Ground-Up Initiative founder Tay Lai Hock dies, aged 54

Mr Tay Lai Hock, 54, died suddenly on Tuesday morning. He collapsed at work and could not be revived, and leaves behind a legacy of trying to build a better Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The founder of non-profit organisation Ground-Up Initiative (GUI) Tay Lai Hock, who aimed to nurture grounded leaders and model a Singapore society with a sustainable future, died suddenly on Tuesday morning (Aug 14).

The 54-year-old collapsed at work and was found by a friend, said one of the volunteer coordinators at GUI, Ms Koo Hui Ying.

He could not be revived and was taken by ambulance to hospital, where he later died. The autopsy results are not out yet.

Ms Koo told The Straits Times on Tuesday night: "The community is in shock and we are all deeply saddened. I personally just came back into town last night and am also very saddened to hear that a mentor, friend and elder that I treasure very much is gone."

Ms Koo, 28, who has been involved with GUI for five years, said its members were now focusing on helping Mr Tay's family. "We will hold a community service on Saturday at the kampung campus where he has been growing GUI for the past nine years."

Mr Tay founded eco-community GUI in 2008 to create a "21st century kampung culture" in the heart of cosmopolitan Singapore, tending to his vision on a 26,000 sq m piece of land at the former Bottle Tree Park in Yishun.

Called Kampung Kampus, the experiential and nature-led learning campus aimed at fostering a connection with the land through activities like farming.

Mr Tay, the self-avowed "kampung chief", was a regional sales manager for a US software firm, but he gave that up as well as a five-figure salary in 1999 to backpack around the world.

Settling down in one place was far from his mind at the time. But when he ended up leading a series of flood relief missions in Malaysia in 2007, he realised he had amassed a group of volunteers with the potential to enact change.

Kampung Kampus was the catalyst for that change. When asked about its future, Ms Koo said that the GUI team will announce more next week. In the meantime, she called for those who wanted to pay tribute to Mr Tay to attend the upcoming service.

"This Saturday will be the chance for many of us who have had the chance to cross paths with Lai Hock and GUI to say goodbye - with sadness, yet filled with love and hope."

Mr Tay leaves behind his parents, two younger brothers and a younger sister.

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