Many students, especially students from the Business School, frequent the Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library; but how many know who the library was named after, and why the word “Memorial” is in the name? There are several departments in NUS named after donors who have generously given to the university, such as the C J Koh Law Library, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. However, the Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library was not built from funds donated by Mr Hon, but rather from members of the public after his death, to commemorate a man who played a pivotal role in the rise of Singapore’s modern economy.
Mr Hon Sui Sen (韩瑞生) was born in Penang on April 16, 1916. After obtaining a scholarship, he came to Singapore in 1935 to study in Raffles College. Among his hostel mates in Raffles College were Mr Goh Keng Swee and Mr Lim Kim San.
During the Japanese Occupation, Mr Hon’s wife went back to Penang when she was pregnant; Mr Hon, earning a meagre salary as a clerk under the Japanese occupation government, had to stay in the homes of friends’ families, including Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s. He shared a room with Mr Lee, and a long and so a close friendship developed.
Left to right: Mr Maurice Baker, Joan Hon, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, c1948
Amongst Mr Hon’s many contributions to Singapore, he served as Chairman of:
- Development Bank of Singapore (DBS)
- Neptune Orient Line (NOL)
- National Iron & Steel Mills Ltd
- Jurong Shipyards
- Sembawang Shipyard
- Keppel Shipyard
- As well as other companies, including Intraco, Singapore Electronic & Engineering Ltd and Singapore Petroleum Company
Mr Hon also established and became Chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 1961. Mr Hon served for 13 years as Minister Finance, from 1970 until his death in 1983. He was succeeded in that role by our current President, Mr Tony Tan Keng Yam.
Mr Hon Sui Sen, c1970s
Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library
The Havelock Community Centre leaders and senior civil servants mooted the idea to start a fund to build a library as a fitting memorial to the late Mr Hon’s selfless dedication to society and the country. Mr Hon had served as MP for the (now-defunct) Havelock Constituency from April 1970 until his death, retaining his seat through three general elections.
In December 1984, the Planning Committee for the Library was set up and Mrs Lee-Wang Cheng Yeng was appointed Head-Designate of the Library and Chairperson of the Committee.
The Library started operations on 15 June 1987 and was declared officially opened by Mr Goh Chok Tong, the then First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence on 15 January 1988.
Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library c1988
If you’d like to learn more about Mr Hon Sui Sen and why he was central to the development of Singapore as we know it today, the library collection does contains books written about him, and also by him. You can start with these, where most of the information in this post was obtained from:
A tribute to Hon Sui Sen / Havelock Citizens’ Consultative Committee : Havelock Community Centre Management Committee (Call No: DS599.51 Hon.T in CL, HSSML)
Strategies of Singapore’s economic success / Hon Sui Sen (DS599.51 Hon 2004 in CL, HSSML)
Relatively speaking / Joan Hon (DS599.51 Hon.H in CL, HSSML, SC)
Channel News Asia’s documentary series Men with a Mission also featured an episode on Mr Hon. You can view it online here: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/tv/tvshows/men-with-a-mission/hon-sui-sen/2536540.html