Mr Lim Ewe Huat: In Memoriam
I consider it an honour to have been asked by the Law Society to write an article about the late Mr Lim Ewe Huat.
My first encounter with him was as a lecturer in the older English doctrines in Civil Procedure including Stare Decisis and other historical aspects of English Law. This was an introductory course in the first year Law curriculum. He was already a senior legal officer in the Government Service. From the first day onwards his kind and fatherly demeanour was obvious to all his students and he quickly became a popular lecturer. More importantly his friendly disposition evidenced by his perpetual radiant smile was very much appreciated by “green” students nervously starting their legal studies.
Our friendship really blossomed when I later joined the legal service. He was the Director of Legal Aid. Later he became the Public Trustee, Official Assignee and Official Receiver. He was well liked by all who dealt with him including poor litigants who needed legal aid and bankrupts who had been adjudged insolvent.
An old friend of mine Daljeet Singh who had been in the Public Trustee’s office before Ewe Huat (and even after Ewe Huat) always had nice things to say about him. Ewe Huat’s tenure as Director of the Legal Aid Bureau was very inspiring as he was mentoring many legal service younger lawyers in how to deal with members of the public needing legal aid. His endearing nature both to the people who needed help and his legal colleagues was exemplary. Many in the Legal Services wanted to be posted to the Legal Aid Bureau because they wanted to work under and learn from Ewe Huat.
I joined the Tax Department in 1966. We had always kept in touch. I joined a lunch group in which the late Justice Sam Sinnathuray and Ewe Huat were the inspiration. This group of seven or so (some lawyers, some not) continued to meet every Thursday for over 40 years. Our friendship grew over this time and we became family friends. His good nature and kind disposition always stood out.
Ewe Huat’s legal career is one that bears testimony of dedication and commitment. After his return to Singapore from England on completing his legal studies, he had chambered in Eber & Tan, a leading firm in which his father-in-law, K. I. Tan was the senior and founding partner. He went on to practise as a lawyer in the firm. Later he joined the legal service in April 1958 and was posted as a magistrate. In 1960 he became Assistant Director of Legal Aid which had been set up by the Government to assist litigants who could not afford to pay for legal services.
He went on to handle different jobs in the legal service. He held the post of Registrar of the Industrial Arbitration Court; Deputy Registrar of the High Court and later went back to the Legal Aid Bureau as Director where he served for seven years. In 1972 he was appointed Official Assignee, Public Trustee and Official Receiver and he remained there until 1988 when he retired from Government Service. In his capacity as Public Trustee and Official Assignee he was also Registrar of Money Lenders and Pawn Brokers and had responsibility for Hindu temples and Muslim Wakafs. His colourful career and the responsibilities that went with senior appointments he held never distracted from his smiling nature coupled with his competency in carrying out his responsibilities. He was always a popular and kind boss.
Not too many people knew that in addition to his legal responsibilities as a very senior legal officer, he held many other positions, all with heavy responsibilities. He was appointed in 1965 to be the Chairman of the Citizenship Committee of Inquiry. In 1966 he was appointed as a Referee under the Industrial Relations Ordinance. Besides lecturing on Civil Procedure he also lectured to post graduate students on Taxation of Costs and on Probate Administration. I was again one of his students. He was appointed in 1973 to the Armed Forces Council. He served on a number of occasions on the Inquiry Committee of the Law Society examining the conduct of law practitioners.
For his exemplary services he was awarded the Public Service Star (BBM) in 1972 and the Public Service Star (BAR) in 1986 as part of the National Day Awards. He was awarded the Long Service Award in 1981 by the Government and also by the Ministry of Community Development. After his retirement from Government Service, he was appointed a Justice of the Peace.
Even after his retirement he was given further responsibilities with his appointment to the Valuation Review Board, Board of Visiting Justices (Penal Institutions), Chairman of the Criminal Law Review Board to name a few.
He was always a devoted Anglican and in this field he also rendered yeoman service to the Church. He was Chancellor of the Diocese of Singapore for 31 years and served under three Bishops. When the Diocese was under the Archbishop of Canterbury he, among others, advised the Archbishop on the appointment of the new Bishop of Singapore. He was also part of the group that advised on the setting up of the Province of South East Asia which elects its own Archbishop.
Ewe Huat was Legal Advisor to the Singapore Olympic Council which included organising the SEAP and later SEA Games. He was Honorary Legal Advisor to the Singapore School Canteen Vendors Association, the Ulu Pandan Consultative Committee and many other organisations. Such was his indefatigable energy. More importantly he did all this with dedication and a happy disposition which all of us who knew him can bear testimony to. He never complained about the large number of jobs he was handling.
He retired from the legal service in 1988. He continued, however, to work with the many social and charitable causes like the Movement for the Intellectual Disabled of Singapore (MINDS), St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital, National Council of Social Services, Singapore Sports Council for the Disabled, Singapore Scouts Association, St. John’s Council, Singapore Children’s Charities to name a few which were close to his heart. On the day he suffered a major stroke in 1992 he was in fact meeting with Education Ministry officials and MINDS officials.
It is as a family man that underlines Ewe Huat’s humanity and values. He was a very devoted husband to Evelyn and a caring, kind and supportive father to his four children, his daughter-in-law, four beautiful grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He never fully recovered from the stroke but with the very active and devoted support from his wife Evelyn and his family, Gerald, Grace, Tina, Seok Lin and Malcolm he continued to lead as normal a life as was possible. The strength of his handshake personified his happiness to meet his old friends.
Ewe Huat is no more with us. He has gone to a better place. We are sad but will always remember him as one of our very special friends. We will miss him. However, our sadness cannot begin to compare with the sadness that Evelyn and the family will bear. God will surely bless the soul of one of the finest gentlemen and our very good friend, Lim Ewe Huat.
Sat Pal Khattar