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Former chief hailed as ‘irreplaceable pillar of institutional memory at APSN’

SINGAPORE — A witty gentleman who spoke the Queen’s English, who championed services and support for those with intellectual disabilities for 40 years without expecting any reward and who had an “elephant’s memory”.

Former chief hailed as ‘irreplaceable pillar of institutional memory at APSN’

Dr Chen was APSN president from 1995 to 1997 and from 2009 to 2012. Photo: APSN

SINGAPORE — A witty gentleman who spoke the Queen’s English, who championed services and support for those with intellectual disabilities for 40 years without expecting any reward and who had an “elephant’s memory”.

Those were among the ways Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) emeritus president and pioneer founding member, Dr Francis Chen Chia Kuang, was remembered last evening at his wake at St Joseph’s church. Two members of APSN’s human resources committee also said he was a careful steward of public donations and had made it a point to personally know all the volunteers in working committees that reported to the board.

Dr Chen, who would have turned 77 yesterday, died on Thursday. He was APSN president from 1995 to 1997 and from 2009 to 2012. The APSN, which provides special education to those with mild intellectual disability, paid tribute to him over the weekend.

It said Dr Chen was “there from the beginning” from 1976 — when APSN was known as the Association for Educationally Subnormal Children — raising funds and establishing the association’s curricula and frameworks.

When approached at his wake, Ms Seet Chor Hoon recounted that a group of staff, including Dr Chen, attended the Asian Federation on Intellectual Disabilities conference in Sri Lanka last year. Dr Chen was “no-nonsense” and ensured that money for the trip was used well. The group also visited sheltered workshops for those with intellectual disabilities while in Colombo, said Ms Seet, who knew Dr Chen for six years.

He remembered the names and backgrounds of everyone who volunteered on APSN’s committees, said Ms Molly Ang, who knew Dr Chen for two to three years.

“He’d always make me feel very welcome and very valued. Every time he saw me, he remembered my name and he’d always say, you look very pretty today, you look very nice today,” she said. “He didn’t take things or people for granted.”

At the APSN dinner and dance a few weeks ago, he displayed his impressive memory during a quiz, knowing the answer to every question posed on APSN’s history, recalled Ms Ang and Ms Seet.

Others who hailed Dr Chen via APSN’s media tribute statement had equally high regard for the man, who also taught neurophysiology at the National University of Singapore.

“With 40 years of dedication, Dr Chen has been the irreplaceable pillar of institutional memory at APSN,” said APSN president Victor Tay, who described him as the architect of the “modern approach to mildly intellectual and special needs education”.

National Council of Social Service deputy chief executive officer Tina Hung said: “In the two decades I had the privilege of working with him, I have known him to be a soft-spoken but avid champion for persons with intellectual disability.”

APSN runs four special education schools, a student care centre and a Centre for Adults, from only one school in 1976. Ms Seet credited Dr Chen with APSN’s expansion of services to the post-secondary phase of life. While its schools are funded by the Education Ministry, APSN raises its own funds for its Centre for Adults, established in 1997 to provide continued vocational training and preparation for open employment from age 17 to adulthood.

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