Psychologist and orchid lover John Elliott dies

Dr John Elliott was one of the two founding members of the National University of Singapore's psychology programme. He died on Friday, aged 74. ST FILE PHOTO
Dr John Elliott was one of the two founding members of the National University of Singapore's psychology programme. He died on Friday, aged 74. ST FILE PHOTO

Dr John Elliott, a respected psychologist and orchidologist, died of prostate cancer in Assisi Hospice on Friday night. He was 74.

His wife, surgeon Myra Elliott, 76, said that he was diagnosed with cancer about 21/2 years ago. He leaves behind two children, aged 46 and 43, and two grandchildren, aged 15 and four.

Said Mrs Elliott of her husband: "He was a very brilliant chap and touched a lot of people's lives. He was also a wonderful father who was very understanding and believed in his children."

Born in Britain in 1945, Dr Elliott moved to Singapore at the age of four with his father Thomas Harold Elliott, who had joined the University of Singapore as a pharmacy lecturer and later became active as a unionist with the National Trades Union Congress.

The naturalised Singaporean later attended Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), and graduated from the University of Cambridge with a psychology degree. After obtaining his doctorate from Sheffield University, he joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) as one of the two founding members of its psychology programme, which was launched in 1986. He retired last year.

Associate Professor Winston Goh, head of NUS' psychology department, said Dr Elliot was instrumental in shaping the initial psychology programme in its early years. It has since grown from a cohort of 50 to 100 students with 10 to 15 honours students a year, to about 350 students with 200 to 250 honours students in the current cohort.

Prof Goh said: "Several senior staff of the department were his students from the pioneering period. We will all greatly miss his presence and influence, and will be eternally grateful for the work he put into building up the department and the discipline of psychology in Singapore."

His contributions in Singapore extended beyond academia. For two decades, he served as chairman of the Singapore Children's Society research committee. Studies that he led included one in 2000 on how different professions view child abuse and how they respond to the responsibility of reporting it, which had sparked public discussion on the lack of awareness of emotional abuse.

Dr Elliott was also active in the Orchid Society of South-east Asia (Ossea), where he served as president from 1997 to 2011, and devoted himself to sharing knowledge on the growth and cultivation of orchids with fellow enthusiasts.

Ossea committee member Sudha Nair said Dr Elliott played an instrumental role in the society's participation in the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show this year in London after an absence of 59 years. Ossea won a Silver-Gilt medal for its display of orchids from Singapore. Mrs Elliott said that despite his illness, her husband helped to set up exhibits for the show.

Ossea's third vice-president Russell Tan said: "He was the backbone of the Singapore orchid world, and this is a great loss."

The wake at 50 Greenridge Crescent will run from 10am today. The cortege will depart at 6.15pm for Mandai Crematorium Hall 4 for cremation at 7.15pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2019, with the headline 'Psychologist and orchid lover John Elliott dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe