Dr Mohd Gary Jones: UBD’s Longest Serving Academic Staff

Associate Professor Dr Mohd Gary Jones recently retired from full-time service with Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), officially becoming the longest serving academic staff member.

Dr Jones came to Brunei in November 1985 for a job interview. One of the people conducting the interview was Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Awang Abu Bakar Haji Apong, the then Vice Chancellor of UBD. Shortly after the interview concluded, he was asked if he could start work immediately. Although he had planned to return to the UK, he immediately changed his mind and said "yes".

That historic moment was not his first experience of the Sultanate. Dr Jones first visited Brunei in 1982 when he stayed in Bandar Seri Begawan with some friends at the Bolkiah army camp in Tutong. His first impressions of the country were of "the strong smell of fruit and vegetables from the market, activity on the water and the friendliness of the locals," he said.

"I'd made an effort to learn Malay before coming," he added. "Only to learn that it wasn't Brunei Malay."

Having been in the university just as it was established, Dr Jones has been an active part of its continuous growth. "All our early graduates were assured of work, usually with government jobs, and many have gone on to very senior positions," he recalled. "Life was comfortable and students could afford to be complacent about their futures." But as times changed, so did the job market as well as expectations of graduates. The need for change saw UBD developing the GenNEXT Programme, which introduced more responsibility to students, placing the future in their own hands. Over the years, Dr Jones noticed that "students have become more independent and assertive and are definitely aware of the wider world and what they need to do to find work and a role for themselves."

He worked on a variety of training projects worldwide as a consultant prior to starting in UBD so nobody could have foreseen exactly how long he would end up staying in Brunei. "I can quite honestly say that I enjoyed going into work every day," he said. "and very few people can say this about their employment."

Spending 36 years in UBD, he has many fond memories. "The students were almost always a delight; not necessarily putting in as much effort as their lecturers would have liked, but friendly and smiling. As a teacher of any description, it is always rewarding when your students do well and it has been a pleasure to see so many of my former students go on to have successful careers, including many who now work at UBD. Colleagues, both academic and administrative, were always friendly and off campus, I cannot recall any incidents with anyone that soured the day."

In his time with the university, Dr Jones has been appointed Head of the English Department, Deputy Director then Director of the Institute for Asian Studies, Deputy Dean then Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and finally Director and Visiting Professor at the UBD-FPT Global Centre in Da Nang, Vietnam. "It is rewarding when colleagues trust you with such positions," he said.

As he presented a keynote speech from home in the United Kingdom during the 4th Brunei Malaysia Forum online, the fishing reels in the background seem to hint that he is fully prepared for a well-deserved life of retirement. However, nearly four decades in the Abode of Peace had been nothing short of life-changing. "I already miss friends, family and friendship. I also miss working with the lovely people that I saw on a daily basis and bumping into former students when out and about. My kids used to complain that shopping with me took much longer than it should because people were always stopping to talk."

To those students still in UBD, Dr Jones said, "Do as well as you can and try to avoid regrets about not putting enough effort into your studies. No matter how well or badly your final result, you've only just taken the first steps into adult life and employment, so anything is possible." And he reminded UBD staff to "appreciate the beautiful campus and the colleagues you work with."

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