Former MP and minister of state Bernard Chen dies after short illness, aged 72

SINGAPORE - Former Member of Parliament and Minister of State Bernard Chen Tien Lap, 72, died on Wednesday morning after a five-month battle with cancer, his son Francis Chen said on Wednesday.

Mr Chen served as a People's Action Party (PAP) MP from 1977 to 2001 and was Minister of State for Defence from 1977 to 1981.

After leaving political office in 1981, he sat on the boards of several companies including Fraser & Neave, DBS Bank, and Certis Cisco.

Former parliamentary colleagues, including President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, former Cabinet ministers S. Dhanabalan and Mr Lim Chee Onn, and Mr S. Chandra Das, visited Mr Chen at his home during the months that he was ill.

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Mr Chen leaves behind his wife Louisa, 72; daughter Beatrice, 44; son Francis, 41; and three grandchildren.

The younger Mr Chen described his father was a loving grandfather: "He told my sister and me that our role as parents was to discipline our children, but his role as a grandparent was to spoil them. He always gave them treats."

He also recalled that as a teenager, he accompanied his father when he carried out his duties as an MP at constituencies dinners and Meet-The-People sessions.

"He wanted to expose us to the issues that everyday Singaporeans dealt with. He got along very well with his grassroots leaders and residents. It was more like a friendship," he said.

The PAP’s Facebook page posted news of Mr Chen’s death on Wednesday with a message from MP Alex Yam, who was a student when he first met Mr Chen after he had retired from politics.

“I remembered him as always being kindly and reverent. Our paths would cross once again when I became the MP for Yew Tee,” Mr Yam wrote. “He was always ready with words of encouragement. He had no airs and made no show of his presence.”

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Mr Chen’s daughter Beatrice also thanked well-wishers for “the outpouring of love and support” on Facebook.

“Dad led a full life. While we wish we had more time with him, we're comforted that he went peacefully. His last weeks were spent with family and visits from old friends,” she wrote.

Mr Chen’s wake will be held at Mount Vernon Sanctuary’s Grace Hall from Thursday afternoon to Sunday. His funeral service will be at St Joseph’s Church in Victoria Street at 10.30am on Monday, with the cremation to follow at Mandai Crematorium.

ziliang@sph.com.sg