Navroji R. Mistri

Navroji R. Mistri (b. 3 June 1885, Bombay, India–d. 29 October 1953, Singapore) was a prominent Parsi entrepreneur who made his fortune selling soda water in Singapore. Known as the “godfather of the poor” or the “bachelor godfather” of Singapore’s poor children, Mistri donated a large part of his wealth towards the improvement of medical services in Singapore. The Mistri Wing of the General Hospital (now Singapore General Hospital), which housed the paediatric wards, and Mistri Road in Tanjong Pagar are named after him.1

Born in Bombay, India, and trained as an engineer, Mistri worked with the Royal Indian Marine Dockyards in Bombay before coming to Singapore in 1909. He was employed by Sir John Aird & Co., and was involved in the building of the graving dock at Keppel Harbour. Thereafter, he worked at Riley, Hargreaves & Co. (later renamed United Engineers Ltd.) for a brief period before joining fellow Parsi, P. M. Framroz, in his aerated water business as a manager in 1913. Mistri left the company after a decade to start his own soda water factory called Phoenix Aerated Water Company in 1925. This soured his relations with Framroz, as Mistri had signed an undertaking promising that he would not start a similar business upon leaving the company. The matter was brought to court and the case ruled in Mistri’s favour. The relationship between Mistri and Framroz remained strained for many years and was only restored in the days leading up to Mistri’s death. Meanwhile, Mistri’s business grew and became very successful. His soda water was sold all over Malaya and in the region. In 1931, Mistri acquired G. H. Café Ltd. and became its managing director. With his wealth, Mistri purchased the Caldecott Hill Estate for over $900,000 after the Japanese Occupation (1942–45).2

In June 1952, Mistri, who had been a patient of the General Hospital, donated $950,000 to the hospital for the building of a third-class ward for non-paying patients. On his single largest donation, Mistri explained: “I cannot bear to think of sick children, and their mothers lying on the floors of hospital wards... because of shortage of space and funds... I donated my recent gift of $950,000 because I thought it my duty to do something for Singapore’s children.” Prior to this donation, Mistri had donated $50,000 to the University of Malaya for the purchase of medical equipment for research.3

With Mistri’s donation, the government built a $1.5 million block for sick children in the General Hospital in 1955. The four-storey building, named Mistri Wing, had two paediatric units. Mistri died in 1953, before the new children’s wing was completed. The foundation stone for the new wing was laid by his brother H. R. Mistri in 1954. Buried beneath the foundation stone was a container of articles that represented his late brother’s interests. These included a Rotary Club banner, a golf ball, the University Gazette, the previous day’s newspaper and Malayan notes and coins. In 1956, H. R. Mistri presented a bust of his brother to the hospital, which was placed at the entrance to the Mistri Wing. Today, the Mistri Wing houses the National Heart Centre.4

Mistri died on 29 October 1953, at the age of 68, after a period of prolonged illness. The funeral was held at his home on Grange Road, and he was buried at the Parsi Cemetery. In his will, he bequeathed $1 million, or half of his estate, to charities in Malaya and Bombay. The funds were managed respectively by the Mistri Singapore Trust and the Mistri Bombay Trust. The objective of the Mistri Singapore Trust was to help poor children in Singapore, provide scholarships and aid impoverished tuberculosis sufferers. The rest of Mistri’s estate was distributed among family members, friends and employees. In honour of his contributions, Mistri Road was named after him in 1955.5

In 1947, Mistri received the King’s commendation for brave conduct and services rendered to British prisoners-of-war in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45). The award was received under the name Noel R. Mistri.6

Father: Rustamji Ookerji Mistri

Brother: Hormasji Rustamji Mistri
Sister: Shiranbai Pagdivala (alias Shirinbai Framji Paghriwalla)
Step-brothers: Bapoo Rustamji Mistri and Sohrab Rustamji Mistri7

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. Tan Shzr Ee, “Parsi Thy Name Is Charity,” Straits Times, 11 July 2004, 4; “‘Godfather of the Poor’ Dies,”Straits Times, 30 October 1953, 2; “Mr Mistri, Man Who Thought of Everyone,” Straits Times, 22 November 1953, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Quak Seng Hock, “Paediatrics in Singapore: The Early Days,” Annals Academy of Medicine, Singapore 34, no. 6 (July 2005): 128C; Who’s Who in Malaya, 1939: A Biographical Record of Prominent Members of Malaya’s Community in Official, Professional and Commercial Circles (Singapore: Fishers Ltd., 1939), 100 (Call no. RCLOS 920.9595 WHO-[RFL]); Hairani Hassan, “Flame of the Faith,” Heritage: A Quarterly Newsletter of the National Heritage Board 10, no. 3 (July–September 2004): n.p. (Call no. RSING 069.53 H); Rutton Patel, oral history interview by Daniel Chew, 1 August 1983, transcript and MP3 audio, 27:48, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 0002032), 64.
2. Tan, “Parsi Thy Name Is Charity”; “‘Godfather of the Poor’ Dies”; “Caldecott Hill Estate Sold for $912,500,” Straits Times, 9 October 1946, 5; “Colony Gets $950,000 Gift,” Straits Times, 14 June 1952, 1; P. M. Framroz, “Soda Water Amenities,” Straits Times, 11 December 1925, 10; “Appeal Court,” Straits Times, 21 November 1924, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Rutton Patel, oral history interview, 1 August 1983, 40–41; Behramgore Ratanshaw Vakil, oral history interview by Daniel Chew, 30 July 1983, transcript and MP3 audio, 27:11, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000297), 87–88; Who’s Who in Malaya, 1939, 100.
3. “‘Godfather of the Poor’ Dies”; “‘Godfather’ Mistri Praises Sunday Times Fund,” Straits Times, 7 December 1952, 1 (From Newspaper); “Colony Gets $950,000 Gift”; Quak, “Paediatrics in Singapore,” 128C.
4. “‘Godfather of the Poor’ Dies”; “Mistri Is Honoured,” Straits Times, 14 November 1956, 7; “Lady Black Opens Hospital Wing: $1,500,000 Block for Children,” Straits Times, 15 October 1955, 4; “His Dying Wish to Become True: Stone Laid for Hospital Wing,” Straits Times, 3 March 1954, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Quak, “Paediatrics in Singapore,” 128C; Lee Yong Kiat, “The 1926 General Hospital, Singapore,” Annals Academy of Medicine, Singapore 34, no. 6 (July 2004): 53C, 59C.
5. “Man Who Thought of Everyone”; “‘Godfather of the Poor’ Dies”; “The Dining Parsis,” Straits Times, 30 January 1955, 3; “Mistri Left $1 Million on trust for Charity: Probate of Will Granted,” Straits Times, 21 November 1953, 1; “Funeral of Mr. Mistri,” Straits Times, 31 October 1953, 7; “Page 12 Advertisements Column 2,” Straits Times, 14 June 1957, 12; Rutton Patel, oral history interview, 1 August 1983, 42– 4; Behramgore Ratanshaw Vakil, oral history interview, 30 July 1983, 92 – 11.
6. London Gazette no. 38036, 1 August 1947; “‘Godfather of the Poor’ Dies.”
7. “Man Who Thought of Everyone”; Tan, “Parsi Thy Name Is Charity.”

The information in this article is valid as of 2017 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.

Navroji R. Mistri, 1885-1953