Remembering Malathi Das
Tributes from Friends in the Legal Fraternity
“I first got to know Malathi well when I joined Council as a member in 2005 (and she was already Treasurer), and both of us took our positions seriously and worked closely together on general Council business as well as on particular projects. Our relationship became even closer when I became Vice-President in 2007 (when she had already become Vice-President), and in 2008, when I was elected President, I was blessed to have her continue to serve as one of my Vice-Presidents. She gave me all the support I asked of her (and more) and I was greatly heartened in my years as President by her strong and effective assistance, both in Council as well as when we were working together outside of Council meetings. I appreciated her for her passion in speaking up for what she thought was right, and for being, not only a good colleague, but also a great friend. I recall that, on one overseas trip when we were representing Council at a POLA Conference in Ho Chi Minh City, I took ill, and she quickly came to my aid, and offered me some of her own (limited) medical supplies which she always carried with her, even though she herself might have needed that medicine for herself later. We have lost a great lawyer and a great human being before her time, and I mourn her both for our community of lawyers as well as for myself.”
Dr Michael Hwang, SC
Past President, Law Society of Singapore
Michael Hwang Chambers LLC
“Malathi Das was a leader extraordinaire who served the mission of the Law Society of Singapore passionately and purposefully. After years of dedicated service on Council, she stepped up to serve as Vice-President and subsequently served as Singapore’s first LAWASIA President. She was a key architect behind the setting up of the Law Soc Pro Bono arm of the Society which strengthened the Law Society’s mission of access to justice. To borrow the description of an NUS (Alumni) Law Link cover story piece on her, Malathi was a “Woman with a Mission”. In the final analysis, what I will remember best and most of my law school classmate and friend, Mal, was someone chirpy and enthusiastic, optimistic, and positive, diplomatic and driven, wise and warm and most indelibly, an incredibly kind and generous soul. Rest in Peace, Mal.”
Gregory Vijayendran, SC
Immediate Past President, Law Society of Singapore
Rajah & Tann LLP
“I came to know Mal when she was a partner of the late Palakrishnan. Pala was my classmate in law school and because of that, Mal and I quickly connected. We ended up serving together on the Publications Committee. After I left the Committee, she became the Chair and invited me to be its adviser, and I gladly accepted. How do you say “No” to someone as persuasive as Mal?
As Chair, Mal was very passionate, focused and motivational. She has a clear vision for what the Committee could contribute to the well-being of our members and to society as a whole. She was also very people-centred. The appreciation dinners she organised were always well attended and full of conviviality. Working with her was never devoid of fun and fellowship.
I recalled feeling very affected when she suffered a stroke. While in recovery, I reached out to her and we connected on a weekly basis. My objective was to be encouraging to her and to journey with her to stay positive. Positive and disciplined she certainly was, and she made tremendous progress over the weeks. We started out with me doing the reading and talking. Gradually, she started to dialogue with me. We spoke about everything and anything she fancied.
Those who knew her cannot help but be impressed with her capacity for kindness and compassion to others. When I told her I was tested positive for Covid, she immediately despatched her brother to deliver a carton of coconut water. She was also very appreciative of whatever kindness she received. She never failed to let me know after every weekly chat that talking to me and listening to what I forwarded her lifted up her spirit and made a difference.
I was very encouraged by the painting she forwarded to me. She was over the moon when she successfully moderated the Q&A for the Zonta Club of Makati with Gloria Steele, an inspiring American Zonta leader. That was on March 29th. I was very happy for her and was planning to go and celebrate with her. But it was not to be.
On April 11th, the Monday that she took ill was the very day of the week that we were to have our telephonic rendezvous. I had texted her at 7:30am to say that I needed to take a rain check on our 10:00am chat. There was no response from her. I thought it was uncharacteristic of her. At about noon, Sharmaine informed me that she was hospitalised. She passed away the next day.
To me, Mal was more than a fine lady and an extremely competent lawyer. She was my good friend. And I am still finding it difficult that we are not able to chat at 10:00am every Monday morning.”
Dr William Wan
Advisor, Publications Committee
Consultant, Goodwins Law Corporation
General Secretary, Singapore Kindness Movement
“Malathi is a dear friend whom I have known from junior college days at Temasek JC. We were in the Students’ Council together, and had many memorable moments. She has always exhibited an admirable tenacity and a sense of justice since she was young.
We reconnected again when she was chairperson of the Publications Committee, and roped me in as an advisor to the committee. She jokingly said, “that’s what happens when you are my friend!”. To which I replied, “there will be payback … just wait!” When I approached her to teach family law at NUS, she did not hesitate to heed the call of her alma mater, despite her busy work schedule. As an adjunct professor, she had put in significant effort to ensure that the syllabus is academically rigorous and, at the same time, relevant to professional practice.
I have a vivid memory of us travelling to Kuala Lumpur in August 2018 for the International Malaysia Law Conference organised by the Malaysian Bar. We had a great time chatting on the plane, riding on the KLIA Ekspres to KL Sentral, and enjoying meals together. I can always count on her to introduce me to new restaurants anywhere!
She will certainly be missed.”
Professor David Tan
Advisor, Publications Committee
Faculty of Law, NUS
“When we received the news late that Tuesday afternoon (12 April 2022), the world immediately became colder.
In the days that passed, numerous tributes to Mal were published chronicling the many lives that she had touched, and the numerous achievements that Mal had surpassed – litigator, family law don, mediator, women’s rights advocate, much sought after speaker, Law Society Council member, the list goes on and on. But it is the tributes of the people that Mal had helped that showed her strength of character and her bubbly personality the clearest.
Mal served with distinction as the chairperson of the Law Society Publications Committee from 2014 to 2020 (and as a member since 1997). Under her leadership, the Law Gazette transitioned into the 21st century when it went fully online, and the readership grew. Mal’s sense of good fun and humor injected otherwise dreary committee meetings into humorous affairs filled with her boisterous laughter. Mal was our go-to person for ideas especially on naming – many a headline or theme was livened up by her fun filled suggestions. I had the privilege of working with Mal in the committee before succeeding her as chairperson, but not without first securing her commitment that she would continue as advisor (and chief “naming” officer)! She gave her continued support to the committee even when her sight failed – happily attending meetings over Zoom and making jokes.
In dealing with adversity, one’s character is the clearest. I remember Mal for her continual optimism and faith in the world – one day, when Mal needed to get a cane to help with her failing eye-sight, she happily chirped to me that she now had a new friend and his name was “Abel”!
I am blessed for having Mal’s friendship. We will honour her legacy.”
Chairperson, Publications Committee
Allen & Gledhill LLP
“If there is a word to describe Mal, it would be “genuine”. I was fortunate to have befriended Mal when we both served on the Publications Committee of the Law Society in the early 2000s. In the time I knew her, Mal always took a genuine interest in the projects at hand and the people involved. Despite her very busy practice, she was never short of ideas for the Law Society publications, and this was not just with the content but also with the cover images and graphics. She was talented and creative in a clever way. Even after my time on the Publications Committee, Mal always made the effort to keep in touch and this continued for many years. Mal was genuine and generous with her time and help. It has been my privilege to have known Mal and I will always have fond memories of her.”
Past Chairperson, Publications Committee
Allen & Gledhill LLP
“Undoubtedly a leading light of family law in Singapore, Malathi was more than a colleague to us. Ever the team stalwart, Mal assured with her unstinting loyalty, friendship and care. She rallied us with her spirited sense of fun and good humour, injecting play into our work-day office parties like there is no tomorrow. Never imagined that her inimitable laughter that joyfully peppered our gatherings would be gone too soon.
In her work, whether for clients or pro bono, Mal epitomised professional decorum and grace, values and integrity, that shone with heart and warmth. Her chosen field found her, many a time, with those in their darkest hour – for them, she was the angel that lit the way to hope and a fresh start. Mal’s mastery of this legal terrain provided them the sure-footed path forward, knowing that she had their back at each twist and turn.
Mal was the wind beneath the wings of many a women’s cause, giving her time, energy, talent and support, to countless initiatives and projects on this front. All with cheer, without fanfare and sustained over a generous length of time.
Irrepressibly convivial, time in Mal’s company was always easy and comfortable. Friends and colleagues of Mal, old and new, young and aged, from near and far, across geographical and cultural boundaries, in all walks of life, can easily attest to this.
Mal, you have shown us, that it is not the length of life, but the depth of life that counts. And we thank you for that.”
Friends and colleagues
Joyce A. Tan & Partners
“The tributes to Malathi Das have been constant, unrelenting, heartfelt, and from many different fronts, reflecting the wonderful woman she was, the impact she had, the people she touched, the good work she did. Her Facebook and LinkedIn profiles have none of the “I am humbled” brags. She never bragged, never had to, never saw the need. Because her work was about other people, and making a difference in their lives.
Mal was the same in person as in her professional life, delighting in many things, enjoying beauty, a little bit self-deprecating (but she knew her strengths and flexed them as needed).
When you lose a friend and a light like that, you can’t help but think, will I be remembered in the same way. But Mal would have said why be remembered. Just get the job done.
Let’s do that. Let’s just get the work done, help the people who need it, serve the cause of justice and right, enjoy our friends and family while we can.
Because that’s what matters.”
Lim Lei Theng
Allen & Gledhill LLP
A post I made on Joyce Tan & Partners’ LinkedIn:
“The news was a shock to many. Mal was a dear friend to us at NUS Law Class of 1992. She was a well-loved and cherished member of the class.
Mal was always looking out and caring for others, made a huge positive impact in the lives of many and had truly value added to many aspects of law, the legal profession and the justice system, particularly in the area of the family law. A leading and lovely light had left us too soon.
But her light continues to shine through the lives of many she has impacted for good. Mal will be remembered well.”
My message to our NUS class of 1992 whatsapp group (excerpt):
“Once I commended Mal on her excellent contributions for the good of others. Mal’s response was:
‘I really don’t think what I do is anymore that what you and many of our classmates have done. We have such wonderful camaraderie and pride in each other’s achievements, however big or small. Now that’s truly special!’
Mal’s was a life of service and she was loved by many. She truly led a life of giving and I know that she treasured being part of our wonderful class.”
Note from Shila Das (Mal’s sister):
“My sister Mal always wanted to a lawyer as early as when she was 11 years old. She wrote in one of her compositions that she wanted to be a lawyer so that people could be protected against the ‘bad people‘. She hated injustice and hated bullying. If she saw it, she would definitely speak up, even at the tender age of six. When a neighbour stole my bike, as my big sister and my protector, she chased him and pushed him into the drain. When she was reprimanded by dad because the boy’s mum complained, she said to dad, ‘why am I being reprimanded, when he stole sister’s bike, why does he get to escape? Where is the justice?’
One of her friends shared this. When Mal ran for Student Council in College TJC, I remember her campaign slogan to this day because it was such a clever play on her name: “Malathi DAS care for you”. She was made President of the council that year.
When she got into law school she was super delighted because it was her life-long dream. She was shortlisted for a PSC scholarship but when she went for the interview they told her they were more inclined to give her the scholarship if she would choose teaching instead. They looked at her past grade where she was a Humanities Scholarship winner and felt she would make a good teacher. To which Mal replied, ‘who are u to tell me I won’t make a good lawyer?’ She came home upset because she felt that she definitely wouldn’t get the scholarship; we did not come from a rich family so a scholarship would have helped. She was really upset by it but dad told her it was okay.
I know Mal loved going to law school and she always went to school early and she had a favourite spot in the library, which I am told everyone knew about. She said she was there so often that people used to ask her for directions and information about things.”
Heritage walk on 13 May 2022 with Shila Das and Jay (Mal’s sister and brother in law):
“Pre-covid, Mal knowing my interest in conducting heritage walks, arranged for me to conduct a heritage walk for Shila and Jay. Mal said that if she could she would join us. On 13 May 2022, the Chinatown heritage walk took place following Mal’s request. We are all glad that the walk took place in memory of Mal. Mal’s actions (in this case, requesting for the walk) continue to make a difference beyond her physical time on earth.”
Allen & Gledhill LLP
“I bid farewell to my dear friend, Malathi Das. She lived a life full of service for others, a passionate advocate of women’s and child’s rights. Mal was very much at the forefront of family law in Singapore. She was larger than life, generous in sharing her knowledge, articulate and had a discerning palate! I remember we spent two days together in a “TIJ ASEAN Women as Justice Makers” roundtable in Bangkok in October, 2016. We hit it off and she brought me to dine with her at a quaint Thai restaurant and after that, we explored nearby bookstores. A few years later, Mal called me up and encouraged me to present a paper on Surrogacy at the 7th LAWASIA Family Conference 2018 in Vientiane, Laos. It was an unforgettable experience for me to be sharing the stage with the late Hon. Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE, QC, I am most grateful to her for opening that door. Mal was an unselfish mentor. Last year, I reached out to her for some guidance on being a child representative in a Malaysian Court. She unhesitatingly shared useful resources, Singapore legislation and rules on the subject.
Ms Malathi Das, you are truly a Superpower, now and hereinafter. Mal has undoubtedly touched the lives of many beyond the shores of Singapore. I will miss you my friend and cherish the memories.”
Goh Siu Lin
Member, Malaysian Bar
Kee Sern, Siu & Huey
“Much has been said about Mal: smart, funny, caring and a lover of the Law. She was also a strong supporter of the Malaysian Bar, having spoken at many of our events. Our paths first crossed around 20 years ago when she made a presentation at an international Family Law Conference organised by the Bar’s Family Law Committee. She was always eloquent and I loved her slides! Our friendship blossomed when Serene Ong made us roommates at a jazz festival. I will always remember Mal as someone ready with a laugh and a willingness to explore culinary delights with me.”
Honey Tan Lay Ean
Member, Malaysian Bar
“All at LAWASIA are shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden loss of Malathi Das, Past President of LAWASIA 2011-2013. The distinction of serving as LAWASIA’s youngest, first woman and first Singaporean president fell to Malathi when she assumed the presidency from Mr Lester Huang in Korea in 2011. Formerly a Council member and a Vice-President of the Law Society of Singapore, Malathi became a LAWASIA ExCo member in 2003, was elected Vice-President in 2006 and president-elect in 2009. She brought to her leadership of LAWASIA a particular focus on the rights of families and children, playing a significant role in the development and promulgation of the LAWASIA Siem Reap Principles and Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Equally, she redeveloped a LAWASIA presence at the United Nations, representing it at several meetings in Geneva. Malathi inspired LAWASIA to draw attention to the role the legal profession plays in supporting the UN Guiding Principles in Business and Human Rights. Janet Neville, who was Secretary-General during Malathi’s presidential term, said that Malathi would “always hold a special place in LAWASIA hearts”, describing her as “a diminutive woman but with a very big footprint”. The members of the current LAWASIA ExCo who knew and worked with Malathi have articulated their immediate sorrow on learning of this news, as have many of her former ExCo colleagues. Malathi was much-respected by all those she encountered at LAWASIA and amongst the wider international profession.”
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Ms Malathi Das who will always be remembered for her passion and tireless service in helping vulnerable women and children. As an expert in family law, Mal often went beyond her call of duty to ensure the well-being of her clients, especially when they experienced domestic violence.
During Malathi’s Presidency of SCWO from 2014-2016, she was committed to the mission of empowering women through advocacy and service. Under her leadership, SCWO was granted with Consultative Relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in May 2016. As a UNECOSOC-accredited non-government organisation (NGO), Mal led SCWO to participate in the Commission on Status on Women (CSW) session and delivered a statement at UN Human Right’s Council’s formal adoption of Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review in June 2016.
Malathi was also well-known as a gifted speaker who represented Singapore at conferences and gave rousing speeches on important topics such as violence against women, gender equality, women in poverty, amendments to the Women’s Charter, and women leadership.
We have lost a dedicated advocate whose efforts made an impact on our push for women’s progress and empowerment. Malathi’s contributions will always be celebrated and remembered.”
Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations