Extraordinary S'porean blind activist Ron Chandran-Dudley, 81, dies

Extraordinary S'porean blind activist Ron Chandran-Dudley, 81, dies
Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley with his wife Rena in happier times.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Mrs Rena Chandran-Dudley had to make a tough decision yesterday: Letting doctors unplug her husband from life support machines.

"There was just no more hope left,'' said the 87-year-old.

And so, Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley died at the age of 81.

He was one of Singapore's key pioneers, having established many of the handicapped welfare associations here.

Blinded at 19 after a kick to the head during a rugby game, Mr Chandran-Dudley went on to graduate from the London School of Economics before he returned to Singapore and became a champion of the disabled here.

He was at the heart of public consultations and was given the National Day Award in 2001.

His wife, who spoke to The New Paper hours after his death, recalled how her husband, who had suffered heart problems and had a quintuple bypass years ago, woke up in the wee hours of yesterday morning in distress.


It was the worst attack she had seen him experience, she said. He complained of chest pains and tried to take a pill to ease his discomfort, but to no avail.

An ambulance was called at around 8am and he was taken to Parkway East Hospital, where he underwent emergency care.

"A doctor later came out and told me that they had done everything possible, but it was not working," she said.

From the sounds of the heart monitor, she knew that her husband would not pull through.

The couple had been married for 53 years. They met in the UK in February 1962 on a blind date and became close after they found out they both liked Polish composer Chopin.

With a slight smile, she said: "I suppose it was love at first sight for me. He was so intelligent, good-looking and charming."

Even though she practises Judaism while he was a Methodist, their parents approved of their relationship and they got married seven months later.

They had a daughter, Viva, but she died in 1998 when she was 26 due to a tumour in her brain.

With her husband's death, Mrs Chandran-Dudley now has to live alone in their two-storey, semi-detached house in the Katong area, with her maid of 17 years as company.

She said: "It will be very quiet without him. He was talkative and he always had visitors.

"His death seems like a bad dream. It still hasn't sunk in yet that he is gone."

The Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped said last night that Mr Chandran-Dudley would be sadly missed.

He had cared genuinely for their clients, said a spokesman.

"He was quick to voice his concerns and campaign for those he perceived at a disadvantage, and constantly advocated rehabilitation."

Ms Ang Bee Lian, veteran social worker and director of social welfare at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, said: "Ron was among the pioneers who saw beyond disabilities and paved the way for social inclusion, even when it was not a well-known concept.

"He shared selflessly of his understanding, of how to support people, to overcome their limitations. May our loss of Ron rekindle afresh our commitment to journey alongside fellowmen who have disabilities."

12 things about Ron Chandran-Dudley

He was born on April 18, 1934.

He was a student at Raffles Institution and aspired to be a brain surgeon. He had been accepted to study medicine when he suffered a kick to the head during a rugby match and lost his sight. He was 19.

Despite the physical setback, he graduated with a degree in social anthropology from the London School of Economics.

On his return, he became the general secretary for the Singapore Association for the Blind and developed a system that allowed blind children to get an education.

He studied vocational rehabilitation counselling and psychotherapy at the State University of New York at Albany, New York.

He founded the Disabled People's International in 1981 and the Disabled People's Association in 1986.

In 1981, he became the first World Chairman of the Disabled People's International, which is affiliated with the United Nations.

From 1980 to 1987, he was President of the Singapore Association of the Blind, which was then renamed the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH).

From 1987 to 1991, he was president of the SAVH.

He is a published author. His book, Tales From The Islands of Singapore - as told by Ron Chandran-Dudley, was published in 2001.

He received the National Day Award in 2001.

In 2004, he won a global competition to add a character in BBC radio soap Westway. The character's name was Zoe Chan Li-fen.

Li-fen was the name of Mr Chandran-Dudley's late daughter, who died in 1998. Zoe was the name of her cat.

Sources: Think Centre website, Disabled People's Association website, Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, The Straits Times, BBC

This article was first published on December 31, 2015.
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