Veteran journalist Ambrose Khaw, who was editor-in-chief of The Singapore Herald, dies at age 91

Mr Ambrose Khaw, former editor of The Singapore Herald, at his office.
Mr Ambrose Khaw, former editor of The Singapore Herald, at his office.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Ambrose Khaw, a veteran journalist who wrote for The Straits Times (ST) and various other newspapers, died of cancer on Sunday (Aug 18).

He was 91.

One of the early Asian editors on the Singapore newspaper scene after independence, he was assistant managing editor at ST in July 1970 when he left to co-launch The Singapore Herald.

The tabloid, which he set up with two other Singaporean journalists, was often described as being anti-Government.

In its third week of publication, the Herald ignored an official request not to publish photographs or reports on the National Day Parade rehearsals.

It opted to run a large photo of the public audience at the rehearsal with the parade contingent itself blanked out, along with the headline, "An unprintable picture of what thousands saw".

Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew later accused the Herald of receiving foreign funds and being involved in "black operations", or foreign operations organised to cause disruption and trouble in Singapore.

The paper was shut down in May 1971, 10 months after its launch.

At a press conference on May 19, 1971, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (left) said that The Singapore Herald would have to close unless it could find new capital. Then-Minister for Foreign Affairs and Labour S. Rajaratnam (centre) and Mr Ambrose Khaw, editor-in-chief of the Herald, were also at the event. PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Khaw, who was the paper's editor-in-chief, had always maintained that there was no evidence that the Herald's team had engaged in "black operations".

Recalling the turbulent times in a 1995 ST article, the former editor-in-chief of the ST Group of newspapers and magazines, Mr Peter Lim, wrote that the Singapore Herald was being organised in the late 1960s by some of ST's best Singapore journalists based in Kuala Lumpur.

"The advent of the Herald forced the ST to rebuild its Singapore newsroom,'' he said, adding that the competition was good for journalistic standards as well as for newspaper readers and advertisers.

After the Herald closed, Mr Khaw worked as a copy editor and consultant for various papers, including ST and The Singapore Monitor, as well as Malaysia's The New Straits Times.

He played a significant role in helping many of these newspapers switch from the old Linotype machines to digital newspaper production.

Mr Khaw also helped The New Paper (TNP) adopt new technology and work more efficiently in its early years, said Mr Lim, who was TNP's first chief editor in 1988.

His love for elegant language, however, is remembered well by many.

Mr Lim, 80, told the ST on Monday (Aug 19) that he was often seen carrying a book of poetry around with him.

"It was not for show. He would read poems during his breaks in the workday. Sometimes, he would come over and ask me to read a particular poem," he added.

Former ST deputy editor Alan John, 65, said Mr Khaw was a "great storyteller" who was "simply larger than life".

He added: "I loved that he was such a noisy fellow. He would bellow a hearty 'HA HA HA' and let the whole newsroom know if he spotted a howler in a story - a misspelt word that meant something else entirely from what the writer intended."

Like many former journalists, Ms Irene Ngoo, a vice-president at Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay and Tamil Media Group, 64, remembers him as "a debonair, charming and courteous gentleman who was always sweet to me when I was rookie reporter".

She added: "He had lost none of his charm even at the ripe old age of 90."

Mr Khaw will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium at 5.45pm on Tuesday.

He is survived by his wife, former ST journalist Sit Meng Chue, five children and several grandchildren.