Philanthropist and distinguished professor Saw Swee Hock dies, aged 89

Prof Saw donated $30 million to establish the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health in 2011.
Prof Saw donated $30 million to establish the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health in 2011.PHOTO: NUS

SINGAPORE - Leading Singaporean philanthropist and statistics expert Saw Swee Hock died on Tuesday (Feb 16) at the age of 89.

During his lifetime, Professor Saw donated generously to institutes of higher learning, most notably to the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health in NUS, which has been at the forefront of Covid-19 research in the Republic, was named after him.

NUS president Tan Eng Chye said on Tuesday: "Prof Saw Swee Hock was a close friend of NUS, and we are profoundly grateful for his contributions to the university in so many ways - as an academic, an educator, a benefactor, and a member of our board of trustees.

"We are deeply saddened by his passing, and our hearts go out to his family in this difficult time."

Prof Saw donated $30 million to establish the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health in 2011.

The school, which offers both undergraduate and graduate courses, trains students to tackle threats from infectious diseases and chronic disorders.

Prof Teo Yik Ying, dean of the school, said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the increasingly complex public health issues Singapore faces.

"We are determined to carry on Prof Saw's legacy by continuing to play a transformative role in raising the standard of public health in Singapore and the surrounding region," he added.

Prof Saw was a faculty member with NUS from 1975 to 1991. He was appointed President's Honorary Professor of Statistics in 2010.

He also made a donation that enabled the setting up of the Saw Swee Hock Professorship in Statistics at NUS in 2002. Under the professorship, top statisticians from overseas universities are invited to visit NUS to conduct research while interacting with students.


A statistician by training, Prof Saw lent his support to the Saw Swee Hock Professorship in Statistics at NUS in 2002. PHOTO: ST FILE

Prof Saw was also a benefactor of the Yale-NUS College, sponsoring the Yale-NUS Lecture on Global Affairs, an annual lecture series which began in 2018.

He received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1956 and 1960.

In 1963, Prof Saw obtained his PhD in Statistics from the London School of Economics (LSE), where the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre is named after him.

During Prof Saw's distinguished academic career, he took up visiting positions in prestigious universities such as Princeton, Stanford, Cambridge and LSE.

In recognition of his contributions to Singapore, Prof Saw received the Public Service Medal at the National Day Awards in 2013.

He leaves behind his wife, two daughters, a son and four grand-daughters. They declined to comment on the cause of his death.

Prof Saw's daughter Saw Seang Mei, a professor with both the Duke-NUS Medical School and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said he was a family man.

"He loved inviting his children over for family dinners at his home."

She added: "He wanted to contribute to the community and benefit it in different ways."

Prof Saw's son, Mr Matthew Saw, said that his father relied on scholarships to pursue his studies.

"That is how he made a better life for himself. I think that's why he believed so much in education. He wanted to give others the opportunities he was given before," said Mr Saw, a partner at law firm Lee & Lee.

Prof Saw will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium on Thursday morning.