Remembering Our President, Adrian Tan Gim Hai (1966-2023)
“When you leave this world, if you have connected with other human beings, told their stories, and enriched society, you will have lived a life of meaning. The goal is not to seek happiness for ourselves, but to provide it to others. That is a life of service, and I commend it to you.”
– Commencement Address at the 2022 NUS Law and Music Faculties Commencement Ceremony on 7 July 2022
“Because we understand that justice isn’t a privilege granted to a few, it is a promise made to everyone: especially to each person who seeks our help. Let us grow our numbers, for there is much to do.”
– Adrian Tan, Opening of Legal Year 2023
Tributes from Office Bearers of the Council
We have seen tonnes of solemn touching tributes to Adrian. Allow me to share a lighthearted side of him.
Apart from serious Law Soc work, Adrian and I shared many social chats. One pleasant surprise was my finding out that we shared a common interest in cats. We frequently exchanged cat memes and jokes over WhatsApp. Adrian even named one of my rescued cats “Yoda” which you can see here.
Adrian also penned a social media post on behalf of all the cats in Singapore as follows:
“I’m a cat with a law degree. You can call me an advo-cat. I’m writing to you on behalf of my clients, the cats of Singapore. We have a legal issue to highlight on your social media platform. It’s about the right of HDB dwellers to have cats as pets.”
Like everyone, I loved to hear Adrian’s insightful views on a topic or issue. He always had a kind word for everyone and a knack for reframing issues so well. One recent example was when discussing the three core values of the legal profession, Adrian came up with “Justice” to add to “Integrity” and “Professionalism”. Adrian also shared that he preferred three statements over three catchy words. His reasoning was, “Let’s just put it as a series of statements, not a single word. Single words are too difficult. The first two are qualities that we have. The last one is a virtue that we prize.”
Why Justice? “Justice covers individual justice as well as social and national issues.”
The core value, Justice, resonated strongly with members of the legal profession. This was classic Adrian.
I will miss Adrian.
I have tried my best to set out what Adrian meant to us as members of the Bar. I have also taken the opportunity to say a few words on who Adrian was to me personally.
Adrian was a role model. The Bar was proud to call Adrian one of ours. Adrian spoke up for us when lawyers were unfairly criticised. He spoke with force and conviction, but without any hint of rancour. Lawyers who have appeared in cases with Adrian speak fondly of his intelligence and tenacity. Those who have worked with Adrian speak even more fondly of his warmth and integrity. Adrian took care of his own, and was generous enough as President to treat all of us as his own.
Adrian was special. Adrian was a uniquely gifted wordsmith. It is difficult to say something about a topic that Adrian had spoken about. He would have already said it far better, and more memorably. Adrian also had an extraordinary ability to connect with people, and would leave everyone who met him with lasting memories of his insight, humour and conviction.
Adrian was a friend. I’ve known Adrian since I was 19 years old. I first met him when I was serving my national service. He happened to be serving his reservist duties in the same office that I was working in at the time. I was awed to meet the actual author of my beloved Teenage Textbook series, and was even more awed at how humble and genuinely funny he was in person. We continued to cross paths over the years in practice. I will always treasure the experience of serving with Adrian on the Council.
Jason Chan Tai-Hui, SC
I got to know Adrian in 2016 when I re-joined Council. Since then, we became friends as we shared a wicked sense of humour, his being lighter and mine being darker. We shared many private thoughts about the legal profession and current affairs over long lunches at our favourite specialty restaurant in Kallang Indoor Stadium. We grew to trust each other unreservedly over the years, culminating in our preparing him to run for the post of Law Society President in 2021. However, something disappointing happened towards the end of 2020 which derailed that plan. Adrian took the disappointment in his stride and wanted to “move on” but Lisa Sam and I were determined to have Adrian lead the Law Society, so we spent 2021 persuading Adrian to stick to the plan to run for the post of Law Society President.
Adrian became President in 2022 and was full of ideas in taking the Law Society to the next level. A gentler level. A more caring level. But alas, he was diagnosed with cancer barely three months into his presidency. Throughout Adrian’s presidency, he continued performing his presidential duties whilst undergoing dreadful medical treatment. Adrian’s bravery and dignity were unparalleled.
When Adrian passed on, I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t bring myself to share my sentiments privately or publicly. I didn’t know where to start. I was in a state of denial. I grieved alone. I distracted myself with the countless fires that Council has to extinguish daily.
I was asked to contribute a photo of Adrian and me when it struck me that in all our years together, we had never taken a wefie. I dislike taking pictures so it’s not in my nature to do so. This I regret. The closest I can find is this shot of us hosting the visiting German Bar Leader in August 2022 and the Vietnam Bar Association in February this year. I shall miss Adrian dearly.
Chia Boon Teck
Tributes from Foreign Bar Associations
It is with profound sadness that on behalf of the International Bar Association (IBA) we extend deepest condolences to the family, friends, colleagues and all of Singapore’s legal community at the death of Adrian Tan.
As President of the Law Society of Singapore and throughout his professional career, Adrian’s unwavering dedication to advancing the legal profession and upholding justice was remarkable. He has set a standard that will continue to guide and inspire Singapore’s legal community for years to come. His commitment to the rule of law and justice is his legacy and it will remain ingrained in the ethos and work of those who had the privilege of working alongside him.
International Bar Association
Mr Tan was an internationally respected lawyer, with a reputation extending throughout the Asia- Pacific and beyond. We are aware of the dignity, courage and good grace with which he battled his illness, and this only served to further enhance the respect in which he was held.
We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Mr Adrian Tan, President of the Law Society of Singapore on 8 July 2023. Many of our Members from the Malaysian Bar knew him personally and he was well loved, and will be missed.
Bar Council Malaysia
Adrian was an outstanding leader of the legal profession in Singapore. His contributions to the legal community will be remembered for years to come. His passing is a great loss and his leadership and wise counsel will be sorely missed.
Law Society of Hong Kong
We fondly recall the warmth and generosity President Adrian Tan Gim Hai displayed during our visit to Singapore for the 32nd POLA Summit. His extraordinary talent and spirit touched his friends and colleagues, and his absence will be deeply felt.
Korean Bar Association
Many of the members of Dai-ni Tokyo Bar Association knew Mr Tan personally and he was well-loved for his insightful presentations, which entertained the audience with a large dose of humour in various occasions, including at the Law Society’s dinner and on the day of the Opening of the Legal Year. He will be missed.
Dai-ni Tokyo Bar Association
The demise of such a great leader is indeed a great loss to the family, colleagues, the Law Society and the ASEAN legal profession. At this time of bereavement, I hope that your people will overcome this grievous loss.
Vietnam Bar Federation
President Tan was held in the utmost regard by the Law Society and loved by many across the legal profession, in Singapore and internationally. President Tan’s commitment to promoting access to justice accompanied by his indefatigable good humour serve as a picture of leadership which I hope many will continue to aspire to long after his passing.
Law Council of Australia
Although he held the office of President for a short time, and from 2022, I understand Mr Adrian Tan Gim Hai had a strong dedication to the legal profession and a great compassion and commitment to promoting the Rule of Law, throughout his career.
Bar Association of Queensland
The New Zealand Law Society always appreciated his generosity in sharing his experience and wisdom during his tenure at the Law Society of Singapore. I know you will all be reeling at the loss. Adrian leaves behind a legacy as a courageous and unwavering advocate for the legal profession.
New Zealand Law Society
From the many tributes coming through online it’s clear Adrian was a remarkable leader who will be sorely missed by all. We hope you all can celebrate his life and his many achievements over the coming period.
Australian Legal Practice Management Association
President Adrian Hosting the Presidents of Law Associations of Asia (POLA) Conference in Singapore in September 2022