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The Singapore Law Gazette

Annabel Marion Pennefather

Annabel was born in 1948 – at home – after our father cycled from her parents’ home in Upper Serangoon to Geylang, to fetch the mid-wife.

She was born into a family of sporting enthusiasts and she took to the family hobby wholeheartedly from a very young age. Her grandmother Alice Pennefather, and her mother Ruth Pennefather were both sports personalities of their time – Alice of celebrity proportions – and were founders of the Girls Sports Club. Annabel was recruited into their Ladies’ hockey teams from girlhood.

We think it is appropriate to start our memoir to Annabel – albeit for the legal profession – in this way, because we believe her early training on the sports field gave Annabel the determined, dogged and energetic traits that were such a feature of her character, and in her legal practice. Also, sports was her first love.

Annabel’s talent in hockey took her from representing school (Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus) and country to the top of the sports administration in Singapore – both in the Singapore Sports Council and SNOC – and internationally. Chandra Mohan K. Nair, of Tan Rajah & Cheah, served with Annabel in the Council of the Law Society of Singapore (LSS) from 1995 to 1996, and in the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF).

Chandra has contributed his memories extensively to this memoir, and we quote him accordingly.

“She was a very charming, elegant, popular lady who was well respected in our legal profession.

She was one of the best hockey players in Singapore and ASEAN in the 1960s to 1970s … and a very capable and respected hockey administrator in later years, having served as the first lady President of the SHF when the women’s and men’s hockey associations merged into one united SHF.

She was endowed with a very pleasant and friendly disposition and was very helpful in dealing with important matters which required careful and diplomatic responses. She had the natural ability to negotiate, charm the participants and come up with mutually symbiotic, amicable and win-win solutions on important and sensitive matters affecting organisations like the LSS and SHF.”

Annabel’s proudest moments came long after her retirement from playing the game – as Chef de Mission for Singapore’s participants in the Commonwealth Games and Olympics, latterly at the Edinburgh and Rio Games, respectively. It was her honour to live in the Games Villages with the teams, to be a mentor and guide on hand. She walked at the front of the contingent, leading from the front – as always.

The respect which Annabel won on the international stage is reflected in her appointment in 2016 to the Ethics Commission of the International Association of Athletic Federations. The Commission safeguards integrity in Sport globally. Annabel was one of nine appointees from around the world who heard disputes relating to misconduct and breaches of ethics in various sports.

And all this whilst carrying out a much respected career as a member of our profession. Annabel enrolled in the 1967cohort at the Law Faculty of the then Singapore University. Among her classmates were Andrew Ang, Senior Judge; Dr Philip Pillai, retired Judge; Wong Meng Meng SC, the founder of Wong Partnership; and Rajan Menon, founder member of RHT Law.

Annabel graduated in 1971, was called to the Bar in 1972 whilst at Donaldson & Burkinshaw, and then took a job with the Singapore Registry of Titles, working under Mrs C. Yoong. Rajan Menon was a colleague, and the two realised that in younger days they had lived doors away from each other in Jansen Road, Upper Serangoon.

Annabel married in 1971, soon after graduation. Motherhood arrived in August 1972, after centralised training was stopped to allow daughter Vanessa her chance in life. A trailblazer herself, and to her mother’s great pride, Vanessa was one of the first female pilots to be accepted at a commercial airline, and has flown SilkAir from 2001 till today.

Annabel commenced private practice in the mid-1970s, after her time with the Land Registry. During her four and a half decades of working life, she practised law with Donaldson & Burkinshaw; with Arthur Loke and Partners, and was with them at a time when they entered into one of the earliest foreign/local law firm associations, with Baker & McKenzie. In the 1980s she was invited to join KhattarWong (KW) by Rajan Menon, then a senior partner of the firm, who was head of the Banking team, to work in tandem with him in KW’s conveyancing practice. Chan Swee Chin joined KW with her, and together they managed CPOSB (and other) matters in the days of the first IBM/Wang computers.

Rajan Menon had this to say:

Annabel was a kind and sincere person; intelligent and very thorough in her knowledge of the law, particularly in the drafting of lease agreements. She was a good person to discuss difficult issues with, and you would receive meaningful comments from her.”

Annabel worked with Harry Elias & Partners (HEP) from 2001; she returned to KW in 2009, and was a Consultant with WithersKhattarWong (WKW) )till this year. In other words, Annabel worked all her adult years, till her death earlier this year. The idea of retirement was anathema to her. Only ill health stopped her.

Annabel’s career in private practice happened in two phases; first, as a solicitor in Real Estate practice, and then later in Sports Law. As with any leader in her field, prepared to commit time to developing younger minds, Annabel taught Conveyancing both at the Postgraduate Practical Law Course – where her 1990s chapter on Leases was a core part of the Course Manual (updated from time to time) for many years – and in giving lectures on her subject. She served on the Council of the Law Society.

“Annabel and I served in various committees in the LSS, and in the years from 1995 and 1996 we served as President and Vice-President, respectively. She was a great help and worked diligently in various committees including the ExCo; collectively we made useful decisions to bring the LSS into a more progressive and  efficient professional body, serving our members and assisting in the administration of justice during the time when Chief Justice Yong Pung How was heading the Judiciary. We enjoyed challenging times!” 1Chandra Mohan K Nair

A watershed moment came in 1996, when it was discovered that Annabel had a hidden, congenital hole in the heart, and required open heart surgery to repair it. How she had lived such a full life to that moment was a question that none of us in the family could answer. An aunt had lived a constricted life with the same ailment: but constriction was not in Annabel’s nature.

“Jokingly I told her our nation and the hockey fraternity were lucky that it was not discovered earlier during her teenage years for if she had known about it then she would have given up hockey and our nation would have lost a great hockey star!”2Chandra Mohan K Nair

Once healed, Annabel embarked on a second phase in her life and career. On her return to practice with HEP, it was as one of the pioneers in Sports Law. She started with the ideal of helping our young sportsmen and women manage their transition into the commercial world; who better to help with Sports management contracts than the one person in Singapore entirely conversant with Sports rules and regulations throughout the globe.

Coming home to KW she introduced Sports Law and clients to our firm. As Annabel contributed work to our Corporate, Litigation, and Business departments, she was very instrumental in leading us across our varying areas of practice, into that new field. Her leadership in this regard continued after KW linked with Withers to become WKW. She won the respect of our international clients and our partners overseas, and of her colleagues. With Sports Law Annabel reached the pinnacle of her career.

She is remembered by our younger Legal Associates, who worked with her – or merely bumped into her in the lifts – as always cheerful, elegant, and smiling.

“She was a very fair-minded lady who served and did yeomen national service through sports and professional legal service. She was an inspiration especially to lady athletes and leaders in sports organisations.” 3Chandra Mohan K Nair

We also (the authors) were very happy to welcome Annabel home again, and to work professionally with our cousin. And thus she remained till her heart faded. Annabel was still her upbeat self when we paid her a visit at her last, beautiful home in February this year. It was to be our last time together, spending a gracious hour chatting. Our hearts are full, and so we shall allow Chandra the final say:

“My friends and I are really going to miss her company and her lovely presence.

Thank you Annabel for all your kind ways and memorable experiences. You will always be remembered and loved.

May her soul rest in peace, always.”

Carla Barker
Deborah Barker
Withers KhattarWong LLP


1 Chandra Mohan K Nair
2 Chandra Mohan K Nair
3 Chandra Mohan K Nair

Withers KhattarWong LLP

Withers KhattarWong LLP