P. Suppiah, Singapore's oldest practising lawyer, dies aged 89

Mr P. Suppiah died of cancer on Aug 3, 2019, his family said.
Mr P. Suppiah died of cancer on Aug 3, 2019, his family said.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's oldest practising lawyer P. Suppiah has died, aged 89.

His family told The Straits Times that he died of cancer on Aug 3 and a remembrance service held last week was attended by lawyers, friends and relatives.

He last appeared in court in April where he defended a drug offender on a charge reduced from the original capital offence.

Called to the Singapore Bar in 1960, the London-trained barrister spent his entire career in law and was a keen sportsman, playing football in his early life and golf as he got older.

Around 60 of his cases have been included in published law reports, including a prominent 1963 trial when he defended three of the 59 detainees involved in the Pulau Senang prison riots, during which three staff were killed.

In leading the tributes, Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said: "P. Suppiah, Singapore's oldest practising lawyer, has sadly left us. Yet the memory of his person and personality will linger long in the legal profession.

"His longevity in life and law was especially exemplified by his never-say-die spirit in conducting criminal defence. Practising well past the conventional retirement age, he was an exemplar in work-life balance even before the phrase came into vogue."

Senior Counsel Vijayendran added Mr Suppiah "was living proof that the practice of law is a marathon not a sprint", adding: "Lawyers in Singapore will draw inspiration from his life to run our own marathon well."


Mr Suppiah was cited as one of the role models for active ageing by the Council for Third Age (C3A ) on its website, which hailed him for pursuing his passion in life.

"I am a self-made man guided by self-made rules," he wrote in his memoir, published four years ago. "Football helped me learn a lot about people and life in general."

He credited the wide range of books he read and his travels as the cornerstones of his education, along with football which saw him enjoy a 24-year playing career. He also coached the Malaysian Armed Forces team, which lost an epic 1966 Malaya Cup final to Selangor by a penalty.

He later switched to golf and was a regular at the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) where he served as vice-president in 2013 at the age of 83.

"He was one of the very few 'officer and a gentleman' types - apart from my father - I have had the the privilege to meet, lunch and talk on many issues with," said fellow SICC member Colin Schooling. "I addressed him as 'bapu' (which means 'spiritual father' in Hindi), as I really considered him my father, too. He was a man of principles with the guts to stand by them."

Mr Schooling, whose son Joseph won an Olympic swimming gold medal, recalled how Mr Suppiah spoke on "very sensitive subjects with a lot of guts and substance", at SICC general meetings.

"He also took responsibility for a decision he felt accountable for and resigned as a member of the general committee at the SICC," he added. "These are traits of a leader with substance. May he rest in peace."

Mr Suppiah once told The Straits Times that the "secret of long life is to take pride in your talent, however small, which forces you to live up to it". He added: "That requires personal discipline in regular workouts and good food to maintain your pace and everything else falls into place."

He ran his own firm together with lawyer K. Elengovan, 62, who worked with him since 1993.

"He is a man you will never find," said Mr Elengovan.

Mr Suppiah is survived by his wife Juliana, daughter and son, and three grandchildren.