Ling Siew May

Ling Siew May (b. 1937, Shanghai, China - d. 30 July 1999, Singapore), wife of President Ong Teng Cheong, and principle partner in Ong & Ong Architect until she took over the company in 1993 upon her husband's election as President. Her notable architectural achievements include the preservation and restoration of Chijmes.

Early life
The 4th of 6 children, she was sent to an orphanage when the Japanese Occupation prevented her father from returning. He had been posted to a British firm in Singapore where he worked as a clerk but had lost touch with the family during World War II.. Two of her brothers died during the war. By 1948, her father traced the family and brought them back to Singapore where she enrolled at an English and Chinese school concurrently, to enable her to master both languages.

Siew May met Ong Teng Cheong at a Christmas Party when she was a mere 15-year-old and he, 16. They shared a common love for reciting poetry and later they opted to study architecture together at the Australian Adelaide University. In 1963, the year she graduated, she married Ong Teng Cheong.

1951 - 1956 : Nanyang Girls' High where she excelled as an essayist, mathematician and calligrapher.
1957 - 1963 : Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Adelaide, Australia, the first asian woman to do so.

Under Ong & Ong, the projects that she was directly involved in included Great World City, the award-winning restoration and redevelopment of Chijmes, John Hancock Tower and Emerald Gardens condominium. Her last project had been the new campus for Nanyang Girls' High School, her alma mater.

1971 : Set up Ong & Ong Architects with Ong Teng Cheong whom some note was the more artistic
1972 : Principal partner with Ong & Ong Architects

Social Contribution
She was a patron of at least five charities and associations, such as the Girl Guides but had a soft spot for her alma mater Nanyang Girls' High School, where she served on the board of directors and to which she donated more than S$2 million.

She also set up a S$250,000 Ong & Ong Travel Fellowship at the NUS School of Architecture which allowed students to travel beyond Singapore and explore new architectural vistas.

As a child she was struck by rheumatic fever, leaving a heart valve permanently damaged. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in January 1997 and by July 1999, it was in an advanced stage. Her last public appearance was at the President's Charity Ball on 9 July at which President Ong gave a piano recital for an audience of 650 people. She died at 11.25 am on 30 July 1999 at the National University Hospital.

At her cortege, girls from the Nanyang Girls' High Choir tearfully sang Zhu Guang Li De Ma Ma, or Mother in the Candlelight.

Bonny Tan

Dignified farewell for the First Lady. (1999, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 1.

First lady dies at 62. (1999, July 31). The Straits Times, p. 1.

Goodbye Siew May. (1999. August 4). The Straits Times, p. 24.

A working first lady. (1999, July 31). The Straits Times, Home, p. 50. 

The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we can 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.

Presidents' spouses--Singapore--Biography
Women architects--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Ling, Siew May, 1937-1999
Community leaders
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises

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