Cobbler, who was devoted to wife with dementia, dies at 70

Cobbler Tan Ah Bah, 70, was known for his devotion to his wife of 45 years.

Sadly, dementia has robbed Madam Yap Guek Neo, 67, of memories of her husband and left her quite oblivious to his death.

Mr Tan, who was also known as Mr Ng Ah Bah, was featured by The New Paper in 2014 for taking his wheelchair-bound wife with him to work every day so he that could look after her.

His death was announced by Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling on Facebook on Wednesday night.

Mr Tan was found slumped at the entrance of the kitchen in his three-room HDB flat in MacPherson last Thursday night.

It is believed that he was trying to go to the bathroom before he fell, his son Danial Ng, told TNP yesterday.

"He was in a sitting position. I think he was trying to get up after falling," added the 44-year-old engineer.

The body of Mr Tan, who rented out one of his two bedrooms to earn extra money, was discovered by a tenant.

He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

Mr Tan's children arranged for their mother to go to the wake in an ambulance so that she could see her husband for the last time.

Madam Yap had moved into a nursing home in Tampines after suffering a second stroke in 2014.

"We told her that he wouldn't be waking up any more and she burst into tears," said Mr Ng.

"But she seemed to forget about it after a while. Maybe it's a good thing for her."

Mr Tan's death came as a shock to his family and friends because he appeared to be physically fit despite having health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.


Mr Peter Cheng, 82, who owns an electrical shop at Katong Plaza on East Coast Road, said he noticed that Mr Tan had been looking frail lately.

Mr Tan had plied his trade at Katong Plaza for 11 years before he was evicted last year.

He was given a month's notice to leave the shopping centre after his friend, Mr Mike Lim, became violent after getting drunk at Mr Tan's stall.

Mr Tan had earlier denied this because he did not want to get Mr Lim into trouble.

After the eviction, Ms Tin helped Mr Tan secure another location at Marine Parade Central for him to continue his trade.

"When he was at Katong Plaza, there were people who gave him food and money because they took pity on him," said Mr Cheng.

"He could even boil water to drink.

"At the new place, the conditions could not have been as good."

Mr Tan's faithful care of his wife left an impression on Mr Cheng.

He said: "She would sit quietly by his side when he was at work and they never quarrelled.

"He would carry her up the stairs to take her to the female toilet because there was no toilet for the disabled in the shopping centre."

Mr Lim was shocked to learn of his friend's death from a mutual friend on Wednesday, after his release from three weeks' jail for stealing beer.

The 53-year-old, who had helped Mr Tan with his trade daily, set up a makeshift shrine at the cobbler's stall to pay his respects. He said: "He had health problems, but he seemed fine before I went to jail.

"But I also noticed that he sometimes looked sad. I didn't want to probe, but I think he was worried about his wife."

Mr Ng worries about his mother's future as well.

Mr Tan, who had been paying the $2,000 monthly expenses of the nursing home - with the help of donations and his rental income - did not leave a will.

Madam Yap, who now has ownership of the flat, is not capable of making any decisions because of her dementia.


Mr Ng is applying for legal aid so he can make decisions on his mother's behalf.

He said: "Our main priority is our mum and ensuring that she can get the best care.

"My father wanted to take care of my mum as long as possible and was reluctant to send her to a nursing home for the longest time."

MP Tin Pei Ling pays tribute

Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling posted on Facebook on Wednesday about Mr Tan Ah Bah's death and his undying love for his wife:

I had posted about my cobbler resident, Mr Tan Ah Bah, before, and I am thankful for all your support towards him.

Sadly, Mr Tan has left us. I was shocked and saddened when I was informed of his demise last week.

I had only just met him at a temple event a few days earlier and he looked well.

I still recall the smile on his face and the look in his eyes. It's the same look every time I see him.

He hardly spoke but through his expression, I knew he was very happy to see me and join us in our community events. And I, too, was always very pleased to see him.

Mr Tan's son came to me at MPS (Meet-the-People Session) on Monday, and we chatted about him.

As we reminisced about him, I felt very sad but inspired at the same time. His son was definitely beaming with pride when speaking about his father.

Mr Tan was a man who took pride in his work as a cobbler.

He became a cobbler when he was 13 years old and had learnt his skills from his father.

He later operated in the Katong area for 40-over years, of which 11 were in Katong Plaza before he sought my help to relocate.

He eventually operated in Marine Parade and built up a very good client pool.

Mr Tan believed in integrity and always emphasised that there must be no shortcut in mending shoes.

He took pride in that shoes he mended lasted for a long time.

He once told me that he "saw the world" just by working on the shoes of his diverse pool of customers.

Clearly, he was passionate about his trade.

I once asked Mr Tan about how he met Mrs Tan, out of "kaypoh-ness".

He revealed that when he was a young cobbler, one of his customers asked him if he would like to marry one of his seven daughters.

Mr Tan said he would have to arrange for his parents to meet them before confirming the marriage.

And so, within a few months, they met and got married.


Over the decades, Mr Tan had been faithful to his wife and loved her deeply.

He cared for her and would never leave her in the lurch even when she became ill and had to stay in a nursing home.

Mrs Tan has dementia, but her husband would visit her at the nursing home every day without fail.

He worked hard, even in his old age, to support her.

One would know he was definitely a good husband when Mrs Tan genuinely grieved after realising he was gone - though she soon forgot due to her dementia.

Mr Tan's resilience and independent spirit, and his undying love for his wife are inspiring.

Therefore, as I share his family's grief, I dedicate this post to our beloved Mr Tan Ah Bah.

Mr Tan, may you rest in peace.

This article was first published on September 30, 2016.
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