SINGAPORE - At the age of 12, she witnessed her father die of a heart attack in hospital.
As the eldest of four children, Ms Cecilia Mathews had to take care of her three sisters while her widowed mother worked long and odd hours as a nurse to support the family.
Ms Mathews also earned her own pocket money by working part-time at Pizza Hut, while studying at Temasek Junior College.
But not once did her situation make her feel like she "didn't have enough".
Perhaps it had to do with her upbringing - her mother would often tell Ms Mathews and her sisters to "think of those who have less, rather than compare themselves to those who have more".
Said Ms Mathews, 44: "It hasn't been easy, but I'm glad I got through the hard times. And I haven't looked back since."
The plucky woman now holds her own as assistant director of human resources (HR) at Regent Singapore hotel - a position earned through hard work and her tenacious, never-say-die attitude.
Armed with a diploma in hotel management from Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland, Ms Mathews returned to Singapore in 1991, eager to apply her new skills.
But, despite rounds of interviews with various five-star hotels, all she was offered was the role of coffee-house waitress.
She had wanted a job in management, she said. "But I also didn't want to sit at home and wait, and be unemployed. So I took the job."