan Tho (simplified Chinese: 陆运涛; traditional Chinese: 陸運濤; pinyin: Lù Yùn Tāo; 14 June 1915 – 20 June 1964), born in Kuala Lumpur, was a Singaporean business magnate, ornithologist, and photographer. He was the founder of Cathay Organisation in Singapore and Malaysia, and Motion Picture and General Investments Limited (MP&GI) in Hong Kong.


Early life[edit]

Born in Kuala Lumpur on 14 June 1915, Dato Loke Wan Tho was the 9th child of Loke Yew. Loke Yew had come to Malaya in 1858 as a poor youth of 11 years of age and by his death had amassed a fortune to make him one of the richest men in Malaya. Wan Tho was 2 years old when his father died. His early education was at Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur, a school set up by the British for Chinese boys which counted Loke Yew as one of its founders.

By reason of his delicate health, he was taken by his mother Loke Cheng Kim together with his two younger sisters to school at Chillon College in Montreux, Switzerland in 1929. He was the Swiss County (Vaud) long jump champion in 1932. He then went up to King's College, Cambridge where he obtained an Honour's degree in English Literature and History in 1936. English literature and poetry henceforward became his steadfast companions throughout his life and it was known that in his minimal personal kit on all his ornithological expeditions was always to be found some of his favourite anthologies. For a brief period after that, he was at the London School of Economics. However the winds of war were blowing in Europe and he returned to Malaya just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Escaping the Japanese in February 1942 on a ship called Nora Moller, Dato Loke Wan Tho did not escape unscathed as a bomb from a Japanese aircraft sank his ship in the Strait of Banka. He was rescued from the sea, temporarily blinded and severely burned. He was hospitalised in Batavia (Jakarta) and then evacuated to India. However, he was fortunate in that shortly after he arrived in Bombay, he was introduced to the famous Indian ornithologist Dr Salim Ali, who was to become a lifetime friend and a frequent companion on many major expeditions. It was to Dr Salim Ali's credit that Dato Loke's passion for ornithology developed. As Dato Loke himself wrote in his book A Company of Birds of his friend : "Under the guidance of an expert (Salim Ali) my interest in birds which hitherto had been but of a dilettante kind blossomed into a deeper passion."

Business career[edit]

Although Dato Loke had inherited a vast fortune of tin mines, plantations and properties from his father Loke Yew, he went on to grow the company which his mother had formed together with him in 1935 called Associated Theatres Ltd. The Pavilion Cinema in Kuala Lumpur and the Cathay Cinema in Singapore were built. Partnerships were forged with Mr Ho Ah Loke and others to form the Cathay cinema circuit that counted 80 cinemas at its peak. Associated Theatres Ltd later changed its name to Cathay Organisation in 1959.

By 1953 Dato Loke and Ho Ah Loke had started production of Malay films at the Cathay Keris Studios which were purpose built. Many a classic film has come from these studios located out in East Coast Road Singapore – Pontianak, Orang Minyak, Bawang Puteh Bawang Merah, Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat and many more.

Dato Loke also bought over an existing film studio in Hong Kong in 1955 and started to produce a library of Chinese films to supply to his chain of cinemas which stretched from Singapore, Malaya and Borneo to Bangkok. The films were also distributed to the region and Cathay stars like Ge Lan, You Min, Lin Dai and Yeh Fung became household names in Indochina, Thailand, Burma, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Sarawak, Borneo and of course Singapore and Malaya.

The Cathay Organisation, of which Dato Loke Wan Tho was its chairman, not only owned and operated cinemas and film studios, produced Malay and Chinese films but also owned and operated hotels and restaurants in Singapore (The Cathay Hotel and Ocean Park Hotel and their attendant restaurants) and Fiji (The Grand Pacific Hotel Suva and The Cathay Hotel Lautoka). He also had interests in rubber, palm oil and coconut plantations in Malaysia.

From the end of the war Dato Loke had become increasingly caught up in the business world. Besides his own companies, he was Chairman of Malayan Airways Ltd, Singapore Telephone Board, Malayan Banking and was on the board of directors of numerous companies including Wearne Brothers, Sime Darby, Kwong Yik Bank (Loke Yew was one of its founders), Great Eastern Life, H A O'Connors Ltd, Straits Steamship Co Ltd and Rediffusion (Singapore) Ltd.

In his lifetime Dato Loke Wan Tho was honoured by the state of Kelantan in Malaysia from whom he received his Datoship, Cambodia, Japan and Malaya. Always the philanthropist he supported many charities, associations and educational institutions.

Dato Loke Wan Tho was an unusual man for his time—a Renaissance Man ahead of his time in a world that was once the backwater of an Empire—he was an ornithologist and lover of Nature long before it became popular to care for the environment; he was a man of the word whilst many were still unschooled; a sportsman who played for the love of the sport despite his poor health and he was a collector of art in its many forms whilst many did not know how to appreciate it.

His greatest legacy, however, was to his family: he set a priceless example to many of us and today we owe our love of fauna and flora, our various interests in sport and academia, our passion for collecting art and our contributions to society to his direct influence. He was a man of many interests that ranged from books to collecting art to golf. He was very supportive of local art and sponsored many artists particularly Cheong Soo Pieng and Thomas Yeo.

He played a good game of golf and became the first President of the Singapore Island Country Club after it was merged. He had a love for cars and imported the second Porsche into Singapore but he also took pleasure in simple things like ice cream and his dogs. However his greatest passion was photography and ornithology. This passion took him on great expeditions to Papua New Guinea to photograph the Birds of Paradise, Cambodia where a firm and lasting friendship with King Sihanouk was forged, India, the Hindu Kush, Kashmir, Sikkim and the wild yonder, always with his camera and Dr Salim Ali for company.

As one writer said of him, "Generous to a fault, whether he gave to State, Charity or Institution, to aspiring artist or struggling student, his gifts were made after careful consideration and always with the minimum of ostentation. Indeed, it was his tact, conscientiousness and complete integrity and efficiency with which he discharged all his functions which won him the respect and admiration of all."


In September 1963, Loke married his third wife, Mavis Chew in London.

On 20 June 1964, aged 49, on a flight leaving Taichung after attending the 11th Asian Film Festival the previous week, Loke and his wife Mavis were killed in the crash of Civil Air Transport Flight B-908, along with his chief executives.[1][2][3]


  1. ^ "Villagers see blast as 57 die in crash". The Montreal Gazette. 22 June 1964. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  2. ^ Lam, Agnes. "A Day and Eternity: Film Stars, Magnates and the Press". Hong Kong Film Archive. Archived from the original on 16 May 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2008. 
  3. ^ Hendrix, Grady (9 October 2007). "Cathay's Song". New York: New York Sun. Retrieved 25 March 2008. 


  • A Company of Birds. Michael Joseph, London 1959
  • Angkor, by Malcolm MacDonald and Loke Wan Tho, Jonathan Cape, London, 1958,59,60.

Text by Malcolm MacDonald, with chapters including "The History of Khmers"。"The Ruins of Khmers"。 111 Black and White Plates of Angkor Wat, taken by Loke Wan Tho and M.MacDonald。

Loke Wan Tho Memorials[edit]

Loke Wan Tho memorial, Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong

External links[edit]