Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A role model for Dr Lee Kum Tatt

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt has touch many people's lives. Quite a number of people has also touched his and made him what he is. Here is an account on how his life and outlook has been touched by his role model, Dr Ling Tien Gi.

Tan Kin Lian


Tribute to A Role Model

I find it very useful to have a good Role Model who can inspire and give me the courage I need during uncertain times. Most people read about their heroes from books. I am fortunate that I have a real life one to follow. Here is how it all began in 1954.

At the age of 27 years I started my professional life as a chemist in the Government Department of Chemistry.

There was this “old man” age 57 years, a displaced person from China, trying to restart his life in Singapore. He asked me to help him to analyze antibiotics and vitamins in the animal feeds he was preparing. I could not do these analyses at that time but I was prepared to read up and make suggestions to him on how these could be done. We struck up a very good relationship. Why did I do all this? I thought to myself then that when I reached 55 years I would have been happily retired.

Here was this “old man” ( Dr. Ling Tien Gi or Dr. T.G. Ling) still trying to re-establish his life at 57 years and I felt sorry for him. Then I discovered what he was trying to do – to manufacture animal feeds for chicken and pigs. There were no organized chicken and pig farms during those times.

As a boy I used to help my mother looked after some chicken at home for their eggs. We fed these chicken with our left over food and there was never a need to buy any chicken feed. I thought to myself this Dr. Ling was heading for trouble without a ready product, a market and money for the business. He was also looking a round for S $ 25,000 to get started. Poor soul!

I spent two years (1956- 58) in Canada on a United Nations and Singapore Government fellowship. On my return Dr. Ling offered me the Chief Chemist’s post in his new company Zuellig Gold Coin Animal Feed Pte Ltd. As I was bonded to the Government I could not accept the offer. I recommended a very promising young chemist to him instead. The three of us worked very closely together for many years after this in the Singapore Science Council, SISIR and the other organizations which I served.

Through Dr. Ling’s efforts and foresight not only did the animal feed industries grew in Singapore and Malaysia, it has also given birth to our important chicken and pig industries. These two industries together were our truly home grown industries at that time.

Dr. Ling was awarded the first Singapore Science Council Gold Medal for Applied Research by the then Prime Minister of Singapore Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on 29 October 1969. Then at the age of 72 he wanted to start another project to help keep our precious water resources clean by moving the duck farms out of Singapore. He contributed significantly to this project.

In 1979 when I was awarded the Gold Medal for Applied Research, Dr. Ling at the age of 82 invited me to start another project with him. I really admired that indomitable spirit of Dr. Ling who taught me that age and apparent disadvantages do not really matter if one has the spirit and the drive to do what has to be done. Dr. Ling lived to the ripe old age of 95 years.

There is a parallel between what Dr. Ling did for his animal feed industries and the RISIS orchid that I did with its impact on the gift and tourist industries in Singapore. We started with no product, no market, no technology, no finance, and no experience except a hunch or gut feel. Instead there were lots of ridicules and criticisms to live with. I survived because of the inspiration I got from Dr. Ling by his personal example.

Many people are apprehensive of their “retirement”. Some even live in fear of their twilight years. Dr. Ling has shown that we can have golden years throughout our lives. It is all in our mind and our attitude towards life itself.

Being the eldest in the family my parents always wanted me to show a good example to my siblings. Now as a father and grandfather it is natural for me to want to leave some legacies for my children and grand children. I learned from Dr. Ling on how to set a good example. Whether I will be accepted as a role model is a different matter.

Dr. Ling has taught me not to be afraid of life but to enjoy it as golden years.

Thank you, Dr. Ling. I salute you.

Lee Kum Tatt

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