COMMENT | In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there emerged from the folds of the party a coterie of Umno leaders who showed promise of capability to run with the baton that an older set could well bequeath them.
Among this set were the young hopefuls, Shahrir Samad and Rais Yatim.
Their youth, education and, more importantly, their apparent capability was a reassuring contrast to the situation that obtained some 10 years earlier.
This was when Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, effectively the Umno No 2, after head honcho Abdul Razak Hussain, confided to his diary his worries – upon being apprised he had cancer in addition to a heart condition – over a perceived dearth in leadership material for the party.
Ismail's troubled musings must have escalated into pervasive anxiety when he became privy to what was then known to a very few - that the skipper of the crew was also stricken with cancer.
It was an anxious time as the country was grappling with momentous questions of how to proceed on issues of nation-building, wealth creation and distribution.
Upon the launch of the New Economic Policy, regarded as a panacea for the polity's ills as evidenced in the May 13, 1969 racial riots, there arose the need for implementers from within the political and bureaucratic strata - people who could give the NEP its leading edge.
Shahrir and Rais, and a host of others, emerged to fit the bill.
They were bright, articulate and capable; Ismail's apprehensions of a decade before seemed happily misplaced.
This reporter was witness to glimpses of the potential of both young talents.
An intimation of Rais' potential was seen as early as 1976 when as a ranking official in the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, he stood out at a briefing the minister Ali Haji Ahmad held for the press at the ministry’s headquarters in Jalan Semarak.
It was a time when a minister was not averse to being outshone by an underling; looking like a coiled spring, it was plain to see that Rais was eager to prove his mettle and destined for better things to come.
Lawyer Rais just did go on to better things; he positively exuded it in the roles he went to...