$2m gift from British-turned-Singaporean couple is SPCA's largest outright donation

Mr Gerry Essery (right) and Mrs Jo Essery left behind a $6 million legacy that will be divided equally among the Assisi Hospice, National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
Mr Gerry Essery (right) and Mrs Jo Essery left behind a $6 million legacy that will be divided equally among the Assisi Hospice, National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).PHOTO: ESTATE OF JO AND GERRY ESSERY

SINGAPORE - Animals were a pet cause for the late Mrs Jo Essery, who was a regular figure at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

When not busy helping around the shelter or the office, she was out with SPCA officers, helping with animal cruelty cases.

She also helped foster many kittens and puppies over the years, and took home sick animals to nurse them back to health.

Mrs Essery was on the SPCA management committee for more than four years in the 1970s, and was very "hands-on".

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It was, thus, no surprise that she and her late husband, Mr Gerry Essery, would leave $2 million to the SPCA. This was part of a $6 million legacy donation they left, of which, $2 million went to Assisi Hospice, and another $2 million to the National Kidney Foundation.

For the SPCA, the couple's $2 million gift is the largest outright donation it has received, said its executive director Jaipal Singh Gill.

Of the $2 million, $300,000 has been used for SPCA's new building fund as well as for an open-air education pavilion, which has been named the Essery Education Pavilion.

 

The remainder will be used to upgrade and maintain the SPCA Animal Welfare Centre in Sungei Tengah.

Mrs Essery was 89 when she died in 2013, and Mr Essery was 92 when he died in 2015.

Semi-retired veterinarian Tan Hwa Luck, a longtime friend of the couple and the executor of their estate, describes them as people who led simple lives.

Mrs Essery, who was of Irish and South African extraction, was a very caring person and had a bubbly personality, he said.

She was "a bit like a mother figure to me", said Dr Tan, who was born in 1945, the year Mr and Mrs Essery got married in South Africa. The Britons eventually settled in Singapore and became citizens in the 1970s. They had no children.

Said Dr Tan: "They treated me like family... They joked that I could have been their son."

Mrs Essery was also actively involved in other social causes.

An article in The Straits Times dated Dec 23, 1962, noted that she had, for several years, campaigned in Australia for Christmas cheer funds to benefit children at the Banda Street Creche in Chinatown.

The late Mr Essery was a wine connoisseur who used to advise Tanglin Club on wines, Dr Tan said. Mr Essery was also very well read, and was interested in a very eclectic range of books, from novels to autobiographies, Dr Tan said.

He added: "What was so amazing was that at 92, he had such a clear mind. He would keep up with current affairs... he was also very much interested in local politics."

Dr Tan said of the loving couple, who lived just behind Mount Elizabeth Hospital: "They were nice people, very low-key."