Experts in human behaviour say that first impressions, once formed in the first 30 seconds, are often difficult to shake. When we first meet Lim Soo Hoon, we see a woman who takes no nonsense, is a little intimidating and keeps her distance. This isn’t surprising; after all, Soo Hoon, the winner of the Her World Woman of the Year 2006 award, is one of the top civil servants in the land.
The 48-year-old has a stellar CV: She’s the Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Division (PSD), in charge of setting human resource policies for more than 100,000 civil servants. She’s a former Colombo Plan scholar and has a prestigious Master’s from Harvard. She’s the chairman of the National Library Board. Oh, and she’s also made history as Singapore’s first ever female permanent secretary, who is the most senior civil servant in any ministry.
Yet, we later discover that behind her formidable portfolio lies a lot of heart. It’s a rare find indeed: A head honcho who isn’t afraid to shed a tear or two, and expose her all-too-human vulnerabilities lest other people think any less of her.
The 48-year-old speaks openly of her personal trials and tribulations with refreshing candour, of her teenage son’s current battle with the cancer that has returned after barely two years in remission, and of her Christian faith that has buoyed her through the hardest times. Throughout, her words convey a sense of genuine sincerity and warmth.
This honesty rings clearest in her book, Sam: A Mother’s Journey of Faith. Published last year, it is a collection of e-mails sent to friends detailing her anguish while her son Samuel, or Sam, as he is known to family and friends, suffered from the cancer that attacked his lymphatic system when he was 14. Her tale is simply written, and the intensity of her pain and the relief that follows is palpable.