Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Looming War Of The Widows

The first salvo came from Mr Goh Kian Chee, 66, only son of the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, who broke his silence as he spoke about his father at the Pyramid Club, reported in the Wednesday 26 May edition of the Straits Times, and the time they spent together with his mother Alice Woon. His parents divorced in 1986, and Dr Goh remarried 5 years later. Mr Goh said his 85-year-old mother remains well, but moves about with great difficulty. She lives in a condominium in Bishan with a maid, and Mr Goh, his wife, two sons and three grandsons visit her at least once a week.

Even Jennie Chua of Raffles Hotel repute, Mr Goh's wife from his first marriage, was invited to the state funeral. Alice Woon was nowhere to be seen, either at the wake or the grand nationally televised send off.

"My mother spent the best years of their lives together, supportive of Dr Goh, and standing by him when he was at his creative best, young, hale and hearty, energetic," said Mr Goh. They were married in 1942 during the Japanese Occupation - she, a clerk, was just 17, and he, a tax collector, was 24.
"She deserves a tribute for her role, and the nation ought to remember this when it wants to appreciate Dr Goh's life and contribution to Singapore."

The quick response came in a two full page spread on Friday 28 May (worth $60,000 of advertising space) with Dr Phua Swee Liang, 71, declaring she was Dr Goh's wife, "full-time caregiver, driver, barber, nurse, seamstress, and in the last few years, physiotherapist and occupational therapist as well". They had met in 1979 when she was working at the Ministry of Education as Director of the Central Testing Services. Sensing his overtures, she had proposed a relationship like Mahatma Gandhi had with his female disciples, and even offered to be his adopted daughter. (Since 1947, it was common knowledge that Gandhi was bunking nightly with his 19-year-old grandniece, Manu). He wanted more, the man who could turn Jurong swarm into a industrial mega-complex would not be thwarted by a reluctant lass, and they finally tied the knot in 1991. We are told Dr Goh revealed he "had romantic feelings for her" in 1983, when she fled the trysting halls of MOE to join the Asian Development Bank in Manila as an Educational Consultant. Dr Goh stepped down from political office in 1984. Until his stroke in 1999, the couple jetted around extensively, covering every state in the USA, played golf and went swimming in the Tanah Merah Country Club. "I'm made of sterner stuff," she warned, lest any should cast doubt whether Dr Phua did give up everything to become a full-time caregiver to Dr Goh.

These days she has to look after her elder sister who has a heart problem. All three sisters stay in the Dunbar Walk house that was Dr Goh's last residence on earth.

So what actually transpired between 1983, when Dr Goh set his goal on wooing the younger woman, and 1986, when a marriage of 44 years was severed? This being Singapore, will the inconvenient truth ever see the light of day? Will Ross Worthington, the Australian who documented the slapping of Dhanablan in his "Governance In Singapore", come to the rescue with another scoop?

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