18 LUMEN | JOSEPHIANS
An insight into
Mr Gerard Ee was the speaker at the first session of The Fullerton-SJI Leadership Lecture 2011 on 18 February 2011 with Warren Fernandez as the moderator . The following is an excerpt of the lecture .
WF : He has been dubbed Mr Charity , a role , an honour which was given to his father Mr Ee Peng Liang , a highly regarded and respected leader in Singapore . Before we begin with questions , let ’ s ask Mr Ee to talk about his
years in SJI .
GE : What was the most precious thing I took away from my education at SJI – it ’ s just to be human . I still remember growing up with my friends who were so poor , and friends who were so rich . But we did not look at each other ’ s economic background , but as human beings . That ’ s how we were taught as Josephians viewed each other . I still remember being invited to lunch at a classmate ’ s home . There were five of us and we waited for lunch . 1 o ’ clock came and went , 1.30 , 2 o ’ clock and we were getting very hungry . Then our classmate brought out some biscuits for us and even at 2.30 we did not have lunch .
It was nearly to 3 o ’ clock when his mother walked in with two baskets of unsold vegetables from the market . It immediately dawned on us that we had been waiting for his mother to come home from market and the unsold vegetable was going to be our lunch .
In contrast , one of the five of us lives in a palatial home . His family owned the only circus in town , with tigers and trapeze and everything .
And we ’ re so comfortable with each other until today we are still in contact and we ’ re still friends . And that to me is the mark of a Josephian .
WF : Gerard told me that he is an open book with open secrets . But I want to start with your work as the President of the National Council of Social Services ( NCSS ), your work charity . Tell us a little bit of how you got into that . What inspired
you to get into that work ?
GE : Well , that was a little bit of what was in the past . I was the President of NCSS for two terms . Normally the president is nominated by the Minister of Community Development , Youth and Sports . I think normally you get nominated because you have a track record for serving in various organizations with social service .
And based on that you will be a candidate and in turn , various people get nominated and are given a chance to provide the leadership of the National Council of Social Service . And that ’ s how I got in . But if you were wondering how I got involved in social service and why am I so interested in it – there are various reasons . Obviously I am greatly influenced by my father . I grew up watching him during National Service . We grew up in a very rough part of Singapore , in Geylang Lor 13 . The house still stands there .
And to put the correct time perspective , especially for our young audience , this was immediately post-war . I grew up in the 1950s . I was born in 1949 . Now , In the 1950s growing up in Geylang means you witness a gang fight at least once a month , and this was as exciting as what you see in the movies . You see many people running around with parangs and bars and I actually saw a man ’ s head being split open . I grew up in that environment . For every major event like the Bukit Ho Swee fire that occurred , my father was involved in it .
So during the major disasters , funds were raised and ang pows were prepared and handed out to the homeless . You ’ d be surprised to know my dad would bring all the money home . And this is to a house in Geylang surrounded by gangsters . He would bring thousands of dollars home . And it was a family affair . The whole family was involved , my brothers , sisters , my mother , and myself . All of us would be sitting around the table , putting money into the ang pows so that my dad could bring the money to hand them out to the disaster victims .
We had a lot of exposure in serving : social service and that ’ s how I got influenced .
The other reason why I got involved in it is because I believe that religion is something to be lived , and not just talked about . I ’ m not the best