SINGAPORE - Children's author and former newscaster Duncan Watt has died.
Watt, who was known for his Wallace Boys series for young teenagers, succumbed to liver cancer on Thursday (Sept 7) at the age of 74.
Born near the Victoria Falls in what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, the only child of British parents, he travelled to more than 80 countries around the world. But he fell in love with Singapore after visiting it as a backpacker in 1969, and finally settled down here in 1976.
He worked at the British Council until he retired in 1992, and was also a television newsreader and radio presenter in the 80s and the 90s.
For 16 years, he read the primetime news on Channel 5 for the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. He also hosted an afternoon programme on Symphony 92.4, playing light classics, until 2004.
He wrote 20 books in the Wallace Boys series, about the adventures of brothers Nigel and Bruce Wallace in far-flung places such as Kariba, Zimbabwe, the Skeleton coast and the Scottish Highlands.
Some were based in South-east Asia, such as The Treasure of the Tiger (1994), in which the boys visit Singapore and find themselves on the trail of a sunken ship containing the lost treasure of World War II Japanese general Yamashita.
He researched the locations for his books as thoroughly as possible, making it a point not to write anything he himself had not experienced.
According to his online biography, he took up scuba-diving to write The Treasure of the Tiger, and got covered in leeches in the Malaysian rainforest reserve Taman Negara while researching for another book, The Pagodas Of Pahang.
By the early 2000s, his books had sold about 50,000 copies. They are no longer in print.
Friends at his wake on Saturday (Sept 9) remembered him as a humble man with a dry sense of humour and vast reams of knowledge on history, classical music and nature. His partner, retail advisor Hanafi Arsal, 44, recalled how on walks, Watt could name almost any plant or animal he saw by its scientific name.
Watt loved teaching and would give free talks at schools about animal conservation and writing skills. American retiree John Howard, 74, a friend of Watt’s since 1975, said: “He was a very strong educator. He loved to nurture people.”
Watt was diagnosed with liver cancer in June last year. Even then, he was still “determined and upbeat”, recalled lawyer Allan Tan, 52, who had known him for 30 years.
Watt started running in 2003 at the age of 60, doing six to seven marathons a year. As recently as this April, he managed a 26km three-day run around Bedok despite the pain of his condition.
He was admitted to hospital following a fall two weeks ago in the Bedok condominium where he lived alone, and died in a hospice on Thursday afternoon. Though barely conscious in his final days, he held Mr Tan and Mr Hanafi’s hands the night before his death and said: “Thank you.”
He leaves behind no next-of-kin besides a cousin in South Africa, whom his friends have not been able to contact.
His wake is being held from Friday to Saturday at Block 38 Sin Ming Drive, #01-539.
His final send off will be at the Mandai Crematorium on Sunday, accompanied by the music of his favourite composer Ivor Novello. His friends hope to bring his ashes back to Zambia, where he was born.