Lee Wee Nam



Lee Wee Nam (b. 1881, Theng HaiGuangdong, China–d. 24 January 1964, Singapore) was an eminent entrepreneur and community leader. Better known as Wee Nam Yia, a title given by the Teochews to a distinguished man of high position, Lee was the chairman and managing director of Sze Hai Tong Banking & Insurance Company Ltd (later known as Four Seas Communications Bank, and now part of OCBC Bank). He also founded Lee Hiok Kee Pte Ltd, and was the co-founder of Singapore’s first school for Chinese girls, Ngee Ann Girls’ School. Wee Nam Road in the Newton area was named after him.1  

Early life
The second son in his family, Lee was born in 1881 in Theng Hai district in the Guangdong province of China. He lost his mother at a young age and was raised by his father who worked as a coffin maker. At the age of 16, Lee left his hometown to seek a better life in Singapore. He had little formal education and started out as an apprentice at the firm Kong Meng Chay, earning just $2 a month. The diligent Lee was well-liked by his employer, but was subsequently recruited by Lim Song Teng to work for him in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya. Lee then returned to Singapore to take up a key post at the firm, Siam Hong Chan. Before long, he caught the attention of Leow Chia Heng, co-founder of Sze Hai Tong Banking & Insurance Company Ltd, and was recruited as a broker in 1909.2  

Business accomplishments
In 1910, Lee was appointed the manager of Sze Hai Tong’s branch in Bangkok, Thailand. When he returned to Singapore in 1911, Lee was made assistant manager of the bank. He was promoted to manager two years later and, in 1932, became its chairman and managing director. Lee also had business interests in various companies, including two remittance shops, Chye Hua Seng Wee Kee and Buan Yak Seng, and a trading firm, Chye Soon Long. In addition, he was the proprietor of two shops in Seremban, Malaya, called Hai Chua and Hai Chua Chan.3

Community services
Lee was a highly respected community leader, a great philanthropist, and a strong advocate of education. In 1929, he helped to raise funds for Henan, Hunan and Gansu provinces in China when they were hit by famine. He co-founded Ngee Ann Girls’ School in 1940 to provide education for Chinese girls. During the Sino-Japanese War, Lee chaired the Teochew Section of the China Relief Fund and participated in the sale of Liberty Bonds for China. Due to his involvement in these activities, Lee was jailed and tortured by the Japanese army during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.4

Death
Lee passed away on 24 January 1964, at the age of 83, after a long illness.5 The year before, he had established Lee Hiok Kee Pte Ltd – a finance and investment company – with shares held by his sons and grandsons.6

In June 2001, following the philanthropic spirit of its founder, the company donated a sum of $10 million to Nanyang Technological University for the Lee Wee Nam Endowment Fund in Life Sciences. In recognition of the donation, the university renamed one of its libraries Lee Wee Nam Library.7

Key appointments8
1920–64: Served as president and vice-president of Ngee Ann Kongsi (at various times).
1927–28: President of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
1929–30: Vice-president of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
1930–48: President and vice-president of Teo Chew Poit Ip Huay Kwan.
1933: First president of Malayan Teochew Association.
1939: First president of Kwangtung Hui Kuan, Singapore.
1940: President and trustee of Tuan Mong School.

Other key appointments which Lee held included the following:
Co-founder of Ngee Ann Girls’ School. 
Committee member of Chinese High School.
Committee member of Nan Hwa Girls’ School. 
Chairman of China Relief Fund (Teochew Section).
Member of Chinese Advisory Board.
Member of Po Leung Kuk.9
Member of St John’s Island Visiting Committee.10 



Author
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Teochew leader and banker Wee Nam dies, 83. (1964, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ho, D. S. M. (2001, December). Official launch of the Lee Wee Nam Library @ NTU. NTU Library bulletin, 10(4), 2. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Nanyang Technological University website: www.ntu.edu.sg/lib/pub/v10n4.pdf
2. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Coffin maker’s son made his fortune here. (1991, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ho, D. S. M. (2001, December). Official launch of the Lee Wee Nam Library @ NTU. NTU Library bulletin, 10(4), 4. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Nanyang Technological University website: www.ntu.edu.sg/lib/pub/v10n4.pdf
3. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Teochew leader and banker Wee Nam dies, 83. (1964, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Ho, D. S. M. (2001, December). Official launch of the Lee Wee Nam Library @ NTU. NTU Library bulletin, 10(4), 2. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Nanyang Technological University website:  www.ntu.edu.sg/lib/pub/v10n4.pdf; Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
5. Teochew leader and banker Wee Nam dies, 83. (1964, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 6; Coffin maker’s son made his fortune here. (1991, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Lim, S. (1992, January 25). Local tycoon’s family loses part of estate to relatives in ThailandThe Straits Times, p. 3; Another legal tussle over the estate of Lee Wee Nam. (1983, May 14). Singapore Monitor, p. 4; About this case. (1996, March 15). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Allen & Gledhill LLP. (2015, June 30). Singapore High Court interprets section 194 of the Companies Act and dismisses attempt to remove member from company share register: Lee Siew Ngug & Ors v Lee Brothers (Wee Kee) Pte Ltd & Anor [2015] SGHC 106. Retrieved from Allen & Gledhill website: http://www.allenandgledhill.com/pages/publications.aspx?list=FSBulletinAreas&pub_id=933&view=d
7. Ho, D. S. M. (2001, December). Official launch of the Lee Wee Nam Library @ NTU. NTU Library bulletin, 10(4), 1–2. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Nanyang Technological University website: www.ntu.edu.sg/lib/pub/v10n4.pdf; School of Biological Sciences welcomes Lee family. (2004, October–December). NTU News, 54, 14. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Nanyang Technological University website: http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/corpcomms2/ntunews/2004/ntunews1004.pdf
8. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Singapore Kwangtung Hui Kuan. (n.d.). Jian Shi. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Singapore Kwangtung Hui Kuan website: www.8path.com.sg/kwangtungclan
9. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
10. Ho, D. S. M. (2001, December). Official launch of the Lee Wee Nam Library @ NTU. NTU Library bulletin, 10(4), 2. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Nanyang Technological University website: www.ntu.edu.sg/lib/pub/v10n4.pdf; Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)



The information in this article is valid as at 2006 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.

Subject
People and communities
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Community leaders
Personality--Singapore