'Doyenne of S'pore publishers', 65, dies

'Doyenne of S'pore publishers', 65, dies
Straits Times Press executive director Shirley Hew.

Straits Times Press executive director Shirley Hew, a publishing veteran who discovered award-winning local writers Suchen Christine Lim and Colin Cheong, died at home yesterday morning after a nearly three-year battle with colon cancer. She was 65.

Ms Hew is survived by her husband of over 40 years, retired businessman S. K. Hoh, their two children, Guy and Dawn, and a granddaughter. The wake is being held this weekend at Mount Vernon Sanctuary, Tranquillity Hall. The memorial service is on Monday at Mandai Crematorium, Hall 1, at 1.15pm.

Ms Hew learnt of her illness in March 2012, when the cancer had spread to her liver. In between chemotherapy and other treatments, she continued work on book projects and was in the office a week before her death.

"She was a super career woman," said her 38-year-old daughter, recalling Saturdays spent helping Ms Hew at book fairs, and meeting noted Singapore authors. "All her work friends were family friends. She influenced a lot of lives."

Ms Hew was born in 1949 to a foreman and a housewife. She studied at Fairfield Methodist School, Raffles Girls' School and did her bachelor's in English literature at the National University of Singapore.

Though hailed by many as "a pioneer and the doyenne of Singapore publishers", to quote book distributor Ian Pringle of APD Singapore, Ms Hew came to the industry late.

Her early jobs ranged from piano teacher to broadcaster and then an executive post at an Indonesian tobacco company. In December 1981, she was hired as publishing manager for what was then Times Books International, later Times Editions.

She revved up the publishing list from 20 titles a year to 80 by 1990, bringing out some of Singapore's top authors, such as Boey Kim Cheng, Philip Jeyaretnam and Claire Tham.

Ms Hew also developed a series on cultures and countries that won the New York Public Library's Teenage Book Of The Year Award.

She moved to SNP International Publishing in 2002 and, six years later, helmed Singapore Press Holdings' publishing division, Straits Times Press. Major titles under her aegis include Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going (2011) and this year's expose of football match-fixing Foul!.

Ms Shova Loh, publishing manager at ST Press, has worked with Ms Hew since 1981. "Her strength was in seeing possibilities where there seemed very little. She would see a glimmer or something that could be nurtured and grow it into something big."

At least two authors and Singapore Literature Prize winners said Ms Hew took a chance on them when no one else would. Novelist Lim, 66, said: "While other Singapore publishers wanted me to cut out the political themes in my first novel, Shirley Hew took a risk and published Rice Bowl despite its political themes and the Government's strict censorship of the arts in the 1980s."

akshitan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 13, 2014.
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