Sir George Edward Noel Oehlers

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia

Oehlers, Sir George Edward Noel (b.1 April 1908, Singapore - d.27 October 1968, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), better known as Geno Oehlers, was the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Singapore. Oehlers was in several significant civic posts such as Municipal Commissioner and Chairman of the Public Utilities Board. A lawyer by training and profession, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1953. In 1958, he became the first Eurasian in Singapore to be knighted.

Early Life
Oehlers was born to the family of George Rae Oehlers and Francis Maude Clarke. He received his early education at St Andrew's School and Raffles Institution, where he was Head Prefect from 1927 to 1928. In 1928, he left for England to read law, and was called to the English Bar at Gray's Inn in 1931.  

Legal Career
Oehlers returned to Singapore and was called to the Singapore Bar on 2 March 1932. He started his legal career as an assistant with the law firm Claude Da Silver, and rose to become partner. During the Japanese Occupation, he went into solo practice until the Kempeitai captured him in February 1944. After the war, Oehlers resumed his legal practice as partner of Da Silva, Oehlers & Choa. When da Silver retired from the partnership a year later, Oehlers was made senior partner and the firm was renamed Oehlers & Choa.

Civic Contributions
In 1936, Oehlers was made Municipal Commissioner, and he served in that capacity until the Second World War in 1941. He was reappointed in 1947. When the City Council was established, Oehlers sat as a nominated member until 1954, when he stepped down from the role in view of his impending appointment as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1955. Oehlers served two terms as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly from 1955 to 1963. From 1963 to 1964, he became the Speaker for the Sabah Legislative Assembly and also helped to set up the Sabah Legislative Assembly. In 1963, Oehlers was also appointed as Chairman of the Public Utilities Board. In 1965, Tunku Abdul Rahman invited Oehlers to form and head the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal in Kuala Lumpur. The tribunal was subsequently known as the Industrial Court.
In the course of his civic career, Oehlers had also contributed to the work of various committees such as the Raffles Museum and Library Committee, the Silver Jubilee Fund Committee, the Advisory Committee (T.B. Treatment Allowances) and the Queen's Scholarship Board. For his outstanding contributions, Oehlers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1953, and was knighted on 15 July 1958.

Other Contributions
During the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Oehlers was president of the Eurasian Association. However, he gave up his involvement with the Eurasian Association due to his heavy commitment as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Oehlers was also a talented sportsman and was particularly adept at long jump, cricket, football, volleyball, and hockey.  During his younger days, Oehlers headed both the Singapore and South Malayan hockey teams, and was made President of the Singapore Hockey Association from 1946 to 1965, and Vice-president of the Malaysian Hockey Association from 1965 to 1968. Oehlers was also one of the founding members of the Singapore Olympic and Sports Council. Oehlers served as the President of the Singapore Recreation Club from 1955 to 1965, and was instrumental in opening the club to non-Eurasians.

Oehlers passed away in Kuala Lumpur on 27 October 1968.  

Oehlers married Daphne Eleanor Pye on 20 April 1940.  They had five children: Jillian, Lynnette, Harry, John, and Catharine. Daphne Eleanor Pye passed away on 15 April 1960, and Oehlers remarried on July 1965 to Annie (Nan) Tessensohn née Flynn, a widow.

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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. 

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