Law Society president Adrian Tan dies at 57 after battle with cancer

Law Society of Singapore president Adrian Tan was diagnosed with cancer in March 2022. PHOTO: LAW SOCIETY OF SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE – Law Society of Singapore president Adrian Tan has died after fighting cancer for more than a year. He was 57.

The Law Society announced his death in a statement on Saturday evening.

“Throughout his battle with cancer... Adrian exemplified extraordinary courage. Despite the immense challenges he faced, he continued to carry out his duties with resolve and cheerfulness, and never failed to grace us with his trademark humour.

“Today, we not only mourn the loss of a distinguished leader but also grieve for a cherished friend and trusted comrade.

“Adrian’s absence leaves an indescribable void that cannot be filled. His memory will forever hold a special place in our hearts,” said the statement.

The society also extended its condolences to Mr Tan’s family and loved ones, and said his “spirit and unwavering dedication will continue to inspire us all”.

Minister for Law K. Shanmugam paid tribute to Mr Tan in a Facebook post, where he said: “Far too young, far too soon. He was witty, pleasant to spend time with. A sharp mind with a wonderful heart... I have had the privilege of knowing him for many years. His passing is a big loss.”

According to a WhatsApp message seen by The Straits Times, Mr Tan died on Saturday at 5.35pm.

The TSMP Law Corporation partner was diagnosed with cancer in March 2022 and announced his rare condition in a LinkedIn post on July 28, without disclosing what type of cancer it was.

In his post, Mr Tan said he would “fight cancer, fight my cases in court and fight for lawyers as their president, until the clock runs out”.

He had just been appointed president of the society in January that year and had been working remotely as his immune system was compromised.

Describing him as “a wonderful colleague, a nurturing mentor and a loyal friend”, TSMP Law said in a statement: “Throughout his illustrious 31-year career, Adrian made significant contributions to the legal industry, leaving an indelible mark on all those who had the honour of working with him.”

The firm noted that Mr Tan “cared deeply about a range of social issues”, which was reflected in appointments such as directorship at The Arts House, and as honorary legal counsel for the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped.

TSMP Law joint managing partner Stefanie Yuen Thio said: “Adrian’s passing is a tremendous loss to the legal and wider community and to anyone who had the privilege of knowing him.

“The legacy that he leaves behind is a testament to his unwavering dedication to the legal profession and his tireless commitment to promoting justice and fairness for all.”

SPH Brightcove Video
For years, lawyer Adrian Tan hated being associated with The Teenage Textbook, the book he wrote as a student. He has since grown to embrace it and in fact, the newly elected president of the Law Society of Singapore has returned to writing.

An active user of LinkedIn, Mr Tan was still posting on the platform two weeks ago, chiming in on the coverage of the Titan submersible, which imploded in the North Atlantic during a deep dive to the wreck of the Titanic. He also shared his thoughts on the upcoming presidential election.

In his profile, he describes himself as a “masked litigator, advocate for advocates, socially and emotionally distant law firm partner”.

Tributes flowed from his peers in the legal fraternity.

Mr Gregory Vijayendran, 55, Mr Tan’s predecessor as Law Society president, said he was an invaluable and versatile team player who consistently put the interests of the society first rather than jostle for position. “He was a multi-talented wordsmith and lawyer’s lawyer. Even if you did not agree with him all the time, his views challenged your analysis of an issue. He had a strong intuitive feel of zeitgeist.”

Law Society vice-president Jason Chan, 46, said he was “devastated” by Mr Tan’s passing: “Adrian’s diagnosis didn’t take away his unique ability to pair sharp insights with disarming humour. He was never dejected or in low spirits. He even made jokes about not having hair.”

Lawyer Amolat Singh, 67, said of his friend of 25 years: “He (was) like a shepherd who looked after his flock. He always defended the legal profession, and he was always thinking about how to nurture the next generation.

“He was always strong and infused everyone with positive vibes, even when he was ill. Losing him is a great loss and it will take us a while to recover.”

Law Society council executive committee member Christine Low, who has known Mr Tan since 2016, said she would remember him as a leader who was kind and an approachable senior to younger members. “On more than one occasion, Adrian defended us lawyers when criticism was inaccurately attributed to us. After his cancer diagnosis, he still bravely and optimistically carried on with his presidential duties,” said the 35-year-old. “He was truly a lawyer for lawyers.”

In July 2022, ST reported that he had also been writing a novel, something he had been meaning to do for decades. His last book, The Teenage Workbook, was published in 1989. Its predecessor, The Teenage Textbook, was a bestseller that was later adapted into a play, movie and TV series.

The man who published the Teenage books, Goh Eck Kheng of Landmark Books, paid tribute to the firm’s “first bestselling author” in a Facebook post.

He said Tan, despite his illness, had continued to contribute a chapter to Eat Here Or Take Away, a book about Singapore hawker culture commissioned by the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Community Fund.

“He was his usual cheerful self, unconscious of his baldness,” he said of their meeting at TTSH.

He also noted Tan’s dedication to his craft, of how they worked on the final draft of The Teenage Textbook “in a fast food restaurant in Holland Village till day break” because Tan was leaving for a university trip later that day; that one of Tan’s law lecturers had complained that “his school work was suffering because of his writing”.

Joshua Ip, poet and co-founder of non-profit Sing Lit Station, said: “Adrian is a hero to me, for proving that you can be a serious writer without writing seriously; that making up stories is how you tell the deepest truths; and that you can be anything you want with words - even King of Singapore.”

Mr Tan, who has no children, leaves behind his wife, Angelina, who works in the Ministry of Defence.

- Additional reporting by Ong Sor Fern

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