Social work pioneer Jean Marshall, wife of ex-chief minister, dies aged 94

Mrs Jean Marshall, seen in a 2008 file photo, would have been 95 in two weeks.
Mrs Jean Marshall, seen in a 2008 file photo, would have been 95 in two weeks.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mrs Jean Marshall, a social work pioneer and wife of the late former chief minister David Marshall, died at her home on Monday (March 29) afternoon. She was 94.

She leaves four children - Ruth, Sarah, Joanna and Jonathan, aged 60 to 52 - and six grandchildren.

Mrs Marshall had a fall last December and had been confined to bed in her Balmoral Road condominium unit since early February, her son and youngest child Jonathan told The Straits Times.

For the past six weeks, his mother had "experienced a lot of physical pain", he said.

"Mobility became an issue. She felt that the time had come... and that she had lived a good life, a long life. She asked me to be happy for her when she goes."

It was a drastic change for Mrs Marshall, who used to swim at least 20 minutes every day before her fall, said Dr Marshall.

"It's been emotionally very difficult to see my mother in pain. It's a mixture of sadness and grief to see her go, but also peace knowing that she is no longer in pain."

He remembers his mother as a warm, respectful and engaging person who had a lot of time for those she loved. Towards the end, friends would bring her groceries and spend time with her, he said. "To see them rally around her... was quite inspiring."

Mrs Marshall would have been 95 in two weeks.

"We had been so focused on her health that that topic hadn't really come up," said Dr Marshall, the only one of her children to still live in Singapore.

"If we had a birthday party, it would probably be a simple thing with family and friends."

Born Jean Mary Gray in 1926 in the town of Orpington in England, Mrs Marshall came to Singapore in 1953 to take up a post with the Red Cross after responding to an advertisement for field officers.

She went on to become a medical social worker, becoming a Singapore citizen in 1960.

In 1961, she married Mr Marshall, a lawyer turned politician who had been Singapore's first chief minister from 1955 to 1956.

The Marshalls during their wedding ceremony in 1961. PHOTO: ST FILE

Jean, who studied economics and sociology at the London School of Economics, was introduced to Mr Marshall in 1958 at a university convocation. She became a regular guest for Sunday lunches at his home in Changi.

In early 1961, when she was considering moving to Chicago in the United States to pursue a higher degree in social work, he proposed and she accepted.

After her marriage, she stopped doing full-time paid work. Instead, she volunteered, raised her children and was a pillar of support for her husband, who became an ambassador in 1978. He died on Dec 12, 1995 at the age of 87.

In a 2016 report in ST, Mrs Marshall, when asked why she stayed on in Singapore after her husband had died and her children had grown up, said: "I just assumed I'd stay; it never occurred to me to relocate to England. Of course, my ethnicity is permanent. But after 60 years, I identify with Singapore. It is possible, though, to think of more than one place as home."

The family said her funeral would be a simple affair, in accordance with her wishes.

The funeral will be on Saturday (April 3) at 3.15pm. Those looking to offer a memorial gift can make a donation to a charity of their choice in Mrs Marshall's name, or to one of her favourite charities, such as HCA Hospice Care, said her family.

  • Condolence letter from PM Lee

  • Dear Ruth, Sarah, Joanna and Jonathan,

    Please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your beloved mother, Mrs Jean Marshall.

    Jean made important contributions to medical social work, including to the Red Cross in Malaya, and also the Singapore Children's Society. She was a volunteer for the society's convalescent home for almost 20 years, and carried on even while pregnant. Born British, Jean made Singapore her home and contributed much to our society.

    Jean was also a devoted companion to your late father, Mr David Marshall. She was by Mr Marshall's side when he served as Singapore's Ambassador to France, offering warm hospitality to foreigners to introduce them to Singapore, and also to Singaporeans in France so that they would feel less homesick. When I visited Paris in 1989, she also took good care of me. Despite the difference in our ages, we got on well together.

    A few weeks ago, when I learnt that Jean was hospitalised, I wrote her a get well note, and was very happy that she was well enough to send me a reply. But now she has left us, and we mourn the loss of one of our pioneer Singapore women.

    Ho Ching and I send our deepest condolences to you and your families.

    Yours sincerely,

    Lee Hsien Loong