SINGAPORE - There was a time when people said that the Esplanade was a $600 million white elephant that wouldn't make it.
But it did, welcoming 1.8 million patrons over 3,000 shows last year. And retired banker Theresa Foo, 71, has helped steer the theatres' development as a board member since 1997 and as chairman since 2005.
"Nobody is going to walk through it and it's only for the elite to attend concerts," she recalled her friends saying. "Now, it has become an arts centre really for the people of Singapore, for everyone. That's tremendous."
Mrs Foo, who also chairs the Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Business Federation Foundation, is one of six recipients of the prestigious Meritorious Service Medal at the National Day Awards this year - double the number of recipients last year.
It is awarded to those who have made outstanding contributions to Singapore, and whose service has been marked by exceptional ability, merit and conduct.
Two other recipients are from the health sector: Health Sciences Authority chairman Satkunanantham Kandiah, 64; and Ms Jennie Chua, 70, chairman of Alexandra Health System - which manages Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
The rest are Competition Commission of Singapore chairman Lam Chuan Leong, 66; Legal Service Commission member and Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang, 59; and Council of Presidential Advisers member Po'ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, 66.
Professor Satkunanantham, who lectures at the National University of Singapore, counts developing and implementing the national mental health blueprint as one of his top achievements.
The former Health Ministry director of medical services added: "Mental health strikes one in five people. Each one of us will either be or have someone close to us affected, and I think it is an investment worthwhile making there."
Ms Chua, when asked about how she ended up serving in organisations as varied as the arts and social services, replied: "Very often, I'm asked. If it is something I will enjoy, and I have the skill set and attributes to add value to, then my answer will be 'yes'."
The hotelier cited how she was asked by then Minister Abdullah Tarmugi to chair the Community Chest in 1999. She took on the role from 2000 until last year, spearheading efforts that raised tens of millions of dollars for the needy each year.
Mr Lam, a former permanent secretary at ministries including finance and environment, said he is "very honoured" to be awarded.
Mr Lee, who chairs the Workplace Safety and Health Council, thanked Shell for "giving me the time and opportunity to serve the wider community using the skills and experience that I have picked up in my working career".
Mr Po'ad, a retired senior partner of accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, too, said: "I share this award with my family, friends and the people I work with for their support, encouragement and guidance over the years."
This article was first published on Aug 9, 2014.
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