Educator Gwee Yee Hean (1929-2013)
Chiang Lay Kim
Mr Gwee Yee Hean was born in Singapore in 1929. He is a native Tonganese (now Xiangan Lu Qian). In 1950, he graduated from the then University of Malaya’s (now the National University of Singapore) Department of Education. After graduation, he taught at the Chinese High School before he left for University of Landon for advanced studies. He was conferred a master’s degree and subsequently a Doctor of Philosophy in English Literature. He was not just proficient in English but in Chinese too.
In 1955, he joined the Federation of Malaya as a school inspector. From 1963 to 1971, he was a senior lecturer and dean of the Institute of Education, University of Singapore. In 1982, he was elected as the president of the South Sea Society. He was also the editor of two periodicals, namely 南洋学报 and 东南亚教育学报. In 1983, he became the chief executive director of ICBC. He was appointed dean of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1989.
In 1969, he was conferred the Public Service Medal. In the same year, he received an academic award from the Chinese Culture University of Taiwan and an academic achievement award from Japan in 1987. Dr Gwee had written many books too including a book entitled “The Development of Education in Malaysia and Singapore” which he co-authored with Francis Hoy Kee Wong.
Dr Gwee passed away on February 10, 2013 at the age of 85, leaving behind his wife, two sons and a daughter. Dr Gwee was the president of 新加坡儒商学会 and visiting professor at Peking University’s Institute of Southeast Asian at the time of his death.
I came to know Dr Gwee in the early 1990s when I was working at the Ministry of the Environment. Dr Gwee used to bring in batches of government officials from all over China to Singapore for training attachments. I was assigned by my department to brief these officials on various aspects of public health and hawker management policies implemented by the Singapore government.
Dr Gwee passed away on the first day of the lunar new-year. He was cremated on the 3rd day and his ashes were scattered in the sea by his family members on the 4th day. I learned of Dr Gwee’s death from Mr Lee Bock Guan, the abbot of Singapore Buddhist Lodge. Mr Lee was Dr Gwee’s close-friend and he set up a spirit tablet in the Buddhist lodge for people to pay homage to this cultural and educational scholar.