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Life in the Sixties

Upon graduation, my father, now Dr Chan, house-jobbed and MOed at the Singapore General Hospital. His stint in Aenesthetics under George Tay led to an interest in pharmacology and its applications in medicine.

Before I delve into my father's medical career, it is also noteworthy that he briefly volunteered in the Singapore Military Forces (like his father in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force) as a Lieutenant in 1962; this was before Singapore gained independence and its brief merger with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.



In 1963, my father won a Colombo Plan scholarship and proceeded to University College London for post-graduate studies in Pharmacology. His research culminated in a Master of Philosophy and a fascinating dissertation on the effect of drugs on the central nervous system of rats. Since then, he has published several articles which, interestingly, are available for viewing on the internet. These include:

  • Chan OL, Webster RA. "Importance of noradrenaline found in a functional pool in maintaining spontaneous locomotor activity in rats." Br J Pharmacol. 1971 Apr;41(4):700708.
  • Chan OL, Webster RA. "Effect of tetrabenazine and alpha-methyl-m-tyrosine on exploratory activity and brain catecholamines in rats." Br J Pharmacol. 1971 Apr;41(4):691699.

Having joined the Department of Pharmacology in the newly-founded Faculty of Medicine in the University of Malaya under the Academic Staff Training Scheme in 1964, my father is regarded as one of its pioneers and taught there while continuing with his research. Today, he is acknowledged in the University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) as the earliest Head of the Department of Pharmacology. A fitting tribute that he is referred to here as Professor Chan Onn Leng, since during his time, the title of full professorship eluded him owing to the university policy of those days. Fortunately, things have changed.


2nd May 1964

While in London, my father invited his young sweetheart, Khoo Suan See, from Penang to join him there and they got married on the 2nd May 1964. One of my father's best friends, Lim Ban Siong, recalls meeting my mother, in tears with nervousness and excitement, at the airport in Singapore on route to London.

It must have been an interesting time for the two newly-weds over there, going to the market to buy fish head (the butcher thought they had many cats), picking up a bit of Cockney from the locals, among other things.

On Good Friday the 24th March 1967, the first child of my parents, Su Mei, was born in the Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya, back in Malaysia. My parents were extremely fond of her, as the numerous cards, photos and journals on her first few years testify. My father collected stamps and first-day covers, and had many of them addressed to her. In his memos to my mother, my father frequently referred to her as "the little rascal".

My father returned to London for a second time to continue with his research. My mother remained in Malaysia to look after Su Mei. They corresponded with one another very much as the voluminous aerogrammes and postcards testify.


COBRA

Back in Malaysia, my father did much to encourage sports locally. He concentrated on promoting rugby among school-leavers, and, to this end, was actively involved in the founding of COBRA (Combined Old Boys Rugby Association) in 1967. Perhaps his greatest legacy to rugby was the introduction of the Ten-A-Side in 1969, which he lived to see take off and become accepted officially in rugby tournaments on a regular basis. 2009 is the 40th anniversary of the COBRA 10s. Apart from being one of the founding members of COBRA, my father served as its President from 1976 to 1980.


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