Dutchman who dedicated 24 years to social work dies

Mr van Bladel, who first came here in 1976, helped introduce Fandi Ahmad to Dutch professional soccer but gained prominence for 24 years of social work.
Mr van Bladel, who first came here in 1976, helped introduce Fandi Ahmad to Dutch professional soccer but gained prominence for 24 years of social work.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Dutchman Guus van Bladel, who helped introduce local superstar Fandi Ahmad to Dutch professional soccer but gained prominence here for 24 years of social work involving death row and drug inmates, has died.

He was 85.

A death notice was placed in The Straits Times on Saturday informing of his death in Malacca, where he had lived since 2001.

"He died in the car as I was driving him home on Nov 2 after one of his frequent trips to the hospital," said his caretaker and long-time friend David Tang, who looked after him for 28 years.

Mr Tang, 52, said yesterday Mr van Bladel could not walk and suffered from several "old age illnesses", which meant he required help with daily routines.

"Two days before he died, he shook my hands and said 'there will be no more next time' for me to attend to him personally and he was happy... But I was very sad."

Mr Tang said Mr van Bladel was buried on the grounds of a Malacca church. His sister and nephew in Holland were notified.

After he came to Singapore in 1976, Mr van Bladel worked as a freelance journalist and introduced a young Fandi to Dutch football. The striker signed with Dutch football club FC Groningen in 1983.

Mr van Bladel became a voluntary after-care officer with Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana) in 1977 and served till 2001 as one of its longest-serving counsellors.

His work in Sana impressed then chief probation officer K.V. Veloo, who got him to become a volunteer probation officer as well as to deal with young offenders.

Mr Veloo, who was with the then Ministry of Social Affairs, said yesterday: "Guus gave so much of himself to the rehabilitation of offenders and drug addicts. Not only did he give his time, but he helped families in financial crisis out of his own pocket.

"Parents of those placed under his care spoke with love and admiration for Guus. Those who knew Guus must have shed a tear, for he was more than a legend. His fusillade of personal values of love, care, and assistance for those who had fallen between the cracks, is legendary and will live on in our memories."

Mr John Wee, 55, was a Lion City Cup player when he met Mr van Bladel around 1978.

"Without his guidance, support and counsel, I would not be where I am today. I owe a lot to him. He paid for me to study French in Singapore for two years and I went on to work in SIA, retiring as chief steward after 23 years," said Mr Wee.

Mr van Bladel, a former human resource director in Holland before he came to Singapore, was on the Dutch Probation Service's list of counsellors to deal with Dutch cases abroad.

In 1992, Mr van Bladel was awarded the Public Service Medal on Singapore's National Day for his social work. Three years later, he was knighted by the Dutch Queen on Holland's national day.

In 2011, the Dutch Probation Service organised an occasion in Singapore to mark his official retirement and honour his  contributions.

Said Mr Veloo: "Guus was a collector of Chinese classical paintings and kept expensive birds. His early-morning activity was to be among bird-watchers at a coffee shop in Tiong Bahru."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Dutchman who dedicated 24 years to social work dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe