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Eulogy by Joo Ann

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Hello everybody, I am Joo Ann, Koh Teck Ghee’s eldest son.

My Dad and me on the beach : Pebbles on the beach : This is a frequent image I have concerning my early memories of my father. Or out on the porch or in the backyard observing the antics of birds or a chameleon. With him, there was always time enough to do these things. He took the time. As he also did with helping neighbours, colleagues or relatives and friends. A sunny smile, an infectious unique laugh that would put you at ease, and even make encounters with strangers uncomplicated. As Joo Beng, my brother also noted, it didn’t seem to matter if you were prince or pauper with my father – it was all the same to him. And this is something I think we have taken over from him – a sense of fairness in Joo Beng’s professional life, Joo Kim’s democratic openness in her radio shows during her time there, and right up to now, and me in my teaching activity. In this sense, my Dad would have had major problems in Austria, where a good deal of people spend time sniffing out your social standing before deciding whether they will be nice to you or not. As a Japanese neighbour commented, through his actions and behaviour alone, my father was the first Singaporean to put her at ease concerning her doubts and insecurities as a Japanese in Singapore with regard to the events during the Second World War and Japan’s role in them. Individual and unique relationships would blossom between my father and the various people who came into his life.

But I am reminded of another characteristic when I say my father took time to observe. And this is connected to 3 activities among others. Firstly, my father enjoyed billiards, and we remember him not only going off for innumerable games, but also spending countless hours with two billiard balls on the dining table sorting out the best angles and strategies. Secondly, there were his neat scrapbooks collating 4D results and before he went into that, the results of horse races. Again – late hours at the dining table with an exactitude and consistency that took on scientific dimensions. Last but not least, his pre-occupation with chess : alone - frequently on his bed with a travel chess set balanced precariously on his belly, or at the computer, and of course, in games with his brothers, nephews and friends.

Looking back at all this, I realize I was a bit clueless sometimes: for example, in connection with his work on his racing results, I used to give him presents with pictures or motifs of horses on them, thinking that he loved horses and found them beautiful. He probably did, but more than that, I realize now that he was simply interested in the way things worked or worked out. The process was more interesting than the result. I find this is also true in my work in music. I always tell my students that practicing a piece is often the point of music study rather than the finished piece itself.

My father also had what I saw as a natural elegance – from his light physique from the days when he used to smoke (not sure how many of you knew that), and his “Brylcreamed” hair, to his later days in Hawaiian shirts and slacks. He played the piano too, and his playing manifested a certain grace of touch and simple good taste in phrasing. I don’t believe he had lessons – he probably learned to play by being interested in the way things worked, and of course by having a good ear.

And finally I must mention an incident that was over in a couple of minutes, but has remained epic in my personal history and memory of Dad. I must have been about 7 at that time. We were at Changi beach, and by some quirk of events, my father had taught me the front crawl, but not yet how to tread water! He was out on the beach and I wanted to practise the newly-learned stroke. So I went at it with gusto, parallel to the shore. Suddenly I seemed to slam into a wall of something. It was my Dad. All at once I was sinking – the sand had gone, and it was water all the way down. I of course panicked, but he grabbed me and brought me back to shore. What had happened was that my left arm had pulled weaker, and I had made a huge arc out into deep water. Dad had realized this and had sprinted out ahead of me and caught me. He didn’t just see the danger; he seemed to anticipate the shock I would feel when I stopped swimming. Many smaller deeds have subsequently demonstrated this characteristic, but this incident for me capped them all: and that is, my father was reliable, and you could count on him.

I would like to close by thanking all of you for your verbal and written responses about my father. With people close to us, it is all too easy not to see the wood for the trees, and your comments have helped us see just how large and luxuriant that wood was. But this is precisely what we are thankful for – being able to take things like security, consideration and good-naturedness for granted, as something self-evident and normal when in actual fact, events in the world sometimes seem to show that these things are in short supply.

Those pebbles on the beach have turned out to be gold nuggets all along, and they will remain in our hearts forever.


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