At the age of 14, Mr Loh Kiong Poot ran away from home and quit school.
He worked odd jobs as a shop assistant at grocery stores and bookstores, living on around $20 a day, and spent his nights in a small shophouse owned by one of his employers.
He went into the trading industry in 1974, selling "a bit of everything", from textiles to paper cups, and built up his business until his retirement in 1990 at the age of 47.
The self-made businessman, having experienced the struggles of living hand to mouth, has been helping children in need.
His latest act of charity was to donate $500,000 to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (STSPMF). Yesterday, he presented a cheque to STSPMF chairman Warren Fernandez at the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) News Centre.
The fund, started in 2000 as a community project, provides pocket money to children from low-income families to help them through school. Since 2000, it has disbursed more than $60 million worth of aid. It currently supports more than 10,000 needy students a year.
Mr Loh's contribution to STSPMF is his biggest donation yet, though he has given money to charities and orphanages in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.
He left home not for financial reasons. Growing up, he seemed to have had everything - his family owned a bungalow in Lorong Marzuki in Kembangan, and whatever he and his older sister wanted, his father, who owned a chain of tailor shops in Indonesia, would buy.
But his parents divorced when he was five, and the lack of a mother at home affected him. "The rooster does not know how to bring up the chicks, only the hen knows," he said with a wry smile, referring to a Chinese saying. "What did I know about love? I did not understand that my father loved me in his own way."
After he left home, he never asked his father for money. The family house was willed to him after his father died.
Today, he freely gives away what he has - as long as he knows the money is going to a legitimate cause - and he also goes a long way to ensure that his donations make a difference.
"It is about zi qi (dignity)... If you want to give, you give. That is very important to me," he said.
Two years ago, he made a trip to Cambodia to help build more classrooms for a village school there. It cost some $40,000.
Mr Loh, who lives in Telok Kurau, said: "I drew up the building plans myself, sourced for some (construction) materials and hired all the contractors to do the job.
"I guess you can say that due to my own experience... I want to help young children now.
"I am a simple man and I live comfortably with my wife - that is enough. I can't bury my money with me, so why not give it to charity?"
Mr Fernandez, who is also The Straits Times editor and editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/ Tamil Media group, said: "We are very glad that someone like Mr Loh found meaning in what we are doing, and we are very grateful to him for this generous donation."