Farewell my teacher: Late Brit 'taught students to think'

A lover of poetry, a critic of the Government, a teacher who got students to think for themselves.

This is how some students who studied at Hwa Chong Junior College and Raffles Junior College (RJC) in the 1980s remember their literature teacher, Mr Keith Wiltshire.

Mr Wiltshire died in Britain on Tuesday morning, two years after he suffered a stroke. He was in his eighties.

Among his charges here were Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and People's Action Party MP Edwin Tong.

Mr Tan, a Raffles alumnus whom Mr Wiltshire taught in 1986 and 1987, wrote on Facebook: "If there ever was a teacher who made the greatest impact on me, it'd have been Mr Wiltshire. He was a critic of the Government, he made classes fun and funny, he kicked me in the butt for asking silly questions."

Mr Wiltshire is seen here with Mr Tan Chuan-Jin's six-month-old daughter in Bristol, when Mr Tan visited his former teacher with his family in 1998. PHOTO: TAN CHUAN-JIN/ FACEBOOK

He wryly added: "Edwin Tong and I were his students and I wrote (to) him after GE2011. Always wondered if he 'flipped' knowing that we entered politics with the PAP."

Poet Jee Leong Koh, 46, who is now based in New York, also has fond memories of his late teacher.

In a Facebook tribute, he wrote: "He would strive to provoke us into thinking and acting. I still remember how he would constantly inveigh against the uselessness of mathematics as a subject of study, an opinion I was secretly pleased to endorse, until a classmate stood up to him in defence of maths, and then he broke into a smile and said, 'Finally, someone contradicted me!' "

According to a New Nation article dated Jan 9, 1980, he was one of six British teachers recruited to prepare Hwa Chong Junior College students for their applications to Oxford and Cambridge. The article said Mr Wiltshire, himself a modern history graduate from Oxford University, also held a theology degree from Bristol University.

"There are other equally good universities in Britain," he was quoted as saying. "Not all our best students go to Oxford or Cambridge."

He added that these universities have traditionally groomed English gentlemen for top posts in the civil and diplomatic service. He asked: "Is that what Singapore wants?" He left Hwa Chong in 1985.

Ex-student Stephanie Sim said on Facebook that he "was probably the first activist I ever met.When it was our Sports Day, he wore a T-shirt which said, 'Free Chia Thye Poh' ". Mr Chia was then an ISA detainee.

A former fellow teacher from Hwa Chong, Mrs Ang Lai Kuin, now in her mid-60s, told The Straits Times: "His thinking tended to be a bit more liberal. We were not ready, perhaps, for so much freedom in our ideas." She added: "He was very generous, and did not have a condescending attitude even though he was one of the Oxbridge tutors."

Another former student is Democratic Progressive Party secretary-general Benjamin Pwee. He said Mr Wiltshire taught him and his RJC peers "to think for ourselves, to be polite and gentlemanly yet robust in our thinking and arguments".

Mr Wiltshire's daughter Grace said: "He was at home and Pauline (his wife) and I were with him, which is what he would have wanted."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Farewell my teacher: Late Brit 'taught students to think''. Subscribe