Henry Tan (1943-2017)

Obituary: Father of Singapore bowling dies at 73

Henry Tan, twice the Coach of the Year, was known to be strict but yet caring and kind to bowlers.
Henry Tan, twice the Coach of the Year, was known to be strict but yet caring and kind to bowlers.ST FILE PHOTO

He won two world-level silvers in the 1970s and then coached future talents for decades

Tributes have poured in for Henry Tan, the "father of Singapore bowling", who died yesterday morning aged 73.

A tearful Singapore Bowling Federation president Jessie Phua was among those who hailed him for his contributions to the nation, noting that he "was the first Singaporean bowler to put Singapore on the world map".

In his prime, Tan won silver medals at the World Cup in 1970 and in the men's doubles (with Dennis Tay) at the 1975 FIQ World Championships, where he also set a then world record-high game of 298. Those achievements earned him the Sportsman of the Year award in 1970 and 1975.

More significantly, he left his mark on the sport by grooming several generations of talents including former captain Grace Young, Valerie Teo, present technical director Mervyn Foo and recently crowned Sportswoman of the Year New Hui Fen.

For that, he was named the Coach of the Year in 1984 and 2010.

Young, a three-time Sportswoman of the Year and two-time Asian Games bronze medallist, won seven golds, two silvers and four bronze medals at the SEA Games from 1987 to 1995.

Teo, Singapore Bowling's vice-president, was an Asian Games gold medallist in 2006.

Tan is survived by his wife, Tamgelia Chua, 59, herself a former national bowler; his son Bernard and spouse, his daughter Nicolette, and two grandchildren.

They were by his side when he died at 7.05am. He had complained of chest pains and difficulty in breathing and was rushed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital at around 6.30am but he died shortly afterwards of heart failure.

Chua paid tribute to her husband, saying he was a morally upright and likeable man.

"He doesn't speak, or even want to hear, anything bad about anyone," said Chua, who had watched Game of Thrones with him on Monday. The couple had just returned from a holiday in Koh Samui, Thailand, last Friday.

Added Phua: "He was a great man who devoted almost his entire life to the sport. He was ever so caring and kind to bowlers, but he would not hesitate to discipline them.

"Even at his age, he was still so open in his quest for knowledge and always so eager to learn new things from others. He soaked them up like a child with passion and love. He was a father figure to all of us."

Foo, 42, who trained under Tan more than 10 years ago, said: "He was the one who got everything going for all of us. He created this pathway and we will be grateful to him forever.

"He was a great and well-respected man who was a mentor to all of us. He always put others before himself. He was one of the few men whom you would see everyone greet whenever they saw him.

"He always used to say that he was the old man of the group. But he had got so much wisdom which we always treasured."

Most of the team, including Foo, will not be able to attend Tan's wake, because the SEA Games team will be competing in Kuala Lumpur. The Singapore contingent left for KL yesterday afternoon.

Despite the fraternity's grief over their loss, Foo remained resolute, saying: "I'm sure that's what he would want us to do, to go to KL to get the job done."

New, 25, chuckled as she recalled how Tan would scold her. The World Bowling Championships singles silver medallist trained under him for about four years during her youth.

She said: "He said I was the last person he lectured. After that, he didn't scold anyone any more.

"I was like the troublemaker. He used to say that I had talent but it had yet to be realised, and that irritated him. He was like a grandparent whom I haven't had all these years because all my grandparents died before I turned 12."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu also lamented Tan's death, saying in a Facebook post: "His passing is a loss to the bowling fraternity, but his legacy and dedication to sport will be deeply remembered by many." •Henry Tan's wake is at the Teochew Funeral Parlour, 10 Ubi Road 4, from today. The cortege will leave the venue at around 11am on Tuesday for cremation at Mandai Crematorium.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Father of S'pore bowling dies at 73'. Print Edition | Subscribe