Lives of the fellows

Andrew Guan Khuan Chew

b.11 October 1929 d.29 February 2012
MB BS Malaya(1955) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1975) Hon FAMS FRCP Edin

Andrew Chew was director of medical services and subsequently head of the Civil Service in Singapore. He was born in Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo, the son of Joon Thin Chew. He then went to Singapore and studied at St Andrew’s School, passing the Cambridge School Certificate Examination with a high grade in 1947, slightly late because of the Second World War. In the tradition of the school, he excelled at sports, and was a tough and adept rugby player. He decided on a career in medicine and graduated from the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1955.

He joined the Singapore Civil Service as a medical officer in the Ministry of Health at the age of 27. A disciple of Sir Gordon Arthur Ransome [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.485], he trained in medical unit I at the Singapore General Hospital. In 1959 he was awarded a scholarship to London for a course leading to the MRCP, which he passed within six months.

In 1962 he returned to Singapore as a senior registrar at the Thomson Road General Hospital under Seah Cheng Siang [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.463], who was then the physician in charge as well as medical superintendent.

In 1964 Andrew was promoted to medical superintendent of the Thomson Road General Hospital. Three months later, he moved to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) as its medical superintendent. During his tenure he reorganised TTSH into four medical units from the previous three.

Three years later he was made medical superintendent of Kandang Kerbau Hospital and in 1968, at the age of 39, he was promoted to the senior consultant grade. In 1970 he was medical superintendent of Singapore General Hospital and a year later returned to the Ministry of Health as deputy director of medical services (hospitals). He promoted joint collaborative projects between the Tuberculosis Research Committee and the British Medical Research Council, leading to the establishment of the current short course therapeutic regimens for tuberculosis.

His sterling work was duly recognised and he was awarded the Public Service Administration gold medal in 1975 and, two years later, was appointed as the acting permanent secretary of health, as well as the director of medical services. He was then 48 years old. His meteoric rise through the Civil Service was phenomenal and by 52 he was permanent secretary grade A.

In 1984 he left the Ministry of Health to take up the posts of second permanent secretary (public service), Ministry of Finance, permanent secretary (special duties), Prime Minister’s Office (under Lee Kuan Yew) and deputy head of the Civil Service – three important and high profile portfolios. Some seven months later he was appointed head of the Civil Service and permanent secretary (public services) at the Prime Minister’s Office. He retired in October 1994 and was awarded the Meritorious Service medal.

Andrew was the archetypal true, dedicated, loyal civil servant who would have signed letters ‘yours obediently’. He gave his whole life to the Civil Service, such that when he retired at 65, the government still required his excellent professional services. He was chairman of the Central Provident Fund from 1994 to 1998, then chairman of the Public Service Commission until July 2008. He served as chairman of the board of governors of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (from 1976), as a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights (from 1994) and of the Legal Service Commission (from 1998). He was also chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Exchange Fellowship and Scholarship Fund and the Dr Goh Keng Swee Scholarship Fund (from 1998). In 2002, the government conferred on him the Distinguished Service Order.

In the last two years of his life, Chew underwent several major operations, including bladder surgery and a hip replacement (following a long-standing injury from his schoolboy rugby days). In 2012 he underwent cardiac valve surgery at the National University Hospital, but suffered a stormy post-operative period and died in the hospital.

Despite his busy schedule, he had led a full life, enriched with friends. Andrew was a man of devout faith, always ‘doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly’. He was a family man, a devoted and loving husband, father and grandfather. He was survived by his wife Jennifer Kam Thong Ho, his daughter Juniper, a son, Paul, an ophthalmologist, their spouses and four grandchildren.

Chew was always decisive, and was not one to procastinate. He dealt with any problem he was challenged with with clarity of vision and a brilliant mind. To those who say doctors are too narrowly trained, Chew proved otherwise. He was an administrator par excellence and we are grateful for his life of service to the nation. His sterling service to medicine, to the Civil Service and to Singapore will long be remembered.

Y C Chee
C H Chew

[SMA News Vol 41, No 5, May 2009 – accessed 17 April 2012; Annals of the Academy of Medicine Vol 33, No 6, Nov 2004 – accessed 17 April 2012; Straits Times 1 March 2012 – accessed 17 April 2012]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List