POISKL #103: Dixie Wai – The Resourceful Panther

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Dixie Wai Panthers of ISKL

Here is your chance to get to know the person who assisted in building ISKL from the ground up! Dixie Wai joined ISKL in 1965 armed with her bookkeeping and accountancy skills alongside the then Principal, Robert Fendly.

An elegant and humble Panther, Dixie was born in 1944 in Shanghai, when American troops were occupying the city and the Second World War was at its tail-end. Dixie faced a fair share of challenges that she had learned to navigate and overcome.

Here is her story.

Can you tell us more about yourself?

Dixie-Wai-photo-office.jpgMy dad went to an American university in Shanghai after he completed his ‘Senior Cambridge’ (now known as O-Levels). During his study days, he socialized with the American soldiers in Shanghai and met my mother there. That was how I was born there. Because of my father’s close association with the soldiers, I got my name – Dixie. It was given by my dad’s friends in the American army. I was a blessed child, as during the war when there was no food, I was able to be fed with milk because the soldiers had supplies.

I attended high school in Perth, Australia, and eventually became a trained professional secretary. After I graduated, I worked in Australia for a couple of companies and met my husband in Perth; he was an architect. He came back to Malaysia in 1965, and I decided to follow as well.

What was the most challenging part of your job?

I was so many things, a secretary and a business manager, and suddenly I felt like I couldn’t cope. I had too much anxiety, so I sat down, and one of the teachers came in, seeing me almost in tears. Then she said to me, ‘Dixie, let me tell you this. Working in ISKL, some are only here for 2-3 years; they are not here permanently. But you are different; you are here to stay. So think about it that way; they are not going to be here forever, don’t let it cloud you’. I thought about that, and it honestly helped me a lot. I’ve shared this advice with many others who have felt the same way. You have to think out of the box, think long-term, and don’t let small things bother you so much; you are not stuck. It’s simple advice, but it has a deep meaning.

Best memory (or most memorable moment) when you were working at ISKL?

I enjoyed working at ISKL because when it first opened, we had 12 grades and a learning coordinator, but they were by correspondence. There was a lot of office work involved, and Grade 12 students were not in class at the time. I had to put their work in the mail, their projects in envelopes, weigh it, pass it to the office boy, and add stamps to be sent abroad.

Besides keeping the records and accounts organized, I was glad I was part of the history that implemented the steps that would help the school recover from the economic crisis and be able to accomplish a tax exemption for ISKL, which was the most important thing to ever happen. I was the person who supplied the documents and assisted the tax consultant company – and we got the approval after a tedious process and after many, many years. It was one of the biggest accomplishments during my time; when ISKL became a non-profit. It was not due to me alone, but I was right smack there during the process.

What did you enjoy the most about ISKL? 

The variety of work, even after 40 years, I find it a joy to come back to work. It was a continuous journey of learning, and the job was not dull. You think about a problem at night that you can’t wait to come back again tomorrow morning to solve. It’s like in a business where continuous problems come from external and internal factors, you need to solve them. I saw it as a challenge, so there’s always something you have to learn and grow to fix the issues.

Dixie Wai and the admin staff

Who or what inspires you?

I grew up pretty independently and made it a point to be aware of people who were doing great, so there’s no particular person I can point out, but the one boss I learned a lot from was Robert B. Gaw. I learned a lot and admired him.

Dixie Wai Recent Photo

Can you tell us more about your hobbies and interests?  

I am still involved in the Malaysian chapter of Toastmasters, where we now have Zoom meetings. I’m also active in the Malaysian Professional Administrators association committee, of which I am a chartered member, one of the first in 1968. I also joined a Senior Citizen group as the government here (in Perth) supports senior citizens. Every week we play (Western) Mahjong and have networking sessions. I’ve also got many friends here because many Malaysians migrate to Australia, so we would explore and travel around Perth. I would also join informational talks that are held online. I’m always learning!

Anything else about you that you’d like to share? 

I believe the children that went through ISKL are so blessed to have had this opportunity to study in an international school environment. And they are in a very small percentage of people, of students, who were able to get this experience of being in an international school environment; they are so blessed.

​​What does “Be All You Are” mean to you?

I think I hit that mark. I am all that I am, from day one till now! No doubt I have had experience, but my view of my life has always been that I am today, much enriched from my experiences. I am a very positive person and do not let negative thoughts rue me.