Top sportsman, engineer, civil servant dies at age 94

Top sportsman, engineer, civil servant dies at age 94
Dr Arumugam Vijiaratnam standing by frames of photographs taken during his stellar international sporting career.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

He excelled at four sports, played key role in developing PSA, Changi Airport.

A sportsman who represented Singapore in four arenas, an engineer who rose to the top of his profession and dedicated public service officer, Dr A. Vijiaratnam died yesterday without seeing the book about his life, Engineered For Success, get launched next month.

But for his son Vijendran, 55, and many others who knew him, a tome can barely sum up the measure of the man. "There are not enough words to describe my father and his contributions," said his son, citing the many positions he held at work and in the community. Although he was a busy man, he spent a lot of time with family too, he added.

Dr Vijiaratnam, 94, died peacefully yesterday at his home in Maryland Drive, off Holland Road.

Born in Ipoh in 1921, he later moved to Singapore, where he 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 in 1953, he joined the Public Works Department until he was seconded to the Port of Singapore Authority in 1964.

Dr Vijiaratnam played a key role in PSA's formation, helping to develop its containerisation programme, among other things, and rose to become its chief engineer.

He worked there for 17 years, and was one of two key men under then PSA chairman Howe Yoon Chong who were instrumental in reclamation works for Changi Airport, a feat that drew mention 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, said Dr Vijiaratnam was "one of the best amongst people I have worked with, all over the world".

Prof Lee said in the book that he was not only a good engineer, but also a good administrator who could execute projects well.

However, it was on the playing field where he really shone. The only Singaporean to represent the country in hockey, rugby, football and cricket, 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 said: "He was a role model in the way he was able to juggle both sports and a successful career."

Dr Vijiaratnam was also the first pro-chancellor of Nanyang Technological University, serving from 1992 to 2005. He was also chairman of Tamil Murasu for 10 years from 1995, and served on the Presidential Council for Minority Rights from 1994 to 2001.

A chartered engineer, he became the first Asian to serve as vice-president of the Britain-based Institution of Structural Engineers.

Dr Vijiaratnam also served on the commission of inquiry for the Hotel New World disaster in 1986.

Former MP and Tamil Murasu chairman S. Chandra Das worked at PSA with Dr Vijiaratnam, but was familiar with the man for a long time before that, having admired his sporting career as a schoolboy.

He said his passing was a great loss to the Indian community.

Dr Vijiaratnam is survived by his son and three daughters, and eight grandchildren. His wife Yogasoundary died in 2011, aged 86. The funeral is tomorrow.

This article was first published on Feb 19, 2016.
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