Dr Kwa, the healthcare pioneer and nature lover

The late Dr Kwa Soon Bee laid the foundation for today's public hospital system and left an indelible mark on Singapore's healthcare system, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

He was also a nature lover who played a pivotal role in the growth of wildlife parks here for over three decades, Wildlife Reserves Singapore said of its former chairman.

Dr Kwa, 86, who died on Sunday after a stroke, believed strongly in training healthcare professionals, said the President in a condolence letter to Dr Kwa's wife Lucy.

Dr Tan, who was Education Minister from 1985 to 1991, recalled working with Dr Kwa to improve the medical and healthcare schools in universities and polytechnics. "Soon Bee was synonymous with the development of healthcare in the early days of Singapore's growth as a nation."

The healthcare pioneer started as a medical officer in 1956 and rose through the ranks, retiring as the Health Ministry's permanent secretary and director of medical services in 1996. Generations of healthcare professionals remember him as a mentor, said Dr Tan.

One such person is Alexandra Health System's group chief executive officer Liak Teng Lit, who was a pharmacist when he met Dr Kwa in the 1970s. Dr Kwa, then the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) medical director, set very high standards but was extremely supportive of even the most junior staff, said Mr Liak. "He always reminded us hospital buildings would be used for 40 to 50 years. He told us that when we open a hospital, it must be at least 10 years ahead of its time. He certainly did that when he built SGH."

Dr Kwa is also remembered as a visionary who held the wildlife parks to the highest standards and spearheaded the zoo's rejuvenation in 2000. He was chairman of Jurong Bird Park from 1980, and oversaw the 2000 formation of Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Jurong Bird Park general manager Raja Segran said: "Dr Kwa made it a point to see the zoo or bird park in every country he visited... and would come back with observations and thoughts to further refine the bird park."

Dr Kwa is survived by his wife, two children and three grandchildren. Elder son Kwa Chong Teck, 59, a National Dental Centre senior adviser, said: "My father gave all the young people he came into contact with a certain code to live by.

"He gave us the same code - to try to do the right thing no matter how difficult, and that every person needs to be treated with kindness and compassion... Kindness and compassion characterised him, which is why he got into healthcare in the first place."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Dr Kwa, the healthcare pioneer and nature lover'. Print Edition | Subscribe