Ee Peng Liang



Singapore Infopedia

by Nuradilah Ramlan

Background

Ee Peng Liang (Dr) (b. 24 November 1913, Singapore–d. 24 August 1994, Singapore) was a local philanthropist and businessman. He was the founding member and president of the Singapore Council of Social Service (now known as the National Council of Social Service) and the Community Chest.1 Frequently referred to as the father of charity in Singapore, Ee was known for his charitable nature and voluntary work, for which he received numerous accolades.2 He also held key appointments in over 50 public organisations ranging from Christian welfare agencies, reformative institutions, public welfare bodies, and even women’s and Malay/Muslim associations.3

Early life
Born on 24 November 1913 in Singapore, Ee was one of seven children. His parents were Straits-born Chinese from Malaya; his father, Ee Seng Watt, was born in Muar and his mother, Theresa Lim Choon Neo, was born in Malacca.4


At the age of nine, Ee attended school at St Joseph’s Institution, which played a defining role in his conversion to Catholicism in 1933.5 After graduation, he worked for two years as a stenographer at the law firm Eber & Ong.6 In 1947, he became an accountant and set up his own accounting firm, Ee Peng Liang & Company. The company merged with international group Ernst & Whinney in 1986 to become the largest accounting firm in Singapore and Malaysia, and was later known as Ernst & Young.7 In 1957, Ee was appointed as a member of the Public Service Commission of Singapore, marking the start of his public service career.8

In 1976, the University of Singapore (today’s National University of Singapore) conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.9

Philanthropic work
While working as an accountant, Ee began volunteering at the Boys’ Town, of which he was appointed chairman in 1955. In 1947, he became secretary of the Good Shepherd Sisters’ Marymount Vocational Centre. Six years later, he founded and became vice-president of the Singapore Council for Social Service, and then became its president in 1964.10


Ee founded the Community Chest in 1983 as a division of the Singapore Council of Social Service.11 He had come up with the idea of having a common charity organisation in 1969 as a “community chest” where all donations could be kept and then allocated to various organisations.12 Since then, the Community Chest has become the largest charitable organisation in Singapore, and is known for its system of donation in which donors can pledge a part of their monthly salary to the Chest through a scheme with local bank POSB and the direct debit service provider GIRO.13

As president of the Community Chest, Ee was known for his appeals to the public, especially the rich, to be more charitable and to donate to the poor.14 His methods and ideas, however, sometimes stirred controversy. In the 1960s, he advocated setting up a home for unwed mothers, a proposal that came under public criticism.15 Ee’s continued belief in the need of such a facility resonated with a client of his, resulting in a cheque for S$10,000 and the beginnings of Rose Villa.16 He also encouraged Singaporeans to make a donation of S$1 every month.17 In 1984, he suggested implementing an automatic deduction of S$5 from every POSB depositor’s account for the Community Chest, but this was never implemented due to public opposition.18

Despite these unconventional ideas, Ee continued issuing public reminders, even to children, to be generous. His methods included using emotional and thought-provoking slogans, as well as illustrating the far-reaching impact of even small donations on the needy.19 In 1984, Ee raised the issue of the “less-generous rich” in Straits Times, saying that those who earned more usually donated less to charity due to financial commitments and expensive lifestyles.20 For his extensive efforts in the social service field, he was dubbed “Mr Charity” by Singaporeans and the “Robin Hood of Singapore” by then President Wee Kim Wee.21

A devout Catholic whose Christian name was “Joseph”, Ee was also an active member of the Catholic community and held key positions in several Catholic organisations.22 Following the detainment in May 1987 of 16 citizens, most of whom were Catholic Church members or volunteers, for suspected involvement in a clandestine communist network, Ee played an important role in organising a dialogue session between then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Catholic Church representatives in June that year. The purpose of the dialogue was to address any misunderstandings that the Catholic community might have had regarding the arrests.23

Awards
Ee retired as president of the National Council of Social Service and the Community Chest in 1992, after 50 years of voluntary service and more than 16 distinguished awards for his contributions, including the Public Service Star (1964), the Order of Nila Utama (1992) and the ASEAN Achievement Award (1994).24


In recognition of his work in the Catholic Church, in 1975 he became the first Singaporean to be conferred the title of Knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great by the pope.25 In 1992, he was made a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Sylvester, one of the highest awards given by the Catholic Church to those who have been active in social work for more than 40 years.26

In recognition of his contributions and legacy, in 1976 the Rotary Club established the Ee Peng Liang Trophy, an annual award presented to the Rotarian of the Year.27, the National Council of Social Service established the Ee Peng Liang Award in 1992, Singapore’s highest award for voluntary work.28

Death
In 1994, Ee died of heart failure at his home in Katong, at the age of 81.29 His funeral was attended by former President Wee Kim Wee, who was also his closest friend, and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, among others.30


Family31
Parents: Ee Seng Watt and Theresa Lim Choo Neo

Siblings: Ee Eng Neo, Jolly Tan Boon Tee, Veronica Ee Kim Neo, Ee Poh Neo, Gregory Ee Peng Kee and Margaret Mary Ee Lian Neo
Wife: Mary Seow
Children: Theresa, Lawrence, Cecilia, Agnes and Gerard. In 1997, Theresa Ee-Chooi published a biography about her father, entitled Father of Charity and My Father.32 Gerard Ee is a past president of National Council of Social Service and chairs the Agency for Integrated Care.33



Author
Nuradilah Ramlan



References
1. Suzzane Ooi, “Santa Claus Wears Glasses,” Straits Times, 25 December 1988, 19. (From NewspaperSG)

2. Eileen Lau, “Mr Charity Is First Winner of Award Named after Him,” Straits Times, 3 July 1992, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “More Than 50 Posts and 16 Awards to His Name,” Straits Times, 28 August 1994, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Theresa Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father (Singapore: Raffles Editions, 1997), 414. (Call no. RSING 361.8092 EEC)
4. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 15–16.
5. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 58–64.
6. “More Than 50 Posts and 16 Awards to His Name.”
7. “Ee Peng Liang to merge with Ernst & Whinney,” Straits Times, 22 August 1985, 2; “Ernst and Ee Peng Liang to Merge,” Business Times, 23 August 1985, 3; “More Than 50 Posts and 16 Awards to His Name.” (From NewspaperSG)
8. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 219–22.
9. “More Than 50 Posts and 16 Awards to His Name”; Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 325–29.
10. Ooi, “Santa Claus Wears Glasses”; “More Than 50 Posts and 16 Awards to His Name.”
11. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 371; “About Us: Our Journey,” Community Chest, accessed 15 May 2023, https://www.comchest.gov.sg/about-community-chest/about-us/our-journey.
12. “Social Worker Wants One System for Charity Funds,” Straits Times, 17 October 1969, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Chest Chairman Again Appeals to POSB Depositors,” Straits Times, 2 January 1985, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Wong Ai Kwei, “My Heart Bleeds for the Rich.” Straits Times, 27 August 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Home for Unwed Mums a Helpful Haven, Says Social Worker,” Straits Times, 18 May 1972, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 271–73.
17. “Chest Chairman Again Appeals to POSB Depositors.”
18. June Tan, “‘$5 for Charity’ Appeal,” Straits Times, 27 December 1984, 1; Give, but Give Freely,” Straits Times, 28 December 1984, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Stella Danker, “Share That Pie with the Needy,” Straits Times, 29 February 1984, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Wong, “My Heart Bleeds for the Rich.” 
21. Gillian Pow Chong, “President Calls Him Singapore’s Robin Hood,” Straits Times, 17 November 1985, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Ee Peng Liang Honoured by Catholic Church,” Straits Times, 23 December 1992, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Ooi, “Santa Claus Wears Glasses”; “Dr Ee Satisfied with Meeting,” Straits Times, 3 June 1987, 10; “How the Meeting at the Istana Came About,” 3 June 1987, Straits Times, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 422.
24. “More Than 50 Posts and 16 Awards to His Name”; Ee Will Not Stop Doing Charity Work on Quitting,” Straits Times, 18 January 1992, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Social Worker Ee Knighted by Pope,” Straits Times, 2 March 1975, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 323–24.
26. “Ee Peng Liang Honoured by Catholic Church,” Straits Times, 23 December 1992, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 492–93. 27. “About Rotary: Awards,” Rotary Club of Singapore, accessed 4 October 2023. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
28. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 481–86.
29. Ginnie Teo, “S’pore’s Father of Charity, Ee Peng Liang, Dies at 81,” Straits Times, 25 August 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “His Was a Noble Life,” New Paper, 29 August 1994, 10; “A Final, Fond Farewell for Father of Charity,” Straits Times, 29 August 1994, 21; David Miller, “The Needy Have Lost a Father-figure: PM Goh,” Straits Times, 26 August 1994, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father, 562–63.
32. Ee-Chooi, Father of Charity and My Father.
33. “About Us: Our Organisation,” National Council of Social Services, accessed 4October 2023 (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore); “Our Board Members,” Agency for Integrated Care, accessed 28 July 2023, https://www.aic.sg/about-us/our-board-members.



Further resources
Julia Goh, “Peng Liang to Step Down as President,” Straits Times, 25 September 1991, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

Mara Fernandez, “Mr Charity’s a Credit in the Business World Too,” Straits Times, 20 August 1985, 19. (From NewspaperSG)

Leong Chan Teik, “Accolades Pour In for the Man They Call Mr Charity,” Straits Times, 25 August 1991, 20. (From NewspaperSG)

Students Urged to Help the Needy,” Straits Times, 25 April 1977, 11. (From NewspaperSG)



The information in this article is valid as of August 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 


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