Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tribute to our :Pioneers and Unsung Heroes

Finding Ourselves in the Deep End

Often we were given missions or created situations where we found ourselves in the deep end of the pool. This can be very frightening and stressful. The options were we swim or we drown. This is dangerous living which many like to avoid. To us we had no choice because of the environment and time we were born into. Kum Tatt cannot swim even in a swimming pool and he still has not learned how to. But he seems to have no sweat in doing what has to be done in real life. He swam and survived. He also made sure that all his children can swim and not be handicapped like him in case of emergencies.

When Kum Tatt was appointed the founder Chairman of the Singapore Science Council after Singapore’s independence he had a budget of just $10,000 to run the Council. Many would not have accepted the appointment as it was only on an honorary one with so much to be done. The chances of delivering a still-born Council were great. In 10 years many of the goals that the Council set for itself were achieved. The learning of science was encouraged and promoted in Singapore. Important scientific institutions like Science Centre, SISIR, Singapore Science Park were built. The Singapore Polytechnic and NUS were expanded and important professional courses introduced. The application of S & T to help our industries were successfully introduced and developed through the Quality, various movements and schemes. The professionals grew and flourished.

All these could not have been achieved without the active participation and contributions of the thousand of unsung heroes Kum Tatt mentioned in the article that follows. Many of those involved do not expect to be acknowledged. We felt that this is due if not overdue.

Engeline Lee


Tribute to Our Pioneers and Unsung Heroes

Many people have been involved and have contributed to the development of Singapore and made it what it is today. They volunteered and participated on an honorary basis, and some for many years. Besides a few many of these hardworking and kind souls remain unknown and Unsung Heroes.

The government, with its old guard leaders, rallied the people to build a new Singapore since it gained self government status in 1959. In 1965 we had to build a new nation or we would perish. The government itself could not do much without the support of the people. We had much to do but had little manpower and other resources to do what had to be done. The questions that were often asked were “What can we do now”? “How could we get the people’s help to participate?” The private sector uses money to attract those who need money and hope that these people are also dedicated to what they have to do. What have we in the public sector then got to offer?

When we were thrown into the deep end we discovered that there was plenty we could offer. This situation provided an opportunity and a challenge for people with nationalistic feelings, unique qualities, driving passion and creative idiosyncrasies to step forward and do their part. How could we attract these talents? We invited, mobilized, catalyzed and gave them opportunities to work together. A few thousands of these people stepped forward and volunteered to serve in various organizations which I was involved and over many years. It showed that there are people who believe in serving good causes if given the challenge and opportunities to do so.

I like to pay tribute to these people, many of whom have become my friends. These are the unsung heroes and pioneers who helped to build our S & T manpower, institutions, commerce and industries, professions and our nation. These people served happily on an honorary basis in the Boards, main committees, sub and special committees of these statutory and independent bodies. I am referring to the Singapore Science Council, Singapore Institute of Standards & Industrial Research (SISIR), Singapore Standards Council, Singapore Polytechnic Board, Singapore Science Centre, Singapore Professional Centre, Singapore Quality Institute and the many professional and other related bodies that were being formed then.

You helped built the foundation for the fellowship and networks to be established many of which are still there and have grown. You have shown that dedication to a good cause can be very satisfying and contagious. Without people like you many of the things we did would not have been done. The annual and other reports of the bodies mentioned above carry your names. You are my comrades in arms at a time when we needed you most. I treasure your participation, contributions and support!

For those who are still in the circuit keep it up. To know that people like you and the volunteers in charitable and community service exist and can be counted on is a very comforting thought for many of us. The only way we acknowledged and showed our appreciation then was just to give a tie, a scarf for the ladies, a simple meal, a visit to my house and a medal to a few. That was all we could afford then. We are very proud that many of you have risen to the occasions, to be leaders and made valuable contributions in your own ways. We are happy to be able to provide you with the opportunity to do so. You have left something behind that benefit your fellow men.

I will try to walk you down memory lane with some of the projects we did together. We will try to recall why and how we started some of these projects, overcome the difficulties encountered and the joy we had when we succeeded. Hopefully others may find it fun to try to do what we did. History like this should not be forgotten especially when so many have benefited and are still benefiting from your contributions. It is not possible to name every one of you but I hope you can identify the role you played, and the satisfaction and pride you had in some of the episodes that follow. If you have some experiences with us that you think can inspire the younger generation please let me know. I will try to include them in some of my articles where suitable.

Lee Kum Tatt
18 April 2007

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