Fresh out of secondary school in 1969, he faced a choice - nature or numbers?
Mr Low Yong Kwee, now 63, preferred the former and spurned the then-Income Tax department to join the Parks and Recreation Department.
Forty-four years on, he is proud of being among the pioneers of greening Singapore.
He was among those responsible for Singapore's most iconic and scenic route - the tree-lined East Coast Parkway.
Mr Low saw our garden city's transformation from planting trees for shade and greenery, to planting flowering trees to add colour to the landscape, and finally to trees that promote biodiversity and attract birds.
"When I was younger, I used to dread public holidays because I was itching to get back to work. There was so much to be done," said Mr Low, who sports a dark tan from his years in the outdoors.
Mr Low was nominated by the National Parks Board to receive the Ministry of National Development (MND) Medallion for distinguished service at a closed-door event yesterday.
It was presented to past partners and retired staff of MND to recognise their contributions.
He started as a junior horticulture assistant in 1969. By the time he retired last year, he was the Section Head/Streetscape, in charge of managing the eastern sector of Singapore.
With a grin, Mr Low said he enjoys passing by Loyang Avenue, where his team had planted a row of Khaya trees - West Africa native trees that were introduced to Singapore in the 1970s.
"When they were planted, they reached my chest. Now they are towering over me. I feel a happiness that comes from a sense of pride and achievement," he said.
When he used to take his children, now 36 and 30, for a drive, he would point out the trees that he helped to plant.
"But they hear about it so much that they will say, 'Dad, stop talking about trees'," the grandfather of three said with a chuckle.
His passion for greenery will go on, as long as his health allows, he said.
He upgraded his skills in 2002 by getting a certification from the International Society of Arboriculture and is still attending courses.
Six months after retiring, he joined Gardens by the Bay as an arboriculture specialist.
"I live by three simple rules - get your basics right, try your best and keep on learning," he said.
When they (the trees) were planted, they reached my chest. Now they are towering over me.
- Mr Low Yong Kwee
Ministry of National Development honours pioneer horticulturist
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