Tan Sri Zain Azraai bin Zainal Abidin was born on 27 July 1936 in Teluk Intan, Perak Darul Ridzuan. He was the son of the national political figure Tan Sri Dato' Zainal Abidin b. Abbas and Puan Sri Datin Puteh Mariah bt. Ibrahim Rashid. Tan Sri Zain started school at the age of 6, entering the Malay Boys' School during the Japanese ruling. He was only in this school at the beginning, and later entered an English school, St. Anthony School from 1945-1949. He had the opportunity to join the English school with a few other Malay children, while most Malay children entered the Anglo Chinese School (ACS). He was a brilliant student that he took only 5 years in the primary level while other students took 7 years.
Tan Sri Azraai then pursued his studies at the Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur in standard VIII (Form 4). He completed his studies and obtained the Cambridge School Certificate in 1951. At the age of 17 years, Tan Sri furthered his studies at the University of Oxford in philosophy, politics and economics. His career in the administration began when he was appointed as a trainee officer (Probationer Officer) and was trained at the London School of Economics in 1958. In 1959, he was appointed as the Assistant Secretary in the Political Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1962, Tan Sri Zain Azraai served the Malaysian High Commission in London for only 5 months, to carry out the duties in relation to the Cobbold Commission and negotiations on the formation of Malaysia. He was then appointed as the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations, New York from 1962-1966.
In 1966, he returned to serve in Malaysia. At that time, Tan Sri Azraai was given the post as the Special Officer to Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also served the late Tun Abdul Razak, when the latter was the Prime Minister (1970-1976) as the Special Chief Private Secretary from 1971 to 1976. The experiences that Tan Sri Zain Azraai gained while he was serving the late Tun Abdul Razak are record worthy as that was the period when our country was striving to expand its relationship with foreign countries.
Selepas Allahyarham Tun Abdul Razak meninggal dunia pada tahun 1976, Tan Sri Zain Azraai telah bertugas sekali lagi ke luar negara sebagai Duta Malaysia ke Amerika Syarikat dan bertauliah ke Mexico dan Brazil, juga bertugas sebagai ‘Executive Director of the World Bank' mewakili kawasan Asia Tenggara dari tahun 1978-1982. Pada tahun 1983-1986, Tan Sri telah dilantik sebagai wakil tetap ke Pertubuhan Bangsa-bangsa Bersatu dan juga ditauliahkan sebagai Duta Besar ke Cuba. Tugas yang terakhir beliau di dalam perkhidmatan kerajaan ialah sebagai Ketua Setiausaha di Kementerian Kewangan.
After the passing of the late Tun Abdul Razak in 1976, once again Tan Sri Zain became the Ambassador of Malaysia to the United States and was commissioned to Mexico and Brazil, and also served as the Executive Director of the World Bank representing the Southeast Asia regions from 1978-1982. In 1983-1986, he was appointed as the permanent representative to the United Nations and was also commissioned as the Ambassador to Cuba. His last duty in the government service was as the Secretary General in the Ministry of Finance.
After retiring from Government service, Tan Sri Zain Azraai still served the country through other bodies. Among others, he held the positions as the Chairman of Malaysia Airlines System (MAS), Chairman of the Malaysian Industrial Development Finance Berhad (MIDF) and Chairman of Syarikat Perumahan Pegawai Kerajaan Sdn. Bhd. (SPPK). In addition, he was also active in other activities such as being a member of the Board of Trustee Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MTER), Chairman of the National Art Gallery (1973/76), the International Advisory Council, Asia Society, New York, Asia-Australia Institute, Sydney, Dunlop Pacific Ltd. (Australia), Management Committee of the Institute of Diplomacy and International Relations and also a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS). Tan Sri also often delivered his lectures at the University of Malaya and the Armed Forced Staff College.
All the services and dedication given by Tan Sri Zain Azraai throughout his tenure either in government service or after retirement are tremendously significant to the country. In recognition of these contributions, he was honoured by the country with P.S.M and P.S.D. awards from His Majesty the Yang Dipertuan Agong and S.P.M.P award from His Majesty the Sultan of Perak.
Narration of Historical personage in History Series : In Memory of Tun Abdul Razak
18 June, 1992
National Archives of Malaysia