Pioneer social worker Myrna Braga-Blake dies at 83

Pioneer social worker Myrna Braga-Blake edited the first and second editions of the Singapore Association of Social Workers Code of Professional Ethics, setting the standards for social work practice in Singapore today.
Pioneer social worker Myrna Braga-Blake edited the first and second editions of the Singapore Association of Social Workers Code of Professional Ethics, setting the standards for social work practice in Singapore today.TNP FILE PHOTO

Passing of ex-NUS lecturer a great loss to social work and Singapore, says Desmond Lee

Pioneer social worker Myrna Braga-Blake, who used to be a lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS), died last Thursday. She was 83.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee posted a tribute on Facebook last Saturday, describing Dr Blake's passing as "a great loss" to the social work sector and Singapore.

The Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW) did the same on its Facebook page, paying homage to Dr Blake, who served as SASW president from 1982 to 1984.

As president, she edited the first and second editions of the SASW Code of Professional Ethics, setting the standards for social work practice in Singapore today.

She received the Outstanding Social Worker award in 1999, alongside current director of social welfare for the Ministry of Social and Family Development Ang Bee Lian, who described Dr Blake as an outstanding person.

"The two of us decided to use the prize money to fund a foundation programme for fresh graduates who were coming into the social work sector," said Ms Ang.

The programme was aimed at upgrading the skills of newly qualified social workers in what was then a relatively new field.

Dr Sudha Nair, founder of family violence specialist centre Pave, recounted how lessons with Dr Blake, who was a lecturer in the department of social work and psychology in NUS, left a deep impression on her.

"Dr Blake was very supportive and nurturing. She was like another mother to me," she shared.

After graduating, she asked Dr Blake to be her mentor, with the two of them working together in Pave.

Dr Nair added: "When I was a young social worker, she helped me establish connections with her peers, including international social workers who were more experienced in the field. She was my mentor, my coach and my friend."

Dr Blake's contributions to the social work sector continued even after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease more than a decade ago, as she shared her experiences of living with dementia to give hope to fellow sufferers.

Veteran activist Constance Singam, who had known Dr Blake since the 1980s, described her as a vibrant individual and a very gentle and caring friend who was well-liked by everybody.

The former president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) met Dr Blake during Aware's early days.

Ms Singam said that Dr Blake always knew she would succumb to Alzheimer's because of her family's medical history but did not let her diagnosis deter her from social work.

She said: "She had this cheerful acceptance about what she had to face. But that didn't stop her from always fighting for the underdog."

The wake was held at the Church of St Ignatius on Sunday and the funeral mass was held yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2019, with the headline 'Pioneer social worker dies at 83'. Print Edition | Subscribe