Obituary: Arumugam Pancharatnam

Disciplined 'Punch' a man of many talents

When "Punch" was manager of the national football team in the late 60s, he reportedly sent home star goalkeeper Wilfred Skinner for breaking team rules.
When "Punch" was manager of the national football team in the late 60s, he reportedly sent home star goalkeeper Wilfred Skinner for breaking team rules.

He went about his many tasks and duties with two guiding principles: hard work and discipline. While he may not have had a 100 per cent success rate, he was never discouraged.

The man of diverse talents had a mind of his own, always applying a strong will and heart to his tasks.

And when Arumugam Pancharatnam died in his sleep at his Chestnut Crescent home last Sunday morning at the age of 90, he completed a great innings as a much-admired education and sports icon.

At his funeral last Tuesday evening at Mandai, a packed hall - including leading sportsmen, teachers, civil servants, friends and colleagues, including Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan who had just flown in from Myanmar, paid tribute to a loyal Singaporean.

Popularly known as "Punch", he was born in Sri Lanka, moved to Kuala Lumpur as a student and joined the Teachers' Training College in Singapore in the mid-50s to begin his education service.

With a Colombo Plan scholarship in 1963, he specialised in sports education at New Zealand's Palmerston North University and contributed to the Singapore education and sports scene in many capacities.

As a physical education specialist at the Extra-Curricular Activities Centre, the always-smiling "Punch" went about his job with distinction.

Beneath the calm exterior was a tough character who had a steadfast belief in upholding virtues and did not tolerate indiscipline.

When he was manager of the national football team in the late 60s, he showed his no-nonsense attitude when he reportedly sent home star goalkeeper Wilfred Skinner for breaking team rules.

In 1974, when he managed a schoolboy hockey team to New Delhi, he ordered two players who returned to the hotel past the 10pm curfew to pack their bags for a return flight home the next morning. Although he relented that morning, he punished the boys by keeping them on the sidelines for a week.

As a rookie reporter in the early 70s, I had some memorable interactions with "Punch". He would always teach me patience and courage. I have always treasured his sound advice and good counsel.

Former national sprint champion C. Kunalan, then a teacher at Dunearn Technical School, recalls: "He came to observe me teaching when I was due to cross my final bar.

"I took it seriously as he was a strict master and coach".

His eldest son Jeyaratnam, 62, a venture capitalist, said: "Papa lived strictly by his principles. He was never swayed into being politically correct or bound by convention or traditional belief, if there was a more innovative or new way of doing something better."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2017, with the headline 'Disciplined 'Punch' a man of many talents'. Print Edition | Subscribe