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Education, Singapore

Wong Kim Hoh
Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

Education, Singapore

'I've had a good life'

The Straits Times | Wong Kim Hoh | Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

Left: Mrs Mangalesvary Ambiavagar (centre), the former principal of Raffles Girls' Primary School, standing before her 100th-birthday cake at the Singapore Swimming Club yesterday.

Mrs Mangalesvary Ambiavagar scrunched her 100-year-old face into a grimace and pronounced that she does not get involved in things like Facebook and Twitter.

"They will lead to trouble," the centenarian intoned before letting out a girlish giggle.

She does, however, log onto her computer every afternoon to play a game or two of FreeCell or Solitaire.

"I always lose at Solitaire so I don't like it so much. I can't seem to master the art of playing it right," she articulated in the crisp English which comes so effortlessly to many educated during Singapore's colonial era.

Of sound mind, a steady gait and a full set of teeth to boot, Mrs Ambiavagar is a remarkably fetching poster girl for ageing.

Her memory is impressive and her hearing as sharp as her wit.

Asked if she watched television and was a fan of local sitcoms, she said she much prefers watching the news, thank you very much.

The feisty woman - who reads the newspapers from cover to cover each day - has always been quite the individual.

Born in Jaffna when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon, she was the third of six children of an auditor and his wife and came to Malaya as a baby as World War I was breaking out.

She defied the social conventions of her Ceylon Tamil community to train as a teacher in Kuala Lumpur in the 1920s. She settled in Singapore after she married an educator in 1933, and went on to become headmistress of several schools including Raffles Girls' Primary, Bedok Girls' and Balestier Boys'.

After she retired in 1969, she took up golf, learnt how to use a computer at 80 and, at 83, wrote her autobiography, Three Scores And 20.

She gave birth to six children. Two died: her third daughter during infancy in 1947 and her eldest son, a doctor, in 1977, aged 42, after choking during a meal. Of the remaining four, two are doctors, one a teacher, and one a lawyer.

They gave her six grandchildren who in turn blessed her with six great-grandchildren.

Yesterday, more than 120 of her loved ones and friends flew in from all corners of the globe - the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Malaysia - and gathered at the Singapore Swimming Club to belatedly celebrate the colourful life of Mrs Ambiavagar who turned 100 on Feb 7.

They tucked into gado gado, mee siam and crispy chicken as her eldest daughter, Dr Indra Pathmanathan, 77, presented a slide show chronicling the key events of her voluminous life.

Her second son Rajen, 72, flew in from Louisiana to deliver a funny speech about how his mother had the good humour to correct and teach in the most effective way.

The surgeon told of the time he staggered home drunk as a 15-year-old one day after his friend taught him how to celebrate Chinese New Year with more than just mandarin oranges.

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