Obituary: Teresa Hsu = R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Posted on 14 December 2011

Thank you, Teresa Hsu, you will always be the coolest person in Singapore. Because of you, our faith in humanity shall be restored.

Thank you for your kindness. You will be missed. Photo is an image still courtesy of TEDxSingapore and Mezze Film.

Singapore’s oldest woman and super volunteer Teresa Hsu has passed away.

According to an announcement on the Heart to Heart website, Hsu departed peacefully at her home on Dec. 7 and was cremated on the same day.

Strict instructions were passed down to withhold announcements of her demise from the media.

Even in death, she was caring and considerate, insisting in a notice signed by her close friend and co-worker Sharana Rao, stating she did not want any ceremonies performed that would “cause disturbance and inconvenience to others”.

An avid yoga practitioner and vegetarian, the 113-year-old Hsu was awarded several accolades for her work, such as the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre’s Special Recognition Award (2006) and the Sporting Singapore Inspiration Award for her teaching of yoga (2004).

Her work with the needy was born out of her personal experiences growing up very poor and witnessing the plight of others who were less well-off.

In Heart to Heart with Teresa Hsu, her authorised biography published earlier this year, Hsu remembers being “very poor and very hungry” to the point that she resorted to eating grass when she was seven years old.

That experience left a lasting impression.

Up till the point when she was more than 90 years old, Hsu was at Heart to Heart, an outreach unit in Singapore, where she and her co-worker Sharana Rao, 62, look after the needs of 13 single elderly folks and four needy families in Singapore, giving them basic food and money for rent, utilities, travel and companionship.

Monetary donations are also given to help 47 visually-impaired children and teenagers in Ho Chi Minh.

Hsu was born in 1898 to a poor but caring family in Kak Chioh Swatow, a tiny village in the Guangdong province of China.

Her “wake up call”, as she described it in her recently-released biography, came in 1933 in Hong Kong. She was in her mid-thirties.

Hsu came across a beggar asking for food just as she had attended a lavish company dinner.

She described this experience as giving her “great pain in my heart” as she was witnessing the suffering of a fellow human being.

Hsu decided from then on, she would donate her money to the underprivileged rather than spending it on herself.

At that time, she spent an average of only 30 cents a day for food and drink, giving away the remainder of her money.

In the 1940s, Hsu, who was in her 40s by then, joined the Friends Ambulance Unit. Her duty was to look after 20 young men and acted as their translator in China during the Second World War.

After four years, she boarded a cargo ship headed for England to study at the London Royal Free Hospital.

Her determination and desire was so impressive that she was accepted into the three-year course meant only for those aged between 17 to 25.

During the summer breaks, Hsu worked as an exchange volunteer with the International Voluntary Service for Peace in Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Norway and Demark.

She later joined the Society of Brothers in Paraguay where she worked in a hospital giving medication, injections and attending to women’s health problems.

The Society was a haven for Jewish refugees from Hitler’s persecution. There were 2,000 residents on the grounds.

Besides her hospital work, Hsu would also deliver food to lepers living on the outskirts of the town everyday.

She also gave out medicine and food, meant for society members, to the poor and sick. This frequently got her into trouble with the Society.

Subsequently, she returned to China after eight years.

And in 1961, Hsu moved again. This time to Singapore with her mother to live with Ursula Khow, Hsu’s elder sister who was a school principal.

Hsu continued her social work in Singapore, serving first as an nonsalaried matron at Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital for about three years.

Later, she opened an old folks’ home in 1965 on a piece of land in Jalan Payoh Lai.

Khow funded the project as it cost $150,000. Called the “Home for the Aged Sick”, it started with just seven elderly residents but quickly expanded to 250.

At that time, Hsu was also caring for 26 needy families and single elderly folks through her outreach unit, Heart-to-Heart.

After 20 years at the home, Hsu retired. She turned her attention to Heart to Heart, where she spent her final days tending to the welfare service she was at for more than two decades.

Her tireless work and indomitable spirit never made retirement an option.

In the Yahoo! News interview she gave in July, Hsu stressed: “No temptation can come into my house. I have work to do, I am not diverted.”

Her message to young people today: “Go all out to help those who don’t have the basic needs. See that nobody needs to go hungry.”

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  • Humbled

    Our Ministers and Politicians should learn from this great lady. She is the true meaning of greatness.  To me she is the true mentor, not some nepotistic greedy politican who claims credit for everything good and keeps blowing his trumpet and refuses to go away.

  • Touched

    “Strict instructions were passed down to withhold announcements of her demise from the media… she did not want any ceremonies performed that would “cause disturbance and inconvenience to others”.”
    Right up to her death, she was still thinking of others…
    She must have touched many hearts with her many good deeds…probably enough to write many books…but, chose to go away quietly…
    True Greatness!
    Anyone thinking of writing an autobiography ought to ask himself/herself :”Have I contributed to the world more than what Teresa has done?”.  If not, please save some trees!

  • 123

    compared to that former president of ours, this great lady was a million times better