A day before he passed away in March, the retired Chief Judge and his granddaughter, Nicole, had been making plans to help the vulnerable. These plans were realised a month later. Photos courtesy of the Magnus family.

The late Richard Magnus was the thoughtful grandfather who had cold towels, drinks and snacks on hand when he picked his grandchildren up from school. 

“He was the caring Grandpa who put us first before himself,” his eldest grandchild Nicole Magnus, 17, told Salt&Light.

She recalled how when she was young, they would go to the neighbourhood shops to get ice-cream. Once, it started to rain.

“The first thing he did was to take off his shirt to cover me, to protect me from the rain. Then we went to hide under a banana tree.”

Richard Magnus, Nicole Magnus

Nicole had a very special relationship with Grandpa, said her Grandma Eileen Magnus. “When she was a baby, he would steal her from her room every morning. Dana would find her cot empty.”

She related how her fun Grandpa Magnus created obstacle courses and took his grandkids fishing at the longkang (drain).

The Non-Resident Ambassador to Finland and Chancellor to The Diocese of Singapore was also a loving, godly grandfather.

“When I was doing my ‘O’ levels, Grandma and Grandpa would come every single morning without fail to pray for me before I left the house,” Nicole said.

Grandma Eileen is a social worker by profession.

Nicole, now a student at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), has a younger brother David, 15, and sister Kristen, 12.

Today (May 19) at the NTUC May Day Awards, Nicole’s Grandpa was given a posthumous award for his work as former chairman of the Public Transport Council, DBS Bank and Changi Airport Group.

Not just Grandpa, but “Awesome Guy”

Much has been written about Richard Magnus’ life of service to Singapore (on National Day last year, he was conferred the Distinguished Service Order) and how he personally touched individuals from all walks of life through his kindness.

His children and grandchildren also grew up seeing this kindness inside and outside the home, and also his love in action.

From the time she was in kindergarten, Kristen – Nicole’s younger sister – would introduce their grandad to people, not as Grandpa, but as “Awesome Guy”.

Richard Magnus Nicole Magnus

Nicole, age 9, with Grandpa Magnus, on their first cruise as a three-generation family.

He encouraged his grandchildren to treat people from all walks of life with love and respect.

“Look construction workers in the eye and show respect and gratitude for the work they do,” his voice would ring out to them.

Many a time, the grandchildren would witness Grandpa stopping his car to hand road sweepers, postmen and delivery drivers bottled water and biscuits that he had in the car, until they, too, became comfortable doing this at his encouragement.

On visits to third world countries, he would buy bread, buns and drinks as they would invariably be stopped at traffic lights by beggars. Instead of giving out cash (which might be misspent), bread and drinks would be handed out so that the genuinely hungry would not be turned away.

“Grandpa inspired me and inspired my siblings,” said Nicole.

Over lunch on March 13 this year, Nicole and Grandpa discussed her intention to contribute towards a good cause.

Her grandfather pledged to match her donation dollar-for-dollar.

Before they could solidify their plans, her Grandpa’s kind heart unexpectedly stopped beating the next morning. He was 77.

Sunshine in the darkness

Grieving, Nicole decided to go ahead with the project to continue her Grandpa’s legacy of serving and giving. 

She decided to do something to benefit the elderly as they are the people group closest to her heart. 

As she and three generations of the Magnus family are already volunteers with LifeHouse SG, she decided on a project with them. 

“The elderly there are close to my heart. They hardly go out, especially because of Covid.”

Since 2020, LifeHouse has been visiting the residents of 280 one-room HDB rental flats in Henderson every first Saturday of the month.

The volunteers work in teams, each team befriending residents on two floors; Nicole and her grandmother are on the same team.

Nicole noticed that their flats are always in darkness.

“To save electricity, they don’t turn on their lights. They don’t have appliances that other people have because they consume electricity. Some have nothing in their house except one chair.

“The elderly there are close to my heart,” said Nicole.

“Many of them are very lonely. They hardly go out, especially because of Covid.”

Many residents are not in the best of health – one of them, a diabetic man who is all skin and bones, has had his feet turn black from the illness. He needs a wheelchair to get around.

“Yet he is so receptive to us, and engages us in conversation. It is quite heartwarming,” she said.

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The community initiative was started by Nicole’s aunt, Stephanie Magnus, in the early days of Covid (read about it above). 

Stephanie’s father, Richard, had helped to identify the need.

An idea takes root

LifeHouse comes up with different fun and cognitively-stimulating activity kits to distribute to the residents each month. It keeps them engaged and active. 

The activities are achievable by all residents, with an incentive in the form of “a sure-win contest” for trying thrown in. 

One such kit was a jigsaw puzzle made from a photo of their block. The group then framed the completed puzzles for the residents.  

For the project Nicole was sponsoring, the idea of plants emerged. Plants were something that had brought Grandpa Magnus a great deal of joy. 

LifeHouse SG

A resident with his edible sprouts; an angbao containing $10; and a kit for making a photo frame (the activity kit for the month of May).

“We thought it would keep the residents happy and engaged,” said Nicole. “We specifically chose mustard seeds because they hardly fail to grow – and they grow fast and tall.”

It would be encouraging for the elderly to see them grow.

Nicole dug into her savings to fund seeds and pots of soil for the project, dubbed Grow in Love. She also sponsored the incentives – $10 cash for residents who planted the seeds, and $50 vouchers for those with the tallest plants on each floor.

Grandma Eileen will fulfil the promise her husband made to match Nicole’s contribution dollar-for-dollar.

Planting love

In April, a month after her grandfather passed away, Nicole and LifeHouse volunteers distributed the planting kits.

Nicole Magnus

Nicole explained how to care for the plants to 250 out of 280 households in the block.

Nicole came up with infographics printed on a simple instruction sheet on how to plant the seeds and tend to the little shoots that grow.

About 90% of residents who opened their doors were receptive to the idea – even if they needed some encouragement – said Nicole’s mum, Dana.

“Some said, ‘I don’t know how to grow plants. I’ve never tried before’,” said Dana. “We kept encouraging them, saying it is very easy.”

LifeHouse SG

This resident won the top prize for having the tallest sprouts on her floor. She got $50 in FairPrice vouchers plus a kettle.

A month later, on Saturday May 7, Nicole and volunteers went back to check on their progress and measured the plants.

“There was active participation” said Dana.

“Neighbours helped each other and there was a high level of excitement.”

Nicole plans to provide other types of seeds for the residents to grow.

Blessed to bless

Grow in Love is not Nicole’s first effort to serve the vulnerable.

When Nicole was in Primary Six, she went on her first missions trip to Cambodia with her parents and a few families to teach village children how to prevent and treat burns.

“I’ve been blessed to bless others.”

Nicole and friends went to the village schools. Through posters and skits, they taught the children how to prevent burns from happening. And how to treat burns so that they did not get infected. 

Before Covid struck, the group made at least two follow-up trips to check on the villagers’ progress and to see if they had put up fences around the fires, as open fires for cooking are common in rural villages.

Richard Magnus Nicole Magnus

Remembering the kindness she received from her Grandpa, Nicole looks to share this kindness.

Nicole is doing her International Baccalaureate this year. After this, she hopes to study medicine or something related to healthcare or a profession that helps others. She is praying for God to lead the way.

She holds fast to 1 Corinthians 16:14: “All that you do will be done in love.”

Remembering the kindness she received from her Grandpa, Nicole looks to share this kindness.

“I’ve been blessed to bless others,” she said.

For others looking for how to start helping the vulnerable, Nicole encouraged: “Even a small act of kindness can go a long way.” 


Leukaemia gave Daniel Ong a second chance to sing His story

“You and I were born, specially formed, in God’s plan for God’s purpose”: The faith of late District Judge Richard Magnus

Retired Senior District Judge and church leader Richard Magnus called home to the Lord

About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light and its companion site, Stories of Hope.