Closure comes for Swan Socks workers - four decades later

Mr Fong Ah Ngow (far left) meets regularly with old colleagues from the Swan Socks factory. They had been looking for Madam Ong Lay Kheng (front, right) but recently learnt that she died of cancer in 2010.
Mr Fong Ah Ngow (left) meets regularly with old colleagues from the Swan Socks factory. They had been looking for Madam Ong Lay Kheng (front, right) but recently learnt that she died of cancer in 2010.PHOTO: COURTESY OF FONG AH NGOW

An appeal for an old colleague to get in touch with her fellow socks factory workers from the 1960s led to a bittersweet end.

The call which Mr Fong Ah Ngow, 71, received was not from his old co-worker Ong Lay Kheng. It came instead from her sister, who had spotted The Straits Times report on Dec 27.

Mr Fong was told that Madam Ong, who migrated to Toronto in 1974, was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in December 2009 and died just months later, on Feb 25. She was 65 years old.

"We were very sad to know that she passed away," said Mr Fong.

But the report helped him and former colleagues, who have been meeting regularly since 2014, reconnect with others.

"After the news article, two other people whom I lost touch with contacted me ... We expect more will be in touch soon."

Last week's report was about a group of workers who meet to reminisce about the old days.

Swan Socks, Singapore's first socks factory, opened in Jurong in 1964 and produced socks for schoolchildren and national servicemen. The factory was the first to offer significant employment for women. By 1988, it had expanded to make better-designed fashion socks, but stopped operating shortly after that as other companies offered cheaper products.

Madam Ong, the eldest of eight, was in charge of the yarn-winding department in the mid-1960s.

In 1974, she and her husband moved to Toronto, where she worked part-time in sales. She is survived by her husband and two sons, the older one in his early 40s. They are based in Toronto.

Her sister Vivien, a retiree in her early 60s, remembers Madam Ong as a caring and filial daughter.

"She would come back to Singapore every two years (after migrating), and every week she would call my mum a few times."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Closure comes for Swan Socks workers - four decades later'. Print Edition | Subscribe