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My dad’s life story Part 3 – Tennis, SLTA and coaching

Dad coaching at SICC

Philip William Lemos: 1929-2004 | 
This part focuses on Dad’s love for and very consumate involvement with tennis and the final years of his life. It is the third 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.

Morning Glow Tennis Club - where it started

1964 – Dad joined the Morning Glow Tennis Club, which operated on Sunday mornings at the Civil Service Club at the tennis courts of the Tessensohn Road, when players from all walks of life would gather to play socially.

1965 – Dad took over from Jacob Chan as Honorary Secretary of the Morning Glow Tennis Club. Seow Teng Kia was Treasurer. During this period much of our family social life and Sundays especially revolved around Dad’s tennis circle through this club. Although Mum and us kids didn’t play the game at the time, we got to know them and their families. Many of our fond family memories during this time included their Dinner and Dances, weddings and Chinese New Year celebrations with this motley group of tennis enthusiasts. See photos of the Chinese New Year celebrated at a mansion in Ah Hood Road, where we played with firecrackers while the adults gambled away in the house, as was customary during the festive period.

The MGTC crowd included people such as Tay Boo Jiang and Chng Chee Yong. Johnson Liew and Charan Singh (see photo gallery below). Tay Boo Jiang was a watch seller who started out with a mobile stand on the corner of High Street and North Bridge Road. He eventually acquired the corner shop at that location to establish his Sincere Watch business which grew to become one of familiar watch establishments in Singapore. My first wrist watch and all our family watch needs were fulfilled by Sincere. Johnson Liew subsequently married Anastasia, who came from Indonesia and who then started a cake business called Bengawan Solo in Marine Parade which grew to become one of the more successful cake chains in Singapore.

The SLTA years and national tennis

1965-1978 – While Dad continued to play with the MGTC, he was also introduced into the Singapore Lawn Tennis Association (SLTA) committee by Siow Whatt Soon. Dad gave much of his time in a voluntary capacity to the service of national tennis development and tournament organisation in Singapore over 13 years through his association with the SLTA. During this period many of our weekends would be spent at various tournament venues where he served as tournament referee. The regular venues were Singapore Cricket Club (for grass court championships), Tanglin Club (for clay court championships) and the Farrer Park Tennis Courts, East Coast Park Tennis Centre and the Kallang Tennis Centre, the last one having been built together with the National Stadium in time to host the 7th SEAP Games. 

1969 – Dad took over from Hassan Alwi as Hon.Gen. Sec. of SLTA. President at the time was Dr Chan Ah Kow. The other presidents whom Dad served in the SLTA Executive Committee were Liu Sung Tao, Ong Leong Boon and John K Young.

1973 – A highlight of Dad’s tournament organisation was his involvement in the 7th SEAP Games which was hosted for the first time in Singapore, when he was appointed referee for tennis in the games. The competition was held at the Kallang Tennis Centre and it gave us the opportunity to witness the Opening and Closing ceremonies held at the nearby National Stadium at Kallang which was all terribly exciting at the time.  In the lead up to the 7th SEAP Games hosted in Singapore, Dad got to travel when he led the national tennis squad’s trip to Cambodia for friendly matches with the Cambodian team. The national team comprised Sharin Osman, Daniel Lim, TS Kim, Amir Leow and Albert Tan. They stopped over in Saigon on the way to Phnom Penh and Dad told of his experience while in Phnom Penh being taken to a hill to observe artillery fire in the distance, when the country was battling the Khmer Rouge which it eventually fell to in 1975. The Cambodian officials they met included Dr Vanh Hai and some of the players who eventually managed to flee to France.

Dad never had much success as a competitive tennis player. He would enter tournaments and then choke whenever we would show up to watch his matches. But he loved the sport and played the game obsessively as a social player, excelling as a tournament organiser. He was noted for his beautifully handwritten tournament draws which he would painstakingly construct on vanquard sheets and mahjong paper.

Although his competitive accomplishments were limited, he was proud to have represented the country playing as a Veteran in the Guillemard Cup, between Singapore and Malaysia. He also won trophies at club level, winning at the Changi Swimming Club tournament in singles and doubles (partnering Desmond Oon and Chia Chin Siang) and also at the Singapore Recreation Club. His other honour was being the umpire for the exhibition match which women’s champion Margaret Court played on a stopover in Singapore. 

My sister Sandy and I spent much of our childhood immersed in both Dad’s tennis and Mum’s music education spheres. Dad’s SLTA years (when Sandy was aged 5-18 years and I was 3-16 years) provided us with complete exposure to many aspects of the sport but neither of us took to it in a big way. Dad signed us up for formal lessons during our school holidays under Sharin Osman (then the No. 1 national player) so were lucky to have had the very best coaches to learn from. Sadly, neither of us made good on the opportunity.
I have fond memories of Sandy and I helping dad type up his SLTA Annual General Meeting minutes which was part of his obligations as the Hon. Gen Sec. on stencils (and sniffing that shocking pink correction fluid) and after the copies of minutes were cyclostyled at his school office Gestetner machines, we would then help him sort and staple them, serving faithfully has his unpaid administrative assistants at home.

By osmosis, we too lived and breathed tennis and became acquainted with not just the officials but also the regular players in the local tennis scene. There were the usual difficult and annoying characters and there were the champions who were selected to play for the country at international competitions. Among the prominent ladies were Martha Young, Vivien Gwee and Ong Siong Ngo. In the men’s arena there was the gentle and unassuming Sharin Osman, the humble TS Kim, flashy Mahadir Hassan and the ever-flamboyant Daniel Lim.

Tennis coaching at SICC

1978-1984 – Dad had a second career as a tennis coach at the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC). This arrangement came about through a recommendation from his longstanding tennis buddy Ang Gee Bah, who was the tennis convenor for the club. Dad initially started out on a part-time basis, while he continued to teach in school.

1984-2001 – Upon his retirement from school teaching, Dad then continued with his tennis coaching at SICC on a full time basis. He would spend mornings and late afternoons on the tennis court (no one is crazy enough to play tennis at noon in the tropics), In pre-internet days, he would obsessively keep track of weather forcasts available on teletext on the TV, to see if his sessions booked would be rained out. Some of his “star pupils” were the following, including a few political luminaries who were members of the club:

  • Mrs Goh Chok Tong (Choo Leng) – wife of then Prime Minister of Singapore
  • Daughter of Richard Hu – Minister of Finance of Singapore
  • Yeo Cheow Thong, his wife and child – Cabinet Minister in various portfolios
  • Wife and daughters of Tay Eng Soon – Senior Minister of State for Education
  • Justice Lai Kew Chai – Supreme Court Justice
  • Clarence Tan – Pathologist
  • Philip Tan and his daughters – Member of Parliament
  • Heng Chiang Meng – Member of Parliament
  • Arthur Beng, his wife and son Aaron – Member of Parliament

Post tennis and his final years

1999 – PW aged 70 – Dad finally retired from tennis coaching. At this point he had been diagnosed and was receiving treatment for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as emphysema) which would have been attributed to his decades of heavy smoking. It was then that he suddenly decided to give up smoking altogether. With his tennis routine and smoking halted his health also began a rapid decline. 

2003 – PW aged 74 – Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in December, just 7 months after I had moved to Sydney. Over the following months my sister Sandy and I would shuttle back and forth between Australia and Singapore to visit Dad as he underwent chemo treatment and was warded in hospital several times with breathing difficulties.

2004 – PW aged 75 years – We celebrated Dad’s final birthday as a family in February with a dinner amongst a few of his close friends. It was to be the last time we were together as a nuclear family as Sandy and I would subsequently take turns to return from Australia to be with him and Mum over the next few months. Dad passed away peacefully on 5 October at the Assisi Hospice at Mount Alvernia.