Philanthropist and renowned statistician Saw Swee Hock dies

During his lifetime, he donated generously to institutes of higher learning, notably to NUS

In the course of Professor Saw Swee Hock's distinguished academic career, he took up visiting positions in prestigious universities such as Princeton, Stanford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics. He died on Tuesday at the age of 89. ST FIL
In the course of Professor Saw Swee Hock's distinguished academic career, he took up visiting positions in prestigious universities such as Princeton, Stanford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics. He died on Tuesday at the age of 89.ST FILE PHOTO

Leading Singaporean philanthropist and statistics expert Saw Swee Hock died on Tuesday 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: "Professor 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 undergraduate and graduate courses, trains students to tackle threats from infectious diseases and chronic disorders.

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

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

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

He also made a donation that enabled the setting up of the Saw Swee Hock Professorship of 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.

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

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

In 1963, he 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, he 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 his cause of 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."

Mr Matthew Saw, Prof Saw's son, 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, who is a partner at law firm Lee & Lee.

Prof Saw will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2021, with the headline 'Philanthropist and renowned statistician Saw Swee Hock dies'. Subscribe