Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Calling It A Day

When Al Gore and Tipper announced this week that they were separating after 40 years of marriage, wagging tongues wanted to know only one thing – was there a man/woman involved? No, the Gores said, there was no third party involved, adding that the decision to split after 4 decades and 4 adult children was “mutual.”

“People are living longer, and they’re less willing to spend their last decades with someone who leaves them unfulfilled,” a Wall Street Journal reporter suggested in an article on “late stage” divorce.

For the late Goh Keng Swee, before he decided in 1986 to divorce his wife of 44 years, Alice Woon, already there was talk of him being seen increasingly in the company of his colleague Dr Phua Swee Liang, who headed the Gifted Education programme in the Ministry of Education. Whether this contributed to the decision to step down from office is not clear, even after going through "Goh Keng Swee, A Portrait", the book written by his daughter-in-law (Tan Siok Sun, 2007, 222 pages).

Tan did record his early thoughts in 1982, about the prospect of retiring:
"Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure that is going to be quite a problem. You know, suddenly you find that you've no SOs [Security Officers] and you are just an ordinary citizen. I hope I can still make use of theVIP room [at Changi Airport] when I travel but then you are on your own, you've got to clear your own baggage at the other end and so on and so forth. But it has to come and you might as well reconcile yourself to it."

And reconcile to the realities of the day he did:
"If they accept it, and they find me useful, okay, I carry on. If after some time they say, 'Look, what you are saying is absolute rubbish,' then you just hang up your gloves and call it a day."

The tragedy is the way he had to leave. Goh's father, Goh Leng Inn died in 1971 after his health deteriorated and spent the last years of his life bedridden. At the funeral, saddened by the indignities old age had brought to his father, he turned to his then daughter-in-law, Jennie Chua, and said, "If given a choice, I will not go this way; I would rather fly a plane and crash it into the sea."

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