Former PAP MP Dixie Tan, 78, dies

Former PAP MP Dixie Tan, 78, dies
Dr Tan meeting the press at the PAP headquarters in 1984 after being named as an election candidate.

SINGAPORE - Former Member of Parliament Dixie Tan, whose entry into politics in 1984 brought an end to 14 years of an all-male Parliament, died yesterday of brain cancer.

She was 78.

The cardiologist, who with her husband performed Singapore's first successful heart valve operation in 1971, struggled with the cancer for two months, her daughter Jacinta, 49, told The Straits Times. She died in Singapore General Hospital just after midnight.

"We have had a huge outpouring of love from people throughout her short illness. Her Christian faith gave her strength and peace," said the youngest of Dr Tan's four children, who is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Swansea University in Wales.

Dr Tan, MP for Ulu Pandan for seven years until 1991, was one of three women the People's Action Party fielded in 1984.

The other two were university lecturer Aline Wong and trade unionist Yu-Foo Yee Shoon. Dr Wong became a senior minister of state, and Mrs Yu-Foo, a minister of state. Both have since left politics.

Among the challenges that Dr Tan faced was caring for her two sons, who were intellectually disabled.

When she could not find a suitable school for the two boys, she helped found the Association for Educationally Subnormal Children in 1976. It was later renamed the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN).

Yesterday, Dr Wong spoke of Dr Tan's strength of character, which she said was partly why she was selected for politics: "She could stand so strong and firm despite her two children" being intellectually disabled.

As an MP, Dr Tan was a strong advocate for children with special needs. She urged the Government to provide education to equip the children for jobs and to live independently, and to train teachers in special education.

The importance of studying the arts and the humanities was also a common theme in her parliamentary speeches.

But her political career was not without controversy.

When she took 10 months of study leave in 1990 to get a diploma in family and marital therapy in London, Ulu Pandan residents felt neglected.

The PAP nearly lost the ward in the 1991 general election. Mr Lim Boon Heng, former Cabinet minister and now Temasek Holdings chairman, won it by a narrow 56.4 per cent of the votes against Singapore Democratic Party's Ashleigh Seow.

Later in 2001, Dr Tan said in an interview: "I concluded that I was never cut out to be a politician, and there were also government policies I disagreed with but could not speak out against in Parliament because the government Whip was not lifted."

After she retired from politics, she became a family and marital therapist at family service centres for 10 years.

Dr Wong, who knew her for almost 40 years and visited her after her younger son, Kenneth, died last year, said: "She never complained about her lot, never was bitter. She always said it was God's will."

Dr Wong, who had visited Dr Tan on Tuesday afternoon, said she had been "in a coma for a few days".

Dr Tan is survived by her husband, Dr Tan Ngoh Chuan, 83; son Russell, 54, daughters Grace, 50, and Jacinta, 49, and grandson Christian Lim, seven.

Her wake will be held at Mount Vernon Sanctuary Grace Hall tomorrow and on Saturday. Her funeral service will be on Sunday at Paya Lebar Methodist Church.

chinlian@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 24 in The Straits Times.

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