Oldest employee of McDonald's Singapore dies at age 90

Madam Goh Gwek Eng entered the labour force at the age of 70 and got her first job serving fast food at McDonald's Singapore.
Madam Goh Gwek Eng entered the labour force at the age of 70 and got her first job serving fast food at McDonald's Singapore.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

At age 70, when most people are retired and pursuing their long-cherished dreams, Madam Goh Gwek Eng entered the labour force and got her first job: serving fast food at McDonald's Singapore.

The great-grandmother, a symbol of how an elderly person can be independent and stay active, remained at her job for almost 20 years.

Last October, she was forced to quit after falling ill and was diagnosed with gastric cancer in this month. On Monday, Madam Goh, touted as McDonald's oldest employee, died. She was 90.

She had grown frail in recent years, her oldest child, retiree Tan Pok Yong, 71, told Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Wanbao.

From working a five-day work week, she had reduced it gradually to just the weekends and for three hours at a stretch.

However, since last October, she suffered frequent bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea, and was hospitalised on Jan 1.

Said Mr Tan: "The doctors told us she had Stage 3 gastric cancer and because of her age, my mother's chances of recovery were not high. She stayed in hospital but did not have chemotherapy. Then she asked to be discharged and came home on Jan 4."

Mr Tan told The Straits Times yesterday that working at McDonald's was her first real job in decades. He recalled vaguely that she was helping out at a British camp for soldiers in the 1950s to early 1960s when Singapore was a British colony.

"As far as the grandchildren were concerned, she had never worked before the McDonald's job," he said.

Madam Goh left behind three children, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

A spokesman for McDonald's Singapore told The Straits Times yesterday that she worked part-time at the Bedok Mall outlet.

Madam Goh's daughter had told its general manager that her mother was not in good health, but the team there did not realise her condition was dire, the spokesman said, adding that they were informed of her death on Monday.

Yesterday's Wanbao report said Madam Goh had stunned her family when she told them of her decision to get a job in 1998.

"We wanted her to stay home and enjoy life, but she said she was bored at home," Mr Tan recalled. "She told us that at McDonald's, she could talk to other grandmas like her."

He added: "Mum really cherished her independence and never asked us, her children, for money.

"She also kept the certificates and prizes she got from work carefully and treated them as treasures."

Madam Goh's granddaughter Chen Liyan wrote in a Facebook post that she had hoped to spend Chinese New Year with her.

"Dear Grandma, yesterday when I went to see you, I knew it was not good. However, I still innocently hoped that you would get better and spend Chinese New Year with us, but you left," she wrote.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Oldest employee of McDonald's Singapore dies at age 90'. Print Edition | Subscribe