Lim Choon Mong, 17 July 1937 to 17 August 2017
The most striking memory of Mr Lim Choon Mong (“LCM”) for most lawyers must be the sight of LCM holding court at the Subordinate Courts Bar Room, telling war stories to a circle of captive lawyers, with plumes of smoke rising from his cigarette.
LCM certainly had war stories to tell.
LCM was called to the Bar in 1976, when his eldest child was already 11, after going to London to do his Bar exams and fulfil the obligation to dine at the Inns. Such a mid-career switch to the legal profession was not uncommon in those days. Many senior lawyers today can identify with the same external LL.B path, which enabled the less privileged to “upgrade” themselves and enter the legal profession.
LCM started life poor, and joined the Police Force in the 1950s, khaki shorts and all. His crime-busting assignments were no simulations. Singapore was not a safe place in the 1950s and 60s, with tense race and labour relations, organised criminals carrying firearms, and active secret societies. In one particular stake-out in 1965 to arrest an infamous robber and kidnapper, Morgan Teo, LCM shouted to Morgan in Teochew through the loud-hailer to surrender. Morgan was defiant. LCM and his police colleagues, led by the late JS Khosa, were then caught in a fierce exchange of bullets and grenades. They eventually killed Morgan, but at the tragic loss of their colleague Inspector Allan Lim. This episode was dramatized and can be viewed on Toggle TV under the Series “True Courage” Season 2, Episode 7 – “Shootout in Singapore”, where a 60+ year old LCM was interviewed as he recounted those dangerous days.
When the British started withdrawing troops upon Singapore’s independence, Singapore needed its own defence forces. LCM, then an Assistant Superintendent of Police, was seconded to the Singapore Armed Forces to be one of SAF’s first batch of officers. Then Major LCM led various projects to build the foundations of the SAF. In the commemorative book by the SAF Military Institute entitled “One of a Kind: Remembering SAFTI’s First Batch”, there is a letter at page 95 dated 9 May 1966 signed by LCM for Officer-in-Charge, Procedure & Selection, Manpower Division, Ministry of the Interior & Defence; the letter informed the recipient that he had been selected for Officer Training and would be required to serve the SAF for an initial period of 12 years from 1st June 1966. Among LCM’s other assignments was to be the first Commanding Officer (“CO”) of the Provost Unit, and his photograph still hangs alongside succeeding COs in the Officers’ Mess today.
Upon admission to the Singapore Bar, LCM was engaged mainly in criminal practice. He defended hundreds of clients, facing charges from road traffic violations to capital cases. He trained countless pupils and lawyers, who enjoyed his dramatic personality and colourful language. He built up a successful practice, M/s Lim & Lim, at which he devoted more than 20 years.
LCM enjoyed life, and enjoyed himself as much as he could. From bantering with strangers over drinks, to singing to any audience who would listen, there was never a dull moment with him. When he needed to take trial dates, he would ask the Court not to schedule certain periods as he would be “in Wimbledon watching tennis”. When he could not remember the name of the DPP conducting a trial, he would refer to the DPP in his oral submissions as “the red-haired DPP”. In mitigating for a client who was pleading guilty, he submitted that his client was “remorseful to the marrow of his bones”.
LCM went into semi-retirement and finally stopped working fully in 2006. He enjoyed his days travelling, drinking wine and struggling with golf, until 2010, when he suffered two debilitating strokes, in March and June 2010. Dementia soon set in, and LCM became increasingly home-bound. After a series of medical emergencies due to heart problems, he finally collapsed at home on 16 August 2017 and died at Ng Teng Fong Hospital at 1.40am on 17 August 2017, without gaining consciousness.
LCM leaves behind his wife, Marie, and his children, Sylvia, Sharon and Arthur, and three grandchildren.
Peter Cuthbert Low
Peter Low & Choo LLC