By Suzanne Lim
In spite of his immense success, the happiest memory the late businessman and philanthropist Toh Kian Chui (1927 – 2000) had of his childhood was when he went barefooted with his grandfather to a coffee shop and they shared one cup of coffee for the then-princely sum of five cents!
Forced to abandon his education - and his dream of studying medicine - when the Japanese invaded Singapore during the Second World War, Toh possessed a deep hunger to learn and taught himself English from scratch after the war ended. Hard work and determination saw him set up one of Singapore’s first road construction companies, Swee Constructions Pte Ltd, in 1948 when he was only in his early 20s.
From the ‘60s to the ‘90s, Swee Constructions’ prominent projects included the paving of the runway for Changi Airport, rock bund work for all of the Southern Islands, major road constructions and land reclamations amongst many others.
The late businessman and philanthropist Toh Kian Chui
Well respected by all who knew him, Toh was known for being highly principled with tremendous patience, courage and tolerance. Awarded the Public Service Star (BBM) and Public Service Medal (PBM) by the Singapore Government, he was a generous contributor, often anonymously, to many charities in Singapore. One particular memory from a grateful long-time worker was of how in the ‘60s, Toh gifted the worker $1,000 on the occasion of his marriage – a handsome gift indeed when salaries at the time were typically less than $10 a day.
Despite his status in the company, Toh was known to personally ferry his workers to the hospital when emergencies occurred. Quiet and humble, he remained ever the perfect gentleman, never once boasting about his achievements.
Toh passed away in November 2000 and on the first anniversary of his passing, his family established the Toh Kian Chui Foundation to perpetuate his memory. The Foundation is a generous supporter of education in Singapore, in particular medical education, as Toh would have studied medicine had he been given the opportunity to do so.
In December 2012, LKCMedicine was extremely privileged to receive a $20 million gift from the Foundation which will support a Distinguished Professorship, scholarships, a top student gold medal and education and research at the School.