Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice



Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice (also known as Lady Percy McNeice), née Loke Yuen Peng (b. 1917, Kuala Lumpur, Malaya–d. 3 June 2012, Singapore), was a nature conservationist, avid photographer, social worker and philanthropist. Born the daughter of Malayan tycoon Loke Yew and the sister of film magnate Loke Wan Tho, she later became the wife of the first president of Singapore’s City Council Sir Percy McNeice. A benefactor and patron of various nature conservation and wildlife causes, Lady McNeice was noted for her contributions to the Singapore Botanic Gardens.1

Early life
Born in 1917 a few months after the death of her father Loke Yew, Lady McNeice spent her childhood years in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, with her mother Lim Cheng Kim and elder siblings, brother Wan Tho and sister Yuen Theng. She attended St Mary’s School and Methodist Girls’ School in Kuala Lumpur before moving with her family to Montreux, Switzerland, in 1929 after the family doctor had recommended the pure Swiss air for improving Wan Tho’s poor health. The Loke family stayed in Switzerland for four years, during which time Lady McNeice attended St George’s School, an English-style institution where she learnt French and Latin. The family travelled extensively throughout Europe during this time, and Lady McNeice would later attribute her lifelong love of travel to these early experiences.2 Following their return to Kuala Lumpur, a newspaper report described Lady McNeice and her sister as accomplished dancers who also played hockey, tennis and golf.3

On 31 January 1937, Lady McNeice married Khoo Teik Ee, a barrister and Justice of the Peace in Kuala Lumpur. The Loke and Khoo families were prominent names in Malaya and more than 500 people attended their wedding reception at Goodwood, the Loke family residence.4 The marriage did not last long, however, and Lady McNeice’s mother subsequently introduced her to Sir Percy McNeice, then the secretary for Chinese affairs in Malaya. Lady McNeice was attracted to Sir Percy’s Irish charm, wit and intelligence, but the blossoming relationship was disrupted by the Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941.5 Lady McNeice, together with her mother and brother, made their way to Singapore before escaping by ship to Bombay (now Mumbai), India, before the island fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Her sister decided to stay behind in Kuala Lumpur with her son to accompany her husband. After the end of the war in 1945, Lady McNeice and the rest of her family members eventually left Bombay to settle in Singapore where Wan Tho’s film business (which would eventually become Cathay Organisation) was headquartered in the Cathay Building.6

Postwar life and social work
Lady McNeice met Sir Percy again in Singapore, and he soon proposed to her. After some initial apprehensions over their different cultural backgrounds, she accepted the proposal and the couple were married at St Hilda’s Church in Katong on 9 June 1947.7 Her husband retired from the public service in 1956, and the couple travelled widely until his death on 8 February 1998.8

As her husband was the secretary for the newly established Social Welfare Department when they got married, Lady McNeice became involved in volunteer work at the children’s centres that were being set up at the time. These centres provided free meals to underprivileged and undernourished children and also organised language and handiwork classes for older children. Lady McNeice was in charge of the centre at Erskine Road in Chinatown. Besides taking care of the centre, she also visited senior citizens’ homes to gather feedback for the Social Welfare and Public Works departments.9

Lady McNeice’s husband was a founding member of the now-defunct Singapore Family Planning Association (SFPA) established in 1949, and she was actively involved in the association’s work. She saw family planning as a way to contain social and economic problems, and wanted to help women who were treated like “breeding machines” without a say in the size of the family. Lady McNeice volunteered at a clinic in Tiong Bahru, advising women on family planning. She also lobbied politicians for support of the SFPA despite opposition from some religious quarters.10


Lady McNeice was also involved in other causes that interested her. These include serving as the president of the Girls’ Life Brigade, and being a committee member of the Chinese Ladies Association (now known as the Chinese Women’s Association) and council member of the Girl Guides.11 Lady McNeice was also overseeing the two charitable foundations that were named after her mother: the Cheng-Kim Loke Foundation and the Loke Cheng-Kim Foundation – the latter of which awards scholarships.12

She took on the honorific title of “Lady” after her husband was conferred knighthood in 1957.13

In 1964, Lady McNeice’s brother Wan Tho and his wife were killed in a plane crash in central Taiwan while heading to Taipei to attend a film festival.14 Wan Tho had bequeathed the majority of his fortune to his two sisters, while his brother-in-law, Choo Kok Leong, succeeded him as chairman of Cathay Organisation.15 Lady McNeice subsequently served on the board of directors of Cathay, but was not personally involved in the management of the company.16

Nature
conservation
Activities
Lady McNeice was known for her longstanding interest in nature conservation and horticulture. She funded the conservation, research and education efforts of organisations such as the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Malayan Nature Society, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Her involvement in nature and conservation groups includes: being a pioneer member of The 1001: A Nature Trust established by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands; board member of the National Parks Board; trustee of the Malaysian branch of the World Wildlife Fund; vice-president of the Singapore Gardening Society; and a life member of the Flora and Fauna Preservation Society of the United Kingdom.17

Singapore Botanic Gardens
In 1994, Lady McNeice acquired a collection of some 20,000 bromeliads, comprising over 300 species and 500 hybrids, from a nursery in the United States and donated it to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Named the Yuen-Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection in her honour, these plants are housed within the National Orchid Garden. She also commissioned several artworks within the gardens and sponsored the publication of two books on the gardens.18


Awards
In 1999, Lady McNeice was awarded the Dutch Order of the Golden Ark for her work in nature conservation and for her patronage of various nature and environmental organisations.19 She also received the Singapore Green Plan 2012 Award in 2004,20 and was honoured with a Public Service Medal the following year for her contributions towards nature conservation and education.21

Dedications
In 2004, the National Parks Board dedicated a Terminalia subspathulata tree in the Botanic Gardens to McNeice in recognition of her contributions towards the garden’s bromeliad collection.22 An orchid species in Papua New Guinea, the Bulbophyllum macneiceae, and a crab species in the French Loyalty Islands, the Orcovita mcneicea, are also named after her.23

Photography
Lady McNeice was an avid photographer who was the first Singaporean to become an associate of the Royal Photographic Society in the United Kingdom.24 An honorary life member and patron of the Photographic Society of Singapore, she held her first photography exhibition together with her husband in 1961, showcasing photographs from their recent travels to England, the Channel Islands, the United States, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. The show, held at her home on Pepys Road, was reportedly the first photography exhibition in Singapore that raised funds for charity.25


In her later years, Lady McNeice continued to hold exhibitions and talks on nature conservation, environmental protection and biodiversity.26

Legacy
Lady McNeice passed away on 3 June 2012.27 In 2014, her son Terence established the Lady Yuen Peng McNeice Graduate Fellowship at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Science to commemorate her love and support for nature conservation. The fellowship is awarded to postgraduate students with research interests in Southeast Asian biodiversity.28

Family29
Parents:
Loke Yew and Lim Cheng Kim.
Siblings: Loke Wan Tho and Loke Yuen Theng.
Husband: Percy McNeice.
Children: Anthony Terence McNeice and Shelagh McNeice, with four grandchildren.



Author
Alvin Chua




References
1. Feng, Z. K. (2012, June 6). Grande dame of Botanic Gardens dies. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Choo, H. (Interviewer). (1982, August 4). Oral history interview with Lady Percy McNeice nee Loke Yuen Peng [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 000190/04/01, p. 3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2. Chan, D. (2007, June 2). Road named after a man with rags-to-riches story. The Star. Retrieved from The Star website: http://www.thestar.com.my/story/?file=%2f2007%2f6%2f2%2fcentral%2f17821154&sec=central; Choo, H. (Interviewer). (1982, August 4). Oral history interview with Lady Percy McNeice nee Loke Yuen Peng [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 000190/04/01, pp. 1–3, 7–10]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2007, November 16). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/01, pp. 1, 7–11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Mainly about Malayans. (1934, July 1). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Mr Khoo Teik Ee and Miss Loke Yuen Peng will be married today. (1937, January 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dr Loke Yew’s daughter weds KL barrister. (1937, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; KL wedding. (1937, February 2). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2008, January 8). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/02, pp. 21–24]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
6. Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2007, November 16). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/01, pp. 12–15]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Memories at Old Ford Factory. (2014, March 13). History. Retrieved from Memories at Old Ford Factory website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/moff/AboutMemoriesatOldFordFactory/History.aspx
7. Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2008, January 8). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/02, pp. 26–30]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Page 6 advertisements column 1. (1947, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Sharp, I. (1996, April–June). The Lady’s got style. Nature Watch, 4(2), 10–14 (11, 14). (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 NW); Ex-City Council head Sir Percy McNeice dies. (1998, February 12). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Choo, H. (Interviewer). (1982, August 4). Oral history interview with Lady Percy McNeice nee Loke Yuen Peng [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 000190/04/04, pp. 29–30]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2008, January 8). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/02, pp. 50–52]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Puckridge, V. (1956, January 16). Meet S’pore’s newest Lady. The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ex-City Council head Sir Percy McNeice dies. (1998, February 12). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Choo, H. (Interviewer). (1982, August 4). Oral history interview with Lady Percy McNeice nee Loke Yuen Peng [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 000190/04/04, pp. 30–34]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2008, January 8). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/02, pp. 52–55]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
11. Choo, H. (Interviewer). (1982, August 4). Oral history interview with Lady Percy McNeice nee Loke Yuen Peng [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 000190/04/04, p. 35]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Puckridge, V. (1956, January 16). Meet S’pore’s newest Lady. The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; This little pig went to a fashion show. (1983, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2008, January 8). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/03, pp. 61–63]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
13. Puckridge, V. (1956, January 16). Meet S’pore’s newest Lady. The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. King cables ‘sincere condolences’. (1964, June 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Loke leaves his millions to his two sisters. (1964, July 12). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Choo succeeds Dato Loke as Cathay chairman. (1964, July 21). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Choo, H. (Interviewer). (1982, August 4). Oral history interview with Lady Percy McNeice nee Loke Yuen Peng [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 000190/04/03, p. 24]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
17. Sharp, I. (1996, April–June). The Lady’s got style. Nature Watch, 4(2), 10–14 (12, 14). (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 NW); Prince Bernhard: We must save the vanishing species. (1973, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wong, A. (1991, September 3). Conservation is serious business for this lady. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Choo, H. (Interviewer). (1982, August 4). Oral history interview with Lady Percy McNeice nee Loke Yuen Peng [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 000190/04/04, p. 35]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Lee, P. (Interviewer). (2008, January 8). Oral history interview with Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice [Transcript of Audio Recording No. 003259/03/03, pp. 56–60]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. (2012, June 5). Lady McNeice Yuen-Peng, RIP. Retrieved from National University of Singapore website: http://nusbiodiversity.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/lady-mcneice-yuen-ping-rip/
18. Tinsley, B. (2009). Gardens of perpetual summer: The Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, pp. 88, 98, 101, 176, 179. (Call no.: RSING 580.735957 TIN); Sharp, I. (1996, April–June). The Lady’s got style. Nature Watch, 4(2), 10–14 (13). (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 NW); Jalelah Abu Bakar. (2009, April 4). Helping Botanic Gardens blossom. The Straits Times, p. 78. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Dutch award for Singaporean. (1999, February 11). The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Six awarded for their environment protection efforts. (2004, June 5). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
21. Feng, Z. K. (2012, June 6). Grande dame of Botanic Gardens dies. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
22. NParks dedicates heritage trees to major Garden Fund donors. (2004, July 1). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
23. Cheah, U.-H. (2009, April 4). See how my garden grows. The Business Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Sadiah Ahmad. (1987, August 30). Difficult for this lady to part with her Leicaflex. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Giam, S. (1961, September 7). Sir Percy to show his slides tomorrow. The Singapore Free Press, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tofield, A. (1984, March 12). Talk on China’s plant life. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wong, A. (1991, September 3). Conservation is serious business for this lady. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Feng, Z. K. (2012, June 6). Grande dame of Botanic Gardens dies. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
28. NUS Development Office. (2014, February 24). Lady Yuen Peng McNeice Graduate Fellowship to help budding researchers. Retrieved from National University of Singapore website: http://news.nus.edu.sg/highlights/7375-lady-yuen-peng-mcneice-graduate-fellowship-to-help-budding-researchers
29. Chan, D. (2007, June 2). Road named after a man with rags-to-riches story. The Star. Retrieved from The Star website: http://www.thestar.com.my/story/?file=%2f2007%2f6%2f2%2fcentral%2f17821154&sec=central; Puckridge, V. (1956, January 16). Meet S’pore’s newest Lady. The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Feng, Z. K. (2012, June 6). Grande dame of Botanic Gardens dies. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.




The information in this article is valid as at 19 November 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. 

Subject
Nature
Community and Social Services
Personalities
Nature and Environment

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