Widow of late SMU professor opens up on her grief

Widow of late SMU professor opens up on her grief
Mrs Caroline Koh (left) at her husband's wake. Her husband, Professor Winston Koh, an economics lecturer at Singapore Management University (SMU), drowned during a diving trip at Pulau Dayang in Malaysia.

When she had to identify her husband's body at the mortuary of Mersing Hospital, she saw maggots crawling out of his eye sockets.

It's an image that comes to her mind every day, said Mrs Caroline Koh who is in her 50s.

Her husband, former Singapore Management University economics professor Winston Koh, 50, died in a diving incident off Pulau Dayang, Malaysia in 2013.

"I came out (of the mortuary) with a very deep sense of sadness, for the way he went and the way that his body was left to deteriorate," said Mrs Koh, a university lecturer.

"He was a very proud man who paid a lot of attention to his looks.

It was very sad to see him in that state," said the mother of two daughters, aged 25 and 17.

Mrs Koh spoke to The New Paper on Wednesday after an out-of-court settlement last week in which the dive school, Mako Sub-Aquatics, admitted its negligence and compensated her.

Both Mrs Koh and her lawyers from Harry Elias Partnership declined to reveal the amount.

Mrs Koh said she initially proceeded with the civil suit as she wanted to find out the details leading to her husband's drowning.

"I also wanted to ensure such an incident doesn't happen again to anyone.

It was really painful to all of us," she said.

She added that the lawsuit was not motivated by vengeance, but an attempt to "protect future beginner divers and even seasoned divers of possible mishaps as a result of malpractices and negligence".

"Very often, accidents or near-misses happen, and people just gloss over them and life goes on until the next fatal case happens.

"It can't go on like that.

If something like this happens again, (I want them to know that) the consequence is a lawsuit," she said.

Although the lawsuit's end gave her some closure, Mrs Koh has to deal with her grief, which she described as "complex", every day.

It is difficult to put on a brave front for her two daughters, conceded the widow, who was married to Prof Koh for 24 years.

"It's the kind of grief that doesn't go away for a long time.

Sometimes, it doesn't go away at all.

"I don't know about my daughters.

I hope they are coming to terms with it.

"Certainly, for me, it would not be so easy.

"It's a bit like a wound that never heals.

You just have to manage it," she said.

Scholarship

Prof Koh's name lives on in a scholarship offered at Raffles Institution for financially needy students.

Prof Koh was not only an avid sportsman who ran marathons.

He also made photography and ballroom dancing his hobbies, inspiring his elder daughter to do both.

She declined to speak with TNP.

Mrs Koh's lawyer, Mr S Suressh, said that to the best of his knowledge, this is the first civil lawsuit involving drowning or any kind of casualty of a recreational diver.

"It demonstrates to dive operators, instructors and dive masters that they do owe a legal duty to the divers under their care and they can be held to account if they breach this duty," he told TNP.

Lawyer Bernard Sahagar said in a statement on behalf of his client Mako Sub-Aquatics that Mrs Koh had wanted his client to take responsibility for her husband's death so as to have closure in the matter.

"The (offer) was too good to turn down and the action was settled and discontinued," he said.


This article was first published on Jan 22, 2015.
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