Ron Chandran-Dudley, champion of people with disabilities, dies at 81

Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley raised the profile of people with disabilities in Singapore and abroad. He founded Disabled Peoples' International in 1981.
Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley raised the profile of people with disabilities in Singapore and abroad. He founded Disabled Peoples' International in 1981.TNP FILE PHOTO

Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley, who championed the rights of people with disabilities, both at home and internationally, died yesterday in hospital after a massive heart attack. He was 81.

His wife of 53 years, Mrs Rena Chandran-Dudley, said his death was a shock, though he had had heart problems for which he had a quintuple bypass. He began having chest pains in the morning, and was taken to hospital by ambulance where he became unconscious and could not be resuscitated.

"I'm feeling stunned, shocked, very weary," said Mrs Chandran-Dudley, 87, speaking at their two-storey semi-detached home in Wilkinson Road. They lived alone with their helper of 16 years, Tessie.

Their only daughter, Viva, had died in 1998 at the age of 26 from a tumour on her pituitary gland.

But the couple were never lonely, as their house was lively, with people always coming and going, she said. Right up to this year, Mr Chandran-Dudley, blind from his teens owing to an accident at rugby, was still running a counselling consultancy from his living room.

"That was his lifeblood, trying to better the lot of people with disabilities," said Mrs Chandran-Dudley, sitting across from her husband's favourite spot in their living room - a rattan chair next to his radio and the telephone.

Describing him as her best friend, she said they met in London in February 1962. She was a dental nurse and he was studying social anthropology at the London School of Economics.

Seven months later, they were married in a registry office there. "He was very charming, very good-looking," she said with a smile, recalling how they used to listen to Chopin together and how she would read him the books he studied.

They returned to Singapore in 1964. Mr Chandran-Dudley later obtained masters degrees in vocational rehabilitation counselling, psychotherapy and sociology.

He did what needed to be done to make change happen, said Ms Judy Wee, vice-president of the Disabled People's Association (DPA), which Mr Chandran-Dudley founded in 1980. "Even in the 1980s, when little was known about disabilities, he had the vision and foresight to realise it was an important area to look into," she added.

He continued raising the profile of people with disabilities, founding Disabled Peoples' International in 1981, which now has affiliates in more than 90 countries.

In 2004, he won an international competition to create a new character for the BBC radio drama, Westway - a partially blind Chinese-Singaporean physiotherapist.

Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped executive director Ando Yeo said Mr Chandran-Dudley, a past president, inspired those who knew him with his integrity, sincerity, eloquence and warmth.

"He will be sadly missed by all, especially our visually handicapped clients, because he genuinely cared for them," he said.

A church service will be held at 4.30pm today at Tamil Methodist Church, followed by a cremation service at 6.45pm at Mandai Crematorium Hall 2.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2015, with the headline 'Champion of people with disabilities dies at 81'. Print Edition | Subscribe