Wee Kim Wee
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Wee Kim Wee, Dr (b. 4 November 1915, Singapore - d. 2 May 2005, Singapore) was the fourth president of Singapore, who had established himself as a diplomat and a journalist. The Straits-born Chinese served eight years as the president from 2 September 1985 to 1 September 1993.
Wee had a humble beginning, his family being relatively poor. He lost his parents at a young age - his father when he was only eight and his mother when he was 19. The family lived in a rented house in Holland Road and the family subsisted on poultry and fruit trees that were grown in the home's compound. Wee attended Pearl's Hill School, Outram School and Raffles Institution but halted his education in 1929, at the age of 15, to supplement his family income through work.
Wee's uncle, Tan Kok Tiong, recommended Wee for a position at The Straits Times. Thus began Wee's career at The Straits Times in 1930. He first worked there as a clerk in the circulation department and was later transferred to the advertising department. His break into journalism came when he was called upon to report on sports outside office hours. In 1941, he resigned from The Straits Times and joined the United Press Association (UPA). During World War II, Wee served in the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and sold miscellaneous goods in front of the Singapore Harbour Board quarters in Kampong Bahru.
Wee rose through the ranks in UPA and became the chief correspondent and office manager for Singapore, Malaya, Borneo and Brunei in the 1950s. He rejoined The Straits Times in 1959 as its deputy editor and was promoted to editorial manager in 1970. In 1966, he was credited with bringing the first word that Indonesia was keen on ending Confrontation with Singapore when his interviews with Indonesia's new leaders Suharto and Adam Malik, the first by a local journalist, were published.
As a diplomat, Wee served as the high commissioner to Kuala Lumpur from 1973 to 1980, and as ambassador to Japan and the Republic of Korea between 1980 and 1984.
Wee was sworn in as the fourth president of Singapore on 2 September 1985. He had two operations in 1989 for cancer of the rectum and a prostate problem and recovered sufficiently to resume his appointment as Singapore's president. He also briefly enjoyed the new powers of an elected president that came into effect on 30 November 1991, before he retired at the age of 78 in 1993 after two successful four-year terms.
The all-rounded sportsman excelled particularly in badminton. He founded the Useful Badminton Party in 1934 and was also the president of the Singapore Badminton Association as well as the vice-president of the Badminton Association of Malaya. In 1937, he was the junior singles badminton champion.
During his illustrious career, Wee was appointed as the chairman of the Singapore Film Appeals Committee, board member of the National Theatre Trust, panel member of the Land Acquisition Board, and patron of the Chinese Swimming Club, Singapore Cancer Society, Singapore Turf Club and Singapore Repertory Theatre. He also served on the boards of several charitable organisations including the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association or SATA.
Wee was Singapore's chief scout during his presidential years from 1985 to 1993. He was also the fifth Singaporean to be made an honorary member of the Singapore Recreation Club in 1994. The Wee Kim Wee Professorship in Communication Studies at the Nanyang Technological University was established on 4 November 1995. A number of Wee's speeches have been deposited in the National Library collection.
1930 - 1941 : Clerk in The Straits Times circulation department; later promoted to reporter.
1941 : Office manager, UPA.
1945 : Sub-editor, UPA.
1947 - 1959 : Chief correspondent and office manager, United Press International, for Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo and Brunei.
1959 : Deputy editor, The Straits Times.
1966 : Appointed as a justice of the peace.
1970 - 1973 : Editorial manager, The Straits Times.
1973 - 1980 : High commissioner, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
1980 - 1984 : Ambassador to Japan and Republic of Korea.
1985 - 1993 : President of Singapore, serving two four-year terms.
1937 : President of the Singapore Badminton Association and vice-president of the Badminton Association of Malaya.
1966 : Justice of the peace.
1973 : President, Singapore Press Club.
1984 - 1985 : Chairman, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
1985 - 1993 : Chancellor, National University of Singapore.
1993 : Appointed as deputy registrar of marriages.
1999 : Director, Cathay Organisation Holdings.
1963 : Public Service Medal.
1973 : Public Service Star.
1979 : Meritorious Service Medal for contributions as Singapore's high commissioner to Malaysia.
1989 : Honorary Knight Grand Cross, Order of Bath.
1990 : Laila Utama (Most Esteemed Family Order), Brunei.
1993 : Order of Temasek (First Class) also known as Darjah Utama Temasek for distinguished contributions as president of Singapore from 1985 to 1993.
1994 : Doctor of Letters (honorary degree) by the National University of Singapore for his contributions to public service and his contributions to the University of Singapore as its chancellor for eight years.
1996 : Special inaugural award for distinguished service to journalism.
1998 : Distinguished Service Award from the Asia-Pacific Region Scout Committee for contributions to the Singapore scout movement.
Father: Wee Choon Lay, a cargo clerk who became blind at the age of 45.
Mother: Chua Hay Luan alias Tak Poh.
Wife: Koh Sok Hiong (m. 1936). Koh was born in Singapore and studied at Hua Chiao Primary School and Nanyang Girls High School.
Children: One son and six daughters.
Sharon Teng & Jenny Tien
A man without pretensions. (1985, August 31). The Straits Times, Singapore, p. 16.
Channelnewsasia. (2005). Obituary: Wee Kim Wee, 1915-2005. Retrieved November 7, 2005, from www.channelnewsasia.com/obituary/weekimwee/
Istana Singapore. (2006, April 28). Wee Kim Wee. Retrieved September 18, 2009, from http://www.istana.gov.sg/FormerPresidents/WeeKimWee/index.htm
Lee, S. H., & Chua, M. H. (1993, August 22). Never shun the common people. The Straits Times, Singapore, pp. 1-3.
Ministry of Culture. (1977). Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture.
(Call no.: RSING 328.59570922 BIO)
Nanyang Technological University. (2005). Dr Wee Kim Wee. Retrieved January 12, 2005, from www.ntu.edu.sg/ALUMNI/Giving+to+NTU/Professorships/Wee+Kim+Wee+Professorship.htm
Singapore Chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore (pp. 52-54). (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
Teo, A., & Chuang, P. M. (1993, September 1). House pays tribute to outgoing president. The Straits Times, Singapore News, p. 2.
Touching tribute to Wee Kim Wee. (2005, May 13). The Straits Times, Singapore.
Who's Who Publishing. (2000). Who's who in Singapore (p 280). Singapore: Who's Who Publishing.
(Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
Wee, Eng Hwa. (2010). Cooking for the President : reflections & recipes of Mrs Wee Kim Wee. Singapore : Wee Eng Hwa.
(Call no.: RSING 641.595957 WEE)
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.