Stanley Toft Stewart

Stanley Toft Stewart (b. 13 June 1910, Penang – d. 9 February 1992, Singapore) was a long-serving public official in Malaya and Singapore who achieved many firsts. At the pinnacle of his career he was the head of Singapore's civil service, and after representing Singapore as high commissioner to Australia he became permanent secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Early life
Stewart was educated at St Xavier's Institute in Penang. He passed his Senior Cambridge examination at fifteen and excelled at sports, setting the state record in the 100-yard dash. After narrowly missing the Queen's Scholarship he entered Raffles College and remained a leading sportsman as vice captain of cricket and captain of rugby. In 1933 he received his Arts diploma.

Teaching and early career
An economic slump meant that almost none of his class found jobs but as the top graduate Stewart was selected to teach at Kuala Kangsar’s elite Malay College. His students included future sultans, ambassadors, civil servants, and Tun Razak, who even as Malaysian prime minister addressed Stewart as "Master".

In late 1934 he earned the distinction of becoming one of the first two Asians recruited to the new Straits Settlement Civil Service. He worked in the Treasury then the Land Office before becoming assistant district officer for Butterworth in 1936. From 1939 he held the same post in Balik Pulau, Penang Island, and remained in office under a Japanese superior during the occupation.

After liberation Stewart was made district officer of Balik Pulau, became the first local man promoted to the Colonial Administration Service in 1946, then returned to Butterworth as district officer in 1947. He was an official member of Penang's legislative council and belonged to its war executive committee during the Emergency (also chairing the district committee), though Butterworth stayed largely peaceful. In 1952 he left Penang to become deputy chairman of Singapore's Rural Board.

Rising to the top of the civil service
After two years Stewart was named the board’s first Asian chairman and capably led the relief and evacuation efforts required after serious flooding. In 1955 he joined the Department of Local Government as a deputy secretary, and as deputy chief secretary of Singapore from 1957 until 1959 he dealt with such difficult issues as policing, censorship, intelligence, detentions and banishment. During these two years he also served as acting chief secretary, becoming the first local man to hold the colony’s second-highest office.

Between 1959 and 1963 he was permanent secretary for Home Affairs and he joined the financial delegation to London in 1960. The following year he became permanent secretary to the prime minister (and to the deputy prime minister from 1965). In this capacity he was head of the civil service and at the heart of national affairs.

Stewart belonged to the working group which negotiated merger with Malaya and travelled to London for talks. He was also one of the first to know about Malaysia's break-up in 1965 and oversaw the printing of the government gazette announcing Singapore's independence, keeping the printers incommunicado until the announcement on 9 August. That June he had reached the civil service retirement age but Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew asked him to remain.

High Commissioner to Australia
Upon the republic’s foundation, there was a delay in filling overseas missions as the new state wished to avoid making a poor impression by hastily posting ill-prepared ambassadors. Tested, reliable civil servants were sought to represent the country and Stewart was appointed Singapore’s first high commissioner to Australia, one of the first countries to recognise Singapore and an important regional power. In late 1965 he visited Canberra to acquire a residence and premises for the high commission and formally took office in August 1966.

As high commissioner Stewart travelled extensively, called upon state leaders, met Singaporean students and focused on promoting trade and tourism. His civil service background helped him to establish good, long-lasting relationships with Australian officials, though, while Australia was important, the post presented few challenges – aside from hiring a staff – as relations were sound. Stewart organised weekly tennis matches at his residence and captained the annual diplomatic cricket tournament in Canberra.

MFA, National Stadium and retirement
After leaving Australia in October 1969, with overseas experience further enhancing his credentials, he returned to central government as permanent secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). A major early challenge for the department was negotiating the Five Powers Defence Arrangement with Malaysia, Britain, Australia and New Zealand in response to the British forces’ withdrawal from Singapore.

Another change he helped to implement was in the recruitment of the diplomatic corps. While in 1966 the government had engaged officers from other departments to make up their first tranche of diplomats – largely out of necessity – it was decided that a distinct class of men and women was preferable. Stewart accordingly launched the Foreign Service Scheme that fostered a separate pool of professional career diplomats.

At the end of 1972 the sports-loving Stewart left MFA to join the National Stadium Corporation as executive secretary and subsequently became chief executive, overseeing the completion and opening of the National Stadium in 1973. Later that year the corporation merged with the Sports Promotion Board to form the Singapore Sports Council, on which he did not serve.

His last public role was with the Presidential Council on Minority Rights from 1970 until 1987. He entered the private sector as a non-executive director of several companies, including some from Australia.

Honours and death
The length and distinction of his public service was a source of pride for the Eurasian community. His achievements were recognised with the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1958; Singapore's Pingat Jasa Gemilang, or “Meritorious Service Medal”, in 1962; and the Bakti Kepada Malaysia, or “Service to Malaysia’, gold medal in 1963.

Stewart died of heart problems on 9 February 1992 in Singapore.

Parents: Campbell Charles Stewart, a Penang civil servant, and Jeanette Matild (née Doral).
Wife: Therese Zelie de Souza, m.1935.
Children: seven daughters.

Duncan Sutherland

Cardoza, F. & J. (1992). They made their mark: Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s history. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.) & A. Ebert-Oehlers, Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes (pp.88-9, 138). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)

Chew, D. (interviewer). (1984, December 12). Oral history interview with Trevelyan Hale (Cassette Recording No. 476/24). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
(Not available in NLB holdings)

Cricket loving envoy [Microfilm: NL 12184]. (1966, August 12). The Straits Times, p.7.

Former top civil servant Stewart dies at 81 [Microfilm: NL 17602]. (1992, February 12). The Straits Times, p.7.

Lim, H.S. (interviewer). (20 November 1986). Oral history interview with Stanley Stewart (Cassette Recording No. 757/02/1-2). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
(Not available in NLB holdings)

Liu, G. (2005). The Singapore foreign service: The first 40 years (pp.47, 61, 94-5, 107). Singapore: Editions Didier.
(Call no.: RSING 327.5957 LIU)

A man of 'firsts'. (1992, June 10). The alumnus, 55.
(Call no.: 378.5957 A).

Ministry of Culture. (1954-1960). Directory : Councils, government departments [Microfilm: NL9602]. Singapore : Printed by Govt. Print.

Ministry of Culture. (1961-1980). Government directory [Microfilm: NL 9602]. Singapore : Ministry of Culture. 

Morais, J.V. (Ed.). (1959). Leaders of Malaya and who’s who (p.364). Kuala Lumpur: J.V. Morais.
(Call no.: RCLOS 920.0595 LEA)

National Stadium Corporation. (1973). National stadium annual report [Microfilm: NL 24202]. Singapore: National Stadium Corporation.

Stewart, S. (1977). Family memoirs of Mr. Stanley Stewart (pp.1, 5, 9, 15, 22, 26, 30). Private records of Mr Stanley Toft Stewart [Microfilm: NA 1833]. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
(Not available in NLB holdings)

Stewart, S. (1977). The days gone by: Memoirs of a retired civil servant, 1933-1973 (pp.3, 7, 22, 63-4, 69). Private records of Mr Stanley Toft Stewart [Microfilm: NA 1833]. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
(Not available in NLB holdings)

Stewart, S. (1966). Summary of Stanley Stewart’s career. Private records of Mr Stanley Toft Stewart [Microfilm: NA 1833]. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
(Not available in NLB holdings)

Tengku hopeful [Microfilm: NL 12135]. (1962, July 27). The Straits Times, pp.1,  20.

Who’s who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983-4 (Vol. 2, p.184). [c1983-]. Petaling Jaya: Who’s Who Publications Sdn Bhd.
(Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.

Singapore--Officials and employees--Biography
Law and government>>Civil procedure
Politics and Government
Stewart, Stanley Toft, 1910-1992

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