Benjamin Henry Sheares was elected the second president of the Republic of Singapore by parliament on 30 December 1970, and was sworn into office on 2 January the following year. Sheares succeeded Yusof bin Ishak who had passed away in November 1970.
Prior to becoming president, Sheares was a well-known and distinguished obstetrician and gynaecologist. After obtaining his medical degree from King Edward VII College of Medicine (KECOM) in 1929, Sheares began his medical career as an assistant medical officer at the General Hospital (now known as the Singapore General Hospital or SGH) at Sepoy Lines (now known as Outram Road). Two years later, he began his career in obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) at the General Hospital. In 1940, Sheares was awarded the Queen’s Fellowship for a two-year postgraduate training in Britain. However, his studies were postponed due to the advent of World War II. During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–1945), Sheares was head of the O&G department at the Kandang Kerbau Hospital as well as the medical superintendent of the local patients section of the hospital. After the war, Sheares was appointed acting professor of O&G at KECOM, a post he held until 1947 before embarking on his postgraduate studies at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital in Britain. Upon his return to Singapore in 1948, Sheares was reappointed as acting professor of O&G at KECOM (later renamed University of Malaya in Singapore). He was made full professor in January 1950. He held this post until he retired in June 1960 and went into private practice.
When President Ishak passed away on 23 November 1970, there were speculations as to who would replace him. Altogether, six candidates were identified. They were Speaker of Parliament Yeoh Ghim Seng, Minister for Social Affairs Othman Wok, Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin, President of the Muslim Religious Council Ismail Bin Abdul Aziz, High Commissioner to India Punch Coomaraswamy, and High Commissioner to Britain and former speaker A.P. Rajah. However, when parliament met on 30 December 1970 to elect the second president of Singapore, Sheares was named.
Sheares served as president of Singapore for three terms from 2 January 1971 until his death on 12 May 1981. He was elected by parliament for his second and third term as president on 6 November 1974 and 29 December 1978 respectively. Sheares was fondly remembered and respected by the people of Singapore. When his body was lain in state at the Istana, more than 85,000 people turned up to pay their respects. Sheares was also commended by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. In his tribute to Sheares in parliament on 12 June 1981, Lee stated that Sheares had “discharged his duties with dignity, with thoroughness, and with consideration for others” and that he was a “good man who put his ability in the service of his fellow man”.
Several landmarks in Singapore are named after Sheares. These include the Benjamin Sheares Bridge and the Sheares Hall hostel at the National University of Singapore.
1. All 'ayes' for Sheares. (1970, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 1; Chia, P. (1971, January 3). Sheares is sworn in as the president. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Cheong, Y. S., et al. (1970, November 24). Cabinet pays last respects. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Chia, P. (1970, December 27). Sheares to be president. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Library Board. (2004). Benjamin Sheares written by Arunasalam, Sitragandi. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from Singapore Infopedia.
4. Who will become the next Head of State? (1970, November 25). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. (1970, December 30). Election of President of Republic of Singapore (Vol. 30, cols. 378–382); Election of President today. (1970, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Sheares in a coma. (1981, May 11). The Straits Times, p. 1; Lee, P., Ngoo, I., & Bala, K. (1981, May 13). Singapore mourns. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Sheares elected to second term of office. (1974, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 1; Unanimous support for Sheares' re-election. (1978, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. A man of humility who put the nation before self. (1981, May 13). The Straits Times, p. 8; Lee, P., et al. (1981, May 15). The people’s tribute. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. (1981, June 12). Tribute to the late President, Dr Benjamin Henry Sheares (Vol. 30, col. 14–15). Singapore: Govt. Printer. Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN.
10. How they came to be named. (1994, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 27; Hostel named Sheares Hall. (1981, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.