In Memoriam: Joseph Grimberg, Senior Counsel
Joseph Grimberg was an exceptional lawyer and, above all, a person of integrity and honour.
Joe, as he was known to almost everyone, said he chose Law, not out of an overwhelming desire to be a lawyer, but because he had no head for Maths and Science. This belies the commitment, passion and drive he had for the law which earned him the respect and admiration of all who worked with him in his long and illustrious career.
Joe joined Drew & Napier as a legal assistant in 1957 at the age of 24, and was the first Singaporean to be hired by the firm. He was made Junior Partner at the age of 28, and became Senior Partner in 1967 at the age of 33, during a turbulent time for the firm following the defalcation by a former senior partner. With his inspirational leadership, complete dedication and sheer hard work, Joe led Drew & Napier to pre-eminence through his 20 years at the helm from 1967 to 1987.
His peers and colleagues speak of him as a brilliant lawyer, with a brilliant mind. He appeared in numerous high profile cases in the Singapore High Court and the Court of Appeal, as well as the Malaysian Courts. His clients included two Prime Ministers (Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong) and President of Singapore (Mr Ong Teng Cheong).
In 1987 Joe was appointed a Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court. He sat on the bench for two years, and in 1989 he re-joined Drew & Napier as a consultant. Joe remarked on numerous occasions that he had thoroughly enjoyed his time on the Bench, and his only regret was that he had turned down a permanent appointment as a Supreme Court Judge.
In 1997, the first batch of Senior Counsel was appointed. Joe was Senior Counsel 1. A decade later, in 2007, he was conferred the C C Tan Award by the Law Society for his outstanding contributions to the legal fraternity in Singapore and for embodying the best qualities of the Bar.
There were two memorials held in Joe’s honour, whose speakers included leading members of the legal profession. The Chief Justice, Sundaresh Menon, said “Joe personified what it means to excel at the very highest levels of our profession as a decent, honest, kind, and ethical lawyer”. The Minister for Law and Home Affairs, Mr. K. Shanmugam, referred to his “exceptional ability and talent” adding that “what set him apart was his unimpeachable integrity and humility” and “This made him a truly great man and lawyer.” Davinder Singh, the Executive Chairman of Drew & Napier, said “In life, as in the law, he won all the prizes for integrity, humanity and humility”. He also spoke of how Joe selflessly nurtured and inspired young lawyers, several of whom went on to become leading members of Singapore’s Executive and Judiciary. They include the Minister for Law and Home Affairs, Mr K Shanmugam; Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance, Indranee Rajah; the Attorney-General, Lucien Wong; Justice of Appeal, Steven Chong; Justice of Appeal, Judith Prakash; and Deputy Attorney-General, Hri Kumar.
Joe was also a keen sportsman. He excelled at cricket, rugby and hockey both at school and university, although cricket remained his all-consuming passion. He played at the highest league level for the Singapore Cricket Club and served as a former president of the Singapore Cricket Association (“SCA”).
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Joe is that, despite these stellar achievements, he did not change as a person. He remained humble, self-effacing, gracious, approachable and caring to his last day, often going out of his way to help ordinary people and the less fortunate. At his memorial services, the words “kind”, “generous”, “compassionate”, “patient”, “honest”, “humorous”, and phrases like “man of integrity”, and “absolute gentleman”, were repeated time and again; this undoubtedly reflects the high regard and deep affection many feel for Joe.
His influence and impact on my life, as on the lives of many others, has been immeasurable, and he leaves a legacy which his children must be very proud of. We will surely miss his presence but his memory will live on in those who knew and loved him, those he helped, those he encouraged, those he inspired.
Drew & Napier LLC