Coming from a modest family background, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan was able to pursue medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1978 after receiving a scholarship to fund his studies.
Four decades on, a new endowed fund has been created in his honour by his alma mater.
NUS started the fund to recognise his years of dedicated service and outstanding contributions to the university and Singapore, during his tenure as the university's president.
Key initiatives he spearheaded during his stint at the university included the creation of University Town and the setting up of Yale-NUS College, Singapore's first liberal arts college.
More than $1.1 million has been raised so far for the fund, which will provide students with bursaries, scholarships and study awards.
The fund will disburse awards from the next academic year starting in August, and is expected to support up to 20 students each year.
The fund-raising campaign was organised by NUS' Alumni Student Advancement Committee, which reaches out to alumni for donations.
Prof Tan, who served NUS for 13 years as provost and then president, said he was "deeply honoured and touched" and hopes the fund will help others get the same opportunity he had been given to pursue a university education.
At a donor appreciation dinner yesterday, a cheque for the fund was presented to the university president, Professor Tan Eng Chye, who took over the presidency from Prof Tan Chorh Chuan in January this year.
The university president said: "NUS is indebted to Prof Tan for his visionary leadership and outstanding contributions to the university. He has always believed strongly in the value of education and its ability to transform lives for the better."