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Salute Our Town’s Pioneers, Trailblazers of the SG ‘Can-Do’ Spirit

Madam Soh Lian Tee with her eldest grandson, Mr Tan Kee Nam, at her flat in Keat Hong estate.

With the International Day of Older Persons coming up on 1st October, we turn the spotlight on the inspiring seniors in our midst and celebrate the resilience and ‘can-do’ spirit of our Pioneer Generation.

Meet Madam Soh Lian Tee, 102, our very own CCK Town centenarian. She survived the Japanese Occupation and lived through those early tumultuous nation-building years, during which she worked hard to raise her family of 8 children. 

Learning Through Life’s Trials

Orphaned at seven, Mdm Soh was adopted by her maternal aunt, who married the young lady off to her adopted son, Goh Kheng Lian, who was about 3 years older.

Although her husband’s family were wealthy rice merchants when Mdm Soh first got married, the Goh family was cheated of their family fortune.

Her husband became a seafarer to support his family but misfortune struck when his ship capsized. As no word was received on his whereabouts, everyone thought he had perished.

To support her six children, the youngest barely a toddler, Mdm Soh started working as a domestic helper for expatriate families. She cooked, cleaned and babysat for her employers.

Due to her diligence and industriousness, her services were highly sought.

A few years after Mdm Soh became the family’s breadwinner, her husband made a surprise return! However, the stoic wife Mdm Soh continued working to support her family as her husband suffered from ill health until his death in 1972 at age 58.

The couple went on to have two more children after Mr Goh’s return. In total, they had eight children — one son and seven daughters

Mdm Soh was fiercely dedicated to her job. Even during the turbulent period of the racial riots in 1964, she defied danger and went to work daily. In fact, Mdm Soh worked well into her 60s until her children managed to convince her to retire.

The feisty lady led an active life and loved cooking up a storm for her big extended family. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren never fail to rave about the matriarch’s cooking.

Fiercely independent, Mdm Soh was still doing all the housework and cooking for herself even when she turned 100. At 99 years old, she was still whipping up yummy and nutritious meals for two of her grandchildren’s post-natal confinement period. 

Mdm Soh surrounded by her extended family at one of the last massive birthday party they threw for her before the outbreak of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Photo provided by Mdm Soh’s family.

Today, her oldest daughter is 82 and youngest daughter is 60. Between them, they gave her 26 grandchildren, with the oldest aged 60, and more than 40 great-grandchildren.

Her seventh daughter, Madam Goh Bee Poh, said even though her mother is now quite deaf, she is still sharp as a nail and can recognise practically every member of her over 100-member strong extended family.

While she might not remember the names of the younger great-grandchildren so well, she is able to identify who they are related to.

Mr Tan Kee Nam, her oldest grandson, said Mdm Soh is so well loved that the extended family has a roster to ensure that she is always surrounded by at least one family member every day of the week. So, the beloved matriarch never wants for anything and is never lonely.

Mdm Goh said in Mandarin: “My mum had a tough life when she was younger, but she is now basking in all our love and care in her golden years.”