Dr A. Vijiaratnam: Man with many hats

Dr A. Vijiaratnam: Man with many hats
Dr Arumugam Vijiaratnam standing by frames of photographs taken during his stellar international sporting career.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

He was a man who wore many hats - a sportsman who represented Singapore in football, hockey, rugby and cricket, an engineer who performed very well and a dedicated public service officer.

He was also the chairman of Tamil Murasu for 10 years from 1995 to 2005. A book on Dr A. Vijiaratnam's life Engineered For Success was due to be launched next month but he won't get to see it as he died on Feb 18 in his sleep at his home in Maryland Drive, off Holland Road.

The 94-year-old was born in Ipoh in 1921 but moved to Singapore and studied at Victoria School. In 1950, he received a government scholarship to study civil engineering at Brighton College of Technology in Britain.

When he returned to Singapore in 1953, he worked for the Public Works Department and Port of Singapore Authority (PSA). He was one of the two men who worked under then-PSA chairman Howe Yoon Chong, and played a significant role in reclamation works for Changi Airport. His achievement was mentioned in former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's book From Third World To First.

National University of Singapore Emeritus Professor Lee Sing Lip, a consultant for the Changi Airport project, told The Straits Times that Dr Vijiaratnam was "one of the best among people I have worked with all over the world".

Dr Vijiaratnam was also praised by the Government for his strategic work behind the development of Singapore's first container port at Tanjong Pagar. As his expertise in engineering was world-class, then-president Wee Kim Wee appointed him one of the commissioners of the inquiry team into the 1986 Hotel New World collapse. He retired from PSA as its director of engineering at 75.

He was the first pro-chancellor of Nanyang Technological University in 1992 and served till 2005. He also sat on the Presidential Council for Minority Rights from 1994 to 2001.

His son Vijendran, 55, told The Straits Times: "There are not enough words to describe my father and his contributions."

Dr Vijiaratnam was also a top sportsman. He was the only Singaporean to represent the country in hockey, rugby, football and cricket and he played for about a decade from 1946. He was part of the national hockey team that went to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president Tan Eng Liang, a water polo player who also went to the 1956 Olympics, said Dr Vijiaratnam was exceptional in being able to play four sports at a high level, and that athletes today could learn from him.

He told The Straits Times: "He was a role model in the way he was able to juggle both sports and a successful career."

Former MP and Tamil Murasu chairman S. Chandra Das worked at PSA with Dr Vijiaratnam, but knew him a long time before that. He said his passing was a great loss to the Indian community.

Dr Vijiaratnam leaves behind his son and three daughters, and eight grandchildren. His wife Yogasoundary was 86 when she died in December 2011.

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