Lives of the fellows

Ah Leng Gwee

b.17 July 1920 d.31 March 2006
LMS Singapore(1949) MRCP(1954) MD(1964) FRCP(1967)

Gwee Ah Leng was a distinguished physician in Singapore. He was a sound clinician and held a special interest in neurology, at which he excelled. He entered King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore just before the second world war, which disrupted his studies, but he completed his medical education in 1949.

He joined the Government Medical Service as a medical officer, the start of an illustrious and well-respected career as a physician. He was later appointed head of medical unit three when it was formed in the expansion of the medical faculty at Singapore General Hospital. He held this post until 1971, when he retired from the Government Medical Service and went into private practice. During his term in the service he earned the respect of all the medical students who came under him, and many have become very prominent in their various chosen specialties, doubtless influenced largely by his own compassionate approach.

He had a strong interest in education, particularly medical education, and in 1959 he was on a government-appointed committee to revise the Prescott Report, in which an expatriate professor was rather critical of the quality of education in the Nanyang University and the influence of communist activities amongst its students. He later worked on a committee which drafted the constitution of the University of Singapore. For all this public service and contributions to medicine and education in Singapore he was awarded the meritorious service medal in 1967 by the Government of Singapore.

He was also involved in medical politics from the start of his career. He was driven by a profound sense of right and wrong and also a sense of civic responsibility, no doubt fuelled by the change from colonialism to self government and finally to independence of Singapore. He was an active member of the BMA (Singapore branch) and later the Singapore Medical Association (SMA), when Singapore became independent. He was president of the SMA from 1972 to 1973. He was made an honorary member of the SMA in 1990. He active in debates on legalised abortion (he was against it), euthanasia and matters of professional secrecy and medical ethics and the principle of good medical practice. He had strong views and was very principled, firmly and steadfastly standing by his beliefs.

While he patiently listened to the views of others, he always displayed a characteristically bemused expression and a quizzical smile if you had a difference of opinion with him. This always seemed to make you lose confidence and sit back and wonder if your remarks were indeed in order. He was always right, but I think that on occasion he would be deliberately provocative to start a friendly debate and to get other views on the subject under discussion.

Ah Leng’s interest in postgraduate medical education was further exemplified when he became a founder member of the Academy of Medicine Singapore in 1957 and was elected master from 1961 to 1964. He was also instrumental in getting Singapore’s first head of state, Yusok Ishak, to present the coat of arms to the Academy of Medicine at the Medical Centre in 1963.

His sense of civic duty and responsibility, and beliefs he had, made him a very active member of the Telok Ayer Methodist Church, St John’s Ambulence Brigade and Chinese YMCA (later known as the Metropolitan YMCA), where he was president. He was largely responsible for restoring the goodwill and cordial relationship between the YMCA of Singapore and the Metropolitan YMCA, which had been drifting apart.

Robert C K Loh

[Singapore Med J.,2006, 47(5):447-449]

(Volume XII, page web)

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