St Lukes architect

Drawing from stories of inspirational seniors, the CEO of St Luke's Hospital observes the characteristics they share on ageing with grace and purpose. All photos courtesy of St Luke's Hospital.

I was introduced to a book, Age is Just a Number, written by an Olympian, when I joined the Masters Swim Training group the year I turned 40.

The author, Dara Torres, is a 12-time Olympic medallist. She’s the most decorated US female Olympic swimmer of all time, having swum in five Olympics.

At age 41, she was the oldest swimmer to earn a place on the US Olympic team. Her remarkable performance has inspired many older athletes to consider re-entering competition.

Well, I rationalised: If Dara can, I can too!

Let us constantly renew our strength in the Lord through healthy habits that one establishes for the mind, body and spirit.

Her story inspired me to rethink the definitions of age and ageing.

Growing older, each new decade in life brings with it new physical limitations and challenges.

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When I hit 30, I realised I could not stay up late and still function fairly optimally the next day as was possible in my 20s. I needed a longer recovery time.

The big 5-0 announced itself in the most pronounced manner: With more aches and pains.

I’m frequently intrigued by the stories of those who demonstrate strength and joy in living life to the fullest in spite of the challenges they face from ageing.

To celebrate the silver or 25th anniversary of St Luke’s Hospital (SLH) this year, we uncovered the stories of 25 such inspirational seniors who show that age is indeed just a number. (Click here to read the free e-book.)

As I perused their stories, I observed unique characteristics they share on ageing with grace and purpose:

1. Reframing ageing as opportunities for growth 

Successful agers reframe ageing and its accompanying challenges as opportunities for growth – not insurmountable problems. 

While growing older brings physical limitations, these individuals adapt positively to these changes.

One such person is Mr Tan Ann Seng, 73, an SLH patient who became a volunteer and subsequently a staff member.

Uncle Tan, as we call him, suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on his left side. One day, while observing his grandson, a toddler, learning to walk, he had a light-bulb moment. If his grandson could pick himself up each time he fell, he too, would be unafraid of relearning the functions that he had lost.

After undergoing inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at SLH, Uncle Tan made good progress and was eager to encourage others who had lost their mobility.

“I don’t feel ready for retirement. I don’t want to sit at home and spend my time watching TV,” said Tan Ann Seng, who returned to work after a fight with cancer.

He started accompanying patients, as a volunteer, on outings organised by SLH. And subsequently came on board as a service ambassador – a role specially crafted for him.  Welcoming and assisting patients at the hospital’s entrance, he has also been able to encourage many with his personal testimony.

A year before his retirement, Uncle Tan discovered that cancer had covered his lungs. He fought the illness with several operations and radiotherapy, and started his journey of rehabilitation once again. 

Despite battling two major illnesses, Uncle Tan believes that though life is not perfect, there is nothing to be afraid of as Christ is with him. Uncle Tan has reframed the challenges and seeks to overcome them with God’s help. He has since returned to work.

Also reframing his own life and the life of others is Professor Kua Ee Heok, 72.

The former CEO of Woodbridge Hospital – Singapore’s largest psychiatric facility – worked hard to destigmatize mental illness. The name “Woodbridge” had acquired a negative connotation over the years, and in 1999, he had it renamed as the Institute of Mental Health to reframe public mindset.

Prof Kua Ee Heok

Prof Kua Ee Heok (left) wanted to be a biologist when he was younger but went into psychiatry. In recent years, he has combined his love for nature and advocacy for mental well-being by taking seniors for mindful walks in the rainforest.

In recent years, Prof Kua experimented by taking seniors on mindful walks in the rainforest. It has shown to improve mental, physical and social health. It is part of his quest to promote purposeful living in older persons or those with physical or mental ailments. 

Both Prof Kua and Uncle Tan are testimonies of God’s promise in Psalms 92:12-14: 

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”

2. Renewing strength – physically, emotionally and spiritually

Many of the silver inspirations intentionally maintain an exercise routine and do not take their health for granted.

Ms Lynn Soh, for instance, renewed her strength by swimming, taking brisk walks and exploring interesting places near her home.  

At age 74, the fun-loving grandmother started learning taekwondo. Within two years, she earned her black belt.

Lynn Soh

Because of Lynn Soh, now 77, the taekwondo academy she attends started a class for older students.

At the age of 62, Mr Lim Nghee Huat ran 2,500km in 50 days with a buddy to celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday in 2015.

“We ended our mission by taking part in the flame kindling service ceremony at the 2015 SEA Games,” he recalled.

Even now at age 68, he does not easily succumb to sickness, and sees exercise as “good medicine”. He also runs for God – to help raise funds for needy causes.

Lim Nghee Huat

Former Mediacorp current affairs editor, Lim Nghee Huat, sees a parallel between running and life. Long distance running can be lonely and at times painful, but it builds perseverance and mental resilience when the going gets tough.

St Augustine of Hippo interprets 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 in the following way:

“New indeed we ought to be, because the old man ought not to creep upon us, we must grow and advance. Of this very advancement, the Apostle (Paul) says, ‘Though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed every day.’”

Regardless of our age, let us allow newness itself to grow in our lives by constantly renewing our strength in the Lord through healthy habits that one establishes for the mind, body and spirit.

Do consult a doctor before starting a new exercise routine if you have a health condition.

3. Revealing God’s grace and faithfulness 

Dr Ernest Chew, 78, is one of my heroes! The retired history don possesses a gentle and God-fearing spirit. It is not difficult to appreciate God’s promise of Proverbs 16:31 revealed through his life of faithful service:

“Gray hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” 

When one gets to know Ernest, you will find that he is truly without hubris in spite of the many achievements he had attained in life.

He acknowledges God for His divine providence and continues to study and share His word by interpreting the stories and history of man through the lens of Christ.

Inspired by his late father, Dr Benjamin Chew and his biography My Time is in His Hands, Dr Ernest Chew continues to reach out to patients at SLH and serve the community in need – especially those negatively impacted by the pandemic.

He also frequently quotes Danish theologian, Søren Kierkegaard:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

Dr Eileen Aw is another who lives life to the fullest.

After 30 years in the healthcare sector, she was preparing for retirement. But instead, was game to lead a new team to run a hospital from ground zero.

Dr Aw was the first Executive and Medical Director of St Luke’s Hospital.

Four years later, she went on to start our sister organisation, St Luke’s Eldercare, in 1999.

Dr Eileen Aw

“Make me a blessing always,” is Dr Eileen Aw’s daily prayer. “You forget about yourself when you focus on helping others,” she said.

Today at age 83, her daily schedule is still packed. Not only does she help to look after her great-grandchildren, she acts as Deputy Registrar of Marriages and is also Chairperson of the Board of the Singapore Mission School in Vientiane, Laos.

Her daily prayer is for God to make her a blessing always.

Her mantra is “Don’t worry about what you can’t do. Just do what you can and God will do the rest.”

Mr Kok Siew Hoong, 86, may have retired more than 20 years ago. But continues accepting invitations to serve with his expertise as an architect. And feels energised when he is doing something that improves the quality of life of others.

Mr Kok Siew Hoong

Retired for more than 20 years, Kok Siew Hoong still gets invited to serve on the building committee of nursing homes and such. “It is satisfying doing something that helps to improve lives. I am helping to design a ‘home’, not merely a building for the residents.”

He has also served in various pro-bono capacities to help build schools, nursing homes and hospitals. He maintains a calm and tranquil approach to life, deriving security from Christ as his Saviour.

“The glory of young men is their strength, grey hair the splendour of the old.” (Proverbs 20:29) 

The best of seasons

We are all growing older by the day.

We can lament about the losses that come with ageing. Or we can reframe, renew and reveal God’s faithfulness to us and to the world as we live according to His Holy word.

Growing old, as the 25 silver ambassadors in our e-book will testify, is challenging but can be a good and godly pursuit.

“Autumn is really the best of seasons; and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life.” 

Robert McCrum in his book, Every Third Thought: On Life, Death and the Endgame, said:

“Among the important lessons about ageing is a new appreciation of simple pleasures: the joy of friendship and the satisfaction of small victories – an engagement fulfilled or a mundane task completed. Being alive in the world brings its own reward: the wind in your face on blustery spring day, or the silver-magic of summer moonlight.”

He concluded with this advice:

“Why not celebrate ‘nowness’? Discover the joy of wisdom and experience. Cherish your family. Celebrate the human drama in all its variety. Be happy to be old. Feast on the marrow of life while you can. Pass on to fellow survivors, friends and family a positive delight in the world.”

CS Lewis framed it such: “Autumn is really the best of seasons; and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life.” 

And Robert Browning wrote in his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra:

“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”’

It encourages us to continue in our discovery of God’s best for us, knowing that our times are indeed in His hands, as we grow a little older each day together with our friends and loved ones in this journey entitled life.

Read the stories of 25 individuals 65 and above who appeared in a charity film and free e-book, Being Silver, by St Luke’s Hospital. It is part of their advocacy for seniors, and celebration of their roots as Singapore’s first hospital to serve the elderly. Click here to donate to support their cause before December 31, 2021.  


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About the author

Associate Professor Tan Boon Yeow

Associate Professor Tan Boon Yeow has been working at St Luke’s Hospital as a doctor since 1999, and is currently its CEO. He is also involved in both undergraduate and postgraduate medical education. His wife and helpmate, Low Yee, and their twin daughters, Grace and Gayle, keep him grounded.