Saturday, 1 July 2017

British couple leave $6 million legacy to charities in Singapore

Assisi Hospice, National Kidney Foundation and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to share gift from Britons who settled here and became citizens
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2017

Two Britons met in South Africa during World War II, got married, then eventually decided to make Singapore their home.

Now, the late Mr Gerry Essery and Mrs Jo Essery are giving back to their adopted home, with a $6 million legacy donation.

The sum will be divided equally between the Assisi Hospice, National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Details of the donation were announced at the NKF Building in Kim Keat Road yesterday.

Mrs Essery was born in Singapore and lived here before leaving for South Africa at the start of World War II.

Mr Essery, on the other hand, was born in Britain and came to Singapore in 1931, as his father was working as an engineer here. His father sent him to Australia when the Japanese invaded Singapore in 1942.

A few months later, he travelled to South Africa, where he was reunited with his family - and met his future wife. They got married in South Africa in 1945.

The couple then moved to Australia in the 1950s, where Mr Essery worked for multinational confectionery company Cadbury. He then got a job in a glass production firm in Singapore, and the couple decided to make Singapore their home.

The Britons became Singapore citizens in the 1970s, said Dr Tan Hwa Luck, a close friend of the late couple for more than 30 years.

Mr Essery was an accountant, and Mrs Essery, a housewife who was fluent in Malay, was actively involved in causes. They had no children. Mrs Essery was 89 when she died in 2013, and Mr Essery was 92 when he died in 2015.

Dr Tan, who turns 72 this year, is the executor of the couple's estate. The semi-retired veterinarian said: "They earned their fortune from the society, so they believed that they should give back to the society."

A third of this legacy will go to NKF to build a new dialysis centre in Marsiling. With one new case of kidney failure every five hours, NKF chairman Koh Poh Tiong said the legacy gift was a timely and much-needed one: "We are touched and grateful to Jo and Gerry for their generosity, love and benevolence. Their $2 million heartfelt legacy will go a long way in our mission of ensuring that no needy kidney patient will die because of no access to dialysis."

Construction of the centre will start in October, and it is expected to start operating next April. It will have 22 dialysis stations, which will benefit 132 kidney patients who live or work in the north-west.

Madam Halimah Yacob, an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, said: "We are most thankful to Jo and Gerry for their long-lasting and meaningful gift that will be a sanctuary for many poor and needy kidney patients for many generations to come."

Of the $2 million the couple has donated to the SPCA, $300,000 has been used for its new building fund as well as for an open-air education pavilion, which has been named the Essery Education Pavilion. The remainder will be used to upgrade and maintain the SPCA Animal Welfare Centre in Sungei Tengah. The $2 million sum is the largest cash donation SPCA has received, said its executive director Jaipal Singh Gill.

The remaining $2 million has been donated to Assisi Hospice, which provides palliative care for the terminally ill in home-care, in-patient or day-care settings.

Assisi Hospice's chief executive Choo Shiu Ling said: "The majority of our patients are from low- income families, with issues not just relating to their health and finances, but also social challenges that may compromise the well- being of their family members. We are deeply grateful for Jo and Gerry Essery's generous donation of $2 million for us to help needy patients."

Essery Hall at Assisi Hospice has been named in honour of the late couple, and is used for staff clinical training, talks and seminars.

Public response to a couple’s posthumous donation of $6 million overwhelming

Singaporeans appreciate their $6m charity gift, while long-time friends speak fondly of them
By Toh Wen Li, The Sunday Times, 2 Jul 2017

Public response to a couple's posthumous donation of $6 million to various charities in Singapore has been overwhelming, with many Singaporeans taking to Facebook to express how touched they are.

Mr Zaini Rahamat, who works at The Tanglin Club in Stevens Road, said the couple - Mr Gerry Essery and Mrs Jo Essery - were even nicer in person. Mrs Essery was 89 when she died in 2013, and Mr Essery was 92 when he died in 2015.

Mrs Essery, a bubbly cat-lover, spoke to him in fluent Malay, calling him "Encik Zaini" even though she was older.

"She never spoke English to me. She spoke Malay just like how Malay people, Melayu asli, spoke it," said Mr Zaini, 63, who is now the club's relationship manager. Mr Zaini said he had known the couple, who first became members of the club in 1963, from the time he joined the club as a waiter in the 1970s.

Even in their later years, the housewife and retired accountant would visit the club every day, sharing a bowl of traditional chicken curry for lunch at the Tavern before heading to the library upstairs. Then, walking hand in hand, they would return to their house in Jalan Lada Puteh, behind Lucky Plaza.

The couple had left behind the legacy donation, announced last Thursday, to be divided equally among the Assisi Hospice, National Kidney Foundation and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The $2 million donation is the largest cash donation the SPCA has received.

The Esserys, whose ashes have been scattered in Singapore, had lived here before World War II. Mrs Essery was born in Singapore and spent her early years in Meyer Road. Mr Essery was born in Britain and came to Singapore in 1939, living in Sembawang, near the Naval Base where his father worked as an engineer. When the war began, the two teenagers left Singapore and ended up in South Africa.

"Jo's brother was Gerry's best friend in South Africa... Jo had a boyfriend already, but Gerry 'potong jalan'," the couple's long-time friend, Dr Tan Hwa Luck, told The Sunday Times. The Malay expression is often used when someone steals another person's partner.

The loving couple were "inseparable", said Dr Tan, who is the founder of the Mount Pleasant group of animal clinics and also the executor of the couple's estate.

The Esserys moved to Australia in the 1950s, where Mr Essery worked for multinational confectionery company Cadbury.

The couple decided to make Singapore their home after Mr Essery landed a job at Singapore Glass in the 1960s. They became citizens in the 1970s.

Dr Tan, 72, first met her at the government-run Animal Infirmary in Kampong Java in the 1970s, where he was serving out a bond for the Colombo Plan scholarship that had funded his studies in Glasgow.

The young veterinarian and Mrs Essery, who was on the management committee of the SPCA for more than four years, bonded over their love for animals.

"It was unusual for a local to be so involved with animals," he said of himself. "Committee members at the SPCA were largely expats."

Mrs Essery was actively involved in social causes and had also worked with underprivileged girls, receiving the Public Service Star for her work in social welfare and appearing on the National Day honours list in 1971.

The Esserys led comfortable lives, frequenting restaurants such as Culina in Dempsey Road, and often went abroad for holidays.

But they were very prudent and low-key, said Dr Tan. He added that he had no idea how well-off the Esserys were until discovering the terms of their wills, laughing as he recalled how he had tried to give them financial advice in the past.

Mr Essery was a wine connoisseur, and around the 1980s started wine appreciation dinners in The Tanglin Club. Mrs Essery, an avid collector of trinkets, loved to visit the Sungei Road flea market.

She died in 2013 as she was napping with her husband on the sofa at home. Mr Essery was lucid until his death in 2015, maintaining a keen interest in current affairs.

Long-time friend Jane Prior, who knew the couple for about 30 years, remembers how the couple had "generous personalities". "They were generous with what they knew, in telling stories," she said.

Mr Essery, feeling lonely after his wife died, was often spotted at their old table at the Tavern, dining alone.

Said Mr Zaini: "They were a very loving couple. Wherever they went, they went together, holding hands.

"You never saw them getting angry. They were the most humble people I had ever met."

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