Former ST sports journalist Santokh Singh dies while watching his beloved Lions play football

Santokh Singh (above) was 56 and is survived by his wife of 30 years, Sukhdevi, and four children.
Santokh Singh (above) was 56 and is survived by his wife of 30 years, Sukhdevi, and four children.ST PHOTO: AIDAH RAUF

SINGAPORE - A true sports lover till the end, former Straits Times journalist Santokh Singh Grewal died on Friday evening (June 3) while watching V. Sundramoorthy make his bow as the caretaker coach of the Singapore national football team.

He was 57 and is survived by his wife of 30 years, Sukhdevi, and four children - sons Ishwarpal (23), Jaspal (22) and daughters Jaskiran (20) and Parven (18).

On Saturday evening, a steady stream of friends and relatives visited the wake to pay their respects. Ishwarpal said the crowd was a testament to how many lives his father had touched.

"There were a lot of people that came even before 6pm, people whom I've never seen before, and I'm not surprised that he left an impact on so many people," said Ishwarpal, who was with Jaspal in Seremban on Friday, where they were representing their Sikh temple in the Gurdwara Cup hockey tournament.

"He was the first person to teach us (Jaspal and I), the first coach we ever had and he taught us to play below our block. It will be hard to play without him watching now because he has always been there for us.

"One lasting memory will be what happened at last year's SEA Games, when we lost to Malaysia on penalty flicks. He came to us after the game, shook our hands and I could see that he was very proud of us. It's something I'll never forget."

Singapore Hockey Federation president Mathavan Devadas, who had known Santokh since 1977 and had undergone basic military training in the navy with him, said: "Hockey has lost one of its favourite sons. Santokh was very supportive of the game, and he was there for his sons at every training session, whether they were playing for club or country.

"As a journalist, he was very balanced even though he was a strong-willed character."

Annabel Pennefather, vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council and member of the International Association of Athletics Federations' ethics commission and herself a former national hockey player, agreed, noting: "As a reporter, Santokh was always upright in what he did. Whatever you said would be reported fairly. I felt comfortable talking to him, and he knew the sport. He was someone I had a good and trusting relationship with.

"One of his many works has been framed up by my friends and family, and has become a treasured keepsake for them. Published on September 14, 1999, the article titled 'Annabel joins SNOC's Men's Club' was very special to me."

Sukhdevi also paid tribute to her husband's character, saying: "My husband had a really good sense of humour. He had strong beliefs, he was a man of principle. He had very solid values and he lived that."

Sundram said: "It was during my playing days in the S-League when I first met Santokh. He was a very passionate and knowledgeable reporter and we had many discussions about football and sports in general.

"I enjoyed the discussions with Santokh, who was always composed and respectful.

"On behalf of the FAS and the National Team, I would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time."

According to Sukhdevi, her husband died after dinner time as he watched Singapore defeat Myanmar 1-0 in the AYA Bank Cup in Sundram's first game in charge.

She told ST: "It was after dinner and as usual, Santokh was taking his medicine for diabetes. He proceeded to watch the Singapore-Myanmar match while I was washing the dishes.

"When I checked on him at about 7.50pm, he had collapsed and although we tried to revive him, he was unresponsive.

"But that is probably the way he would like to go. He just loved sports."

Santokh, a former teacher at Victoria School, embarked on his journalism career with ST in 1995 and delivered a number of scoops and award-winning stories during a five-year spell.

Known for his passion for football and hockey, he was a big winner at the Singapore Press Holdings' annual awards in 1997 for the English/Malay Newspapers Division, winning the Feature of the Year Award for his story, "Better grades for sportsmen under change in ECA scheme".

It was a case of double elation for him as he also won a Special Award for his stories on the Jojo Sinclair drug scandal.

Santokh joined The New Paper in 2000, where he later became the supervisor for the education beat. He left journalism in 2012 for Nanyang Polytechnic to become its director for communications and outreach.

Liew Hanqing, a former colleague at TNP, penned a heartfelt tribute.

"Santokh Grewal was, to me, one of those people you would describe as the 'salt of the earth' - one of those rare, truly good folks who genuinely make the world a better place.

"He was a passionate journalist and editor, but an educator at heart. Nothing would get Santokh more excited - and gleeful - than a good education scoop (or, in other words, a chance to take on the Ministry of Education). He was considered an authority on the Singapore education system - so much so that when Heng Swee Keat was first appointed Education Minister, he consulted Santokh on education matters.

"Santokh spoke often about his children, who were his pride and joy. He regaled me with stories of his sons' sporting achievements and his youngest daughter's fondness for baking - and often gave me sage advice on parenting. Unlike most, Santokh was not a 'kiasu parent'. He was simply loving and supportive, through his kids' successes and disappointments. He was the sort of parent I hope to become.

"He was a boss with a heart - someone who treated his subordinates with compassion and respect. For those who needed a listening ear, Santokh was always there. He was a boss who celebrated his journalists' victories as if they were his own, and shared in his journalists' anguish when they failed.

"Santokh was a man with an infectious sense of humour. The office he shared with the other news editors would ring with thunderous laughter whenever there was a good joke. I can vividly remember the sound of his laughter, and it pains me that I will never hear it again."

The wake is at Blk 7, Toh Yi Drive #06-283. The cortege will leave the house at 4.30pm tomorrow (Monday, June 6) for cremation at Mandai Crematorium Hall 4 at 5.45pm.