A CELEBRATED Malaysian beauty has decided to bequeath her house in Ipoh to the National University of Singapore (NUS) – her late father's alma mater.
Sharmini Tiruchelvam, whose stunning looks in the 1960s and 1970s was captured on canvas by artists such as Picasso and di Chirico, said she wanted to honour the memory of her father, Dr Michael Emmanuel Tiruchelvam, who died in 1976 at 79.
The prominent surgeon graduated in 1922 from the King Edward VII College of Medicine, the predecessor of the NUS medical faculty.
He was the first Asian in Malaya to achieve specialist status, breaking the Europeans' stranglehold on the profession.
His achievements are documented in Doctors Extraordinaire, a book on Malaysian medical practitioners with significant impact. In the book, author Ho Tak Ming described him as a “bold and innovative surgeon” famed for abdominal surgery.
He was also the first Asian to be appointed to such a high colonial medical post as state surgeon, first in Negri Sembilan, then Perak.
For a man who refused honours in his lifetime, even turning down a knighthood from the British, he may earn a posthumous accolade through his daughter's generosity.
She hopes her donation can go towards setting up a professorship in his name.
The eldest of three children, she came to be known as the Malaysian Madonna after a painting done by Pietro Annigoni, often lauded as the world's best portrait painter in the 20th century.
The late Pope John XXIII, on seeing her portrait by Annigoni, asked him to use her likeness for a painting of the Madonna, to be displayed in his private chambers.
Sharmini said the idea for the donation came at a lunch in 2001 in Ipoh, Perak, with President S.R. Nathan and Prof Shih Choon Fong, president and Vice-Chancellor of NUS.
Together, they talked of “the possibility of a chair in my father's name.”
Sharmini, a writer and composer, arrived in Singapore on Dec 30 to discuss her donation with Prof Shih.
While details have not been firmed up, she has invited him to visit her bungalow.
She declined to reveal its worth but Malaysian property agents valued the land alone at about RM1.1mil to RM1.2mil.
NUS, in expressing its gratitude, said: “We always like to honour our heroes, whether they are our alumni or staff.”
At least S$1mil (RM2.1mil) is needed to start a full professorship, of which three have been launched at NUS in the past year. The most recent was a S$1.5mil donation from Dr Saw Swee Hock, 71, for a professorship in statistics. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network
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