A diverse field, with inspiring tales

At the ST Singaporean of the Year award ceremony yesterday were (back row, from left) Kiss92 senior presenter Arnold Gay; finalist community volunteer Ang Thiam Hock; Mr Freddie Ang, father of finalist conductor Darrell Ang; finalists charity founder
At the ST Singaporean of the Year award ceremony yesterday were (back row, from left) Kiss92 senior presenter Arnold Gay; finalist community volunteer Ang Thiam Hock; Mr Freddie Ang, father of finalist conductor Darrell Ang; finalists charity founder Ben Cheong; Singapore Environment Council's head of eco-certification Kavickumar Muruganathan and executive director Edwin Seah; French restaurant chain Saveur owners Joshua Khoo and Dylan Ong; ultramarathoners Lim Nghee Huat and Yong Yuen Cheng; entrepreneur Peter Ho; and nurse Wong Li Wai; one of the judges for the award and social entrepreneur and activist Saleemah Ismail; ST deputy editor Sumiko Tan, ST sports editor Marc Lim; finalist Paralympian Yip Pin Xiu; and (front row, from left) ST associate editor Helen Chia; youth leader David Hoe; ARA Asset Management group CEO John Lim; ST editor Warren Fernandez; Singapore Press Holdings CEO Alan Chan; Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; ST Singaporean of the Year Noriza A. Mansor; UBS Wealth Management president Juerg Zeltner; UBS Singapore country head and head of UBS Wealth Management Asia-Pacific Edmund Koh; ST Press general manager Susan Long; ST deputy editor Ignatius Low; ST senior writer Wong Kim Hoh; celebrity chef Willin Low and ST associate editor Rahul Pathak.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Air of warmth at award ceremony as finalists share stories of how they made a difference in the community

They were nominated for the first Singaporean of the Year award.

But at the award ceremony yesterday, there was nary a competitive spark among the nominees, who had all contributed to the community in significant ways.

They greeted one another warmly, and left inspired by the stories of their counterparts.

Ultramarathoner Lim Nghee Huat, 62, was touched by the selflessness of former businessman Ben Cheong, 56, who has built 22 schools in Thailand and Myanmar, with three more under construction in Nepal, after starting a charity more than two years ago.

"It must have been very difficult for him to soldier on quietly in his work, so far away from home. But he did what he did because of his heart, and not because he wanted to win," he said. The media producer has his own inspirational story - he marked SG50 by running 2,500km in 50 days last year with Mr Yong Yuen Cheng, 44, a teacher.

Mr Ang Thiam Hock, 52, was struck by the sheer diversity of the finalists - who included a Paralympian, a conductor, environmental activists and a volunteer nurse.

"Each of us has a story to tell, and this has shown me that we can all contribute in our own ways," said Mr Ang, who gave up his sales consultant job to do grassroots work with at-risk youth in Taman Jurong.

He said it was a rare opportunity for them to meet people like finalist Peter Ho, 37, an engineer who co-founded a start-up that put Singapore on the world map after pulling in big-name clients like Airbus.

The firm also designed the Red Rhino emergency vehicles for the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

"He'll be a great person to introduce to my kids, " quipped Mr Ang.

Meanwhile, owners of French restaurant chain Saveur Joshua Khoo, 31, and Dylan Ong, 29 were thrilled to pose for a picture with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who had given out the award. PM Lee chatted with them about their business, known for serving French cuisine at affordable prices.

Mr Ong said: "Not many people have the opportunity to meet PM Lee in person and the experience of the whole awards ceremony is something that we can live to tell our grandchildren about."

Celebrity chef Willin Low, 43, said the stories of the finalists put everyday grievances in the proper perspective.

He said: "We often like to grumble about little things like trains being late, but these people have accomplished so much despite adverse circumstances - what is our excuse for complaining?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'A diverse field, with inspiring tales'. Print Edition | Subscribe