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My dad’s life story Part 2 – Family and teaching

Lemos family portrait

Philip William Lemos: 1929-2004 | 
This part focuses on Dad starting his family, his teaching career and the family holidays. It is the second part of an account of my father’s life, recorded as an oral history in conversation with him during his last days while he received palliative care in a hospice in 2004.

Starting a family and his career in Serangoon Gardens

1957 – Dad was posted to teach at Serangoon Garden South School where Mrs Eunice Tan Kay Thong was the school principal. This was how my parents became acquainted with the housing estate which our future lives would be closely linked with for many more years. They initially lived as a married couple in a rented property at Worthing Road in Serangoon Gardens Estate.

1959LKS aged 24 years – Mum had a miscarriage while they were living in Worthing Road. Their first born would have been a boy.

1960 PW aged 31, LKS aged 25 years – My sister Sandra Maude (Sandy) was born on 19 May at the Khoo Clinic located at Geylang Road.

1962 PW aged 33  I, Philip Selwyn, was born at 6.30am on 20 January at the Kandang Kerbau Hospital. Shortly after this my grandfather Emmanuel, who was still working in Slim River in Selangor at the time died suddenly. He was about to retire and go live in Singapore at the Crowhurst Drive property in Serangoon Gardens which my Dad had convinced him to buy. He died under mysterious circumstances which were never fully resolved and he never got to see his fourth grandchild born in Singapore. During this year Dad was transferred to Owen School. The principal at the time was Mrs. Voo, who was always distinctively dressed in a cheongsam and affectionately remembered for referring to the school children as “kuti-farts”. Dad taught at Owen School until 1969. I remember attending sports day at this school which Dad would organise as the sports coordinator.

1963 – Grandma Beatrice died. She had moved to Singapore after her husband had died and was living at the Crowhurst Drive property with her son Teddy when she contracted pneumonia. She was taken to the Youngberg Memorial Hospital and died there while receiving treatment. The house at Crowhurst Drive in Serangoon Gardens was owned by my grandfather and was meant to where he would retire. After his death it was left to his wife and upon her passing was bequeath to the three surviving children. Dad decided to buy out the share of his two siblings and so we continued to live in the property which has remained our family home to present day.

1966 – Dad and Mum joined the Singapore Teacher’s Military Band when it was formed by the Ministry of Education to lead the school band movement as an extra-curricular activity. It was Dad who convinced Mum to join together but after an initial stint with the band (and some disagreements involving his inability to read musical notation), Dad left the band, going back to teaching but leaving Mum to continue her teaching career as a band instructress. 

A highlight of the year for the family was watching Mum participating in the first National Day Parade. Dad was a member of the Singapore Recreation Club so we had a vantage view overlooking the Padang from roof top of the club. Dad had fun filming the event on his cine camera and we would watch over and over again Mum marching in the parade as part of the Teacher’s Military Band contingent. 

Over the next few years we would, as a family attend public performances of the band in public venues such as MacRitchie Reservoir and the Botanic Gardens. I We would also attend the finals of both the indoor and outdoor the School Band Competitions which were part of the Youth Festival.

1969 PW aged 40 – Dad was transferred to Sennett Estate School where the principal was Alfred Lye.

1974 – Ah Kong (my maternal grandfather) came to visit us in Singapore while getting his cataract surgery done at the Eye Hospital. Both my maternal grandparents would subsequently visit us over the years for various medical treatment as well as to attend wedding of my Aunt Suanee and the birth of her children, etc.

1977 PW aged 48 years – Dad was invited to apply for promotion to Senior Education Officer (SEO), was shortlisted and interviewed in two rounds, first at Westlake and the Ministry of Education (MOE) then by the Public Service Commission then operating at City Hall. The second interview didn’t seem to go well so in frustration and haste, Dad tells amusingly of his experience walking into a Chinese movie at Capitol Theatre next door just to clear his head. He was subsequently thrilled to become a Vice Principal by an announcement made by colleague Soh Chuan Lam. 

1981 – PW aged 51 years – Dad was then transferred to Kembangan School in the Eunos area, where he served as Vice-Principal under Principal Sie Chin Hong.

1984 PW aged 55 years – Dad retired from teaching. There was the option to extend his service without pension or gratuity frozen but he opted to leave and focus on his alternative tennis career.

Family holidays and trips

Beach Sundays – When not playing tennis, my parents would take us to Changi Beach to spend Sundays meeting friends and their families for some sun and relaxation. We were particularly close to the Koh and Seow families, some of Dad’s best mates from his TTC days. There was Koh Hock Chuan who was a keen musician and played vibraphone in the keroncong band “Barney Morier and the Stardusters”, his wife Siew Kheng and children Diana and Terry. Seow Teng Kia, who was a keen artist and tennis player at MGTC, his wife Rosalind and children Eugene, Kevin and Mildred.

1970 Dad and Mum took us children to meet the Lim grandparents in Medan, Sumatra after the initial estrangement and when all was reconciled. It was the first time my sister Sandy and I flew in an airplane. In Medan we met all the relatives and were also taken sightseeing to Lake Toba and the mountain resort town of Brastagi which were the tourist destinations outside Medan.

1983 – Dad and Mum’s trip to Hong Kong. This was during the lead up to the birth of my sister Sandy’s second child, daughter Michelle. My sister was living with husband Robert Sweet at the Hong Lok Yuen housing estate in the Northern Territories and our parents would visit her there twice before Robert moved his family back to Australia.

Dad and Mum went on many overseas trips together after they had both retired from teaching and Dad’s tennis afforded him the scheduling flexibility. These travels took them to England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland (where they attended one season of Wimbledon and the Edinburgh Tattoo), Scandinavia and across Spain and parts of Europe.

On these international bus tours they met travellers from other countries, some of whom Mum would continue to keep in touch with afterwards, corresponding with them through letters and a faithful exchange of greeting cards. My parents even met up with some of them on their subsequent trips to Australia and they in turn stopped by in Singapore to visit when they were on other trips, e.g. Dorothy Donaldson from Ballarat, whose son Roger was a filmmaker (who directed Cadillac Man) and Maureen and Kevin Bugden from Melbourne.

1991 – Dad took the family including Sandy and the grandkids on a short trip to Jakarta on the cruise ship Orient Sun in 1991. It was just after the local school holidays so the cruise had very few passengers other than gamblers who were locked away in the casinos most of the time as gambling was outlawed at the time and only permitted once the ship hit international waters. While and while we had a pleasant and relaxing time not having to compete with crowds for meals or the pool, it was not much fun winning at bingo all the time.

1995 – Dad and Mum’s holiday trip to New Zealand. My sister Sandy, who was living in the Gold Coast at the time, tagged along with them on this trip. Over the years, my parents visited my sister in her various homes located in Hong Kong, Perth, Castle Hill in Sydney, Emerald in Victoria and then at Coolangatta in the Gold Cost.

Dad and Mum had booked a grand trip to the USA in the 90s but it was unfortunately cancelled at the last minute because of illness which prevented Dad from travelling at the time. So they never got to see the States.

1997 – Dad and Mum’s holiday to South East England. This was timed to coincide with the completion of my year spent in London doing my Masters at UCL. They flew to London and I joined them on this week-long holiday which took on a bus tour to Cornwall where we stopped at towns such as Portsmouth, Bristol, Plymouth and Canterbury.