An exceptionally giving man with a smiling face

An exceptionally giving man with a smiling face
Then President Wee Kim Wee (left) and Dr Ee Peng Liang at the Istana on July 2, 1992, for the launching of the Ee Peng Liang Award.

SINGAPORE - It is 100 years today since he was born, and 19 years since his death, but Ee Peng Liang is still a name veterans of Singapore's social service sector remember well.

He was called the Father of Charity in Singapore, and on why he was exceptional, social work veteran Ann Wee, 87, says: "He was an ideas man as well as a giving man, to an unusual extent. He had great faith in the idea of a Community Chest, when many people felt it could not work in our culture."

Dr Ee, who died at the age of 81 in 1994 at his Katong home, founded the national fund-raising institution and helped set up the Singapore Council of Social Service, of which he was president for more than 28 years.

A businessman with his own accountancy firm and a philanthropist, he held office in more than 50 organisations, including welfare agencies, schools, charities and hospitals.

Younger generations recognise his legacy in his son Gerard Ee, 63, a champion of social service issues. One of five Ee siblings, he recalled that his father's charitable nature made an impact on him as a child, and also on others.

"In the early 60s my father decided that for Christmas we would give the kids in our neighbourhood a simple present. We bought various toys from Chinatown and packed them and then on Christmas Day invited the kids from our neighbourhood to walk through the house and collect a gift. This was a yearly affair," he said.

"A few months ago I bumped into a lady who was one of those kids. The experience touched her life and today she is an active volunteer."

Born in Singapore on Nov 24, 1913, Dr Ee's life-long devotion to social work was forged from his near-death experiences during the Japanese Occupation.

He was detained at age 28. On one occasion, a Japanese officer unsheathed his sword and called for volunteers to be executed. As the most senior man in the group, the young Dr Ee felt it was his duty to step forward. Instead of being beheaded, he was commended by the Japanese and set free.

He once told the Oral History Unit of the National Archives that being spared death on three occasions during the war fortified his belief that his life was meant for some purpose.

"You have been spared for something," he says on a preserved tape recording. Such thoughts triggered his involvement in charity work.

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