Michael Fam dies at age 87

Mr Fam in a picture taken at his birthday in January this year. On the left, a file photo shows Mr Fam riding a train at the official opening of the MRT system together with the then Second Deputy PM Ong Teng Cheong, PM Lee Kuan Yew, Communications Minister Yeo Ning Hong, Mrs Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Fock Siew Wah.

Prominent businessman Michael Fam, who has a record of public service spanning more than 40 years, died yesterday at the age of 87.

Mr Fam was the executive chairman of the Fraser and Neave Group (F&N) from 1983 to 2007.

He presided over the expansion of the public housing programme as chairman of the Housing Board from 1975 to 1983 and was chairman of the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRTC) from 1983 to 1991 when the MRT network was built.

He is credited with modernising the construction industry, ensuring that the HDB building programme went smoothly, and with completing the first MRT project - the North-South and East-West lines in 1990 - within budget and two years ahead of schedule.

In a condolence message last night, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Mr Fam "embodied many of the best characteristics of our pioneer generation". Describing Mr Fam as responsible, dedicated and far-sighted, Dr Tan noted that he "brought a sense of purpose" to the companies he headed and "business acumen" to the statutory boards he helmed.

"We honour Dr Fam for his lifelong commitment to Singapore and Singaporean companies."

Mr Fam, a Hakka, was born in North Borneo and educated at St Andrew's School in Singapore. He graduated with a first-class honours in civil engineering from the University of Western Australia, Perth. His engineering background saw him called into public service in 1963 as a board member of the Public Utilities Board.

Mr Fam also left his mark in education. He was the first chairman of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) council when the university was set up in 1981. After he retired from it in 1993, the NTU conferred an honorary doctorate on him and set up a visiting professorship in engineering in his honour.

Mr Fam was also a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers from 1992 to 2004, and the chairman of the Public Transport Council from 1987 to 1989. The Government tapped his financial acumen several times, such as by asking him to review the divestment of government-linked companies in 1986 and audit the benchmark used for calculating ministerial salaries in 1994.

Mr Fam received a string of state honours for public service from 1974, including the Order of Nila Utama (First Class), one of Singapore's highest state awards, in 1990. The citation described him as a "rare individual" who serves the public at "great personal sacrifice".

As a businessman, he was credited with restoring the fortunes of Haw Par, a major local company, when it was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1975, saving jobs and the investments of small shareholders. He also held directorships at Singapore Airlines (SIA), Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Temasek Holdings, among others.

SPH chief executive Alan Chan recalled Mr Fam as a mentor who encouraged him to draw up a long-term strategy for the newspaper company. "Many of the initiatives SPH has undertaken in the last 10 years were due to the foresight and encouragement of Mr Fam."

Mr Koh Poh Tiong, director and adviser to the F&N board, credits Mr Fam for transforming the firm from a beverage company to a conglomerate with interests in drinks, properties and publishing. Mr Fam, who had prostate cancer, leaves his wife Dulcie, 88, son Richard, 58, and daughter Anita, 51.

His son Richard said that Mr Fam died peacefully, surrounded by family members. "In a way, he touched the lives of Singaporeans through the MRT system and HDB flats," he said.

The wake will be held tonight and tomorrow night at Mount Vernon. A private funeral will be held on Tuesday.

tohyc@sph.com.sg


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