On October 17, the Shangri-La Singapore ballroom was business as usual: A constellation of couture-clad society ladies and penguin suited gents. But over and above the fabulous frocks and champagne clinking, the evening was shot through with real heart, as Her World magazine toasted its new Woman of the Year and Young Woman Achiever for 2014.
Indeed, for all the pomp and pageantry, the night was far from stuffy. Instead, what stood out was a sense of all-abiding love for society and family, starting from the gala dinner’s Guest of Honour, Ms Sim Ann, Minister of State, Ministry of Education and Communications and Information.
Ms Sim Ann’s opening speech, for one, closed with a particularly poignant anecdote about her son: “One day, I received a handwritten letter mailed to my home. I almost never receive such letters anymore, so it really was quite a surprise. It turns out to have been from my 10-year-old son.”
“His Chinese teacher had given his class an assignment to write a letter to their parents and mail it home. And this is what he wrote to me: ‘Mama, I know that you are always very busy but I hope that you can rest more and take care of your health, so that you can help more people’. I thought I would share this little message to the women here today. We all work hard and are very busy; we’re passionate about doing our best work, and also we want to take the best possible care of our loved ones. I think we should all remember to take care of ourselves, too, because only that way can we continue to make a difference to others.” Really sweet, yes.
Then there’s the almost unbearably heartbreaking catalyst behind Her World Young Woman Achiever Sim Chi Yin’s pursuit of, as she puts it, a “meaningful way to live”. Speaking at the gala dinner, Chi Yin spoke of her incredibly moving family history: “Subconsciously perhaps, and in retrospect, another person influenced me from afar: My paternal grandfather.Living most of his life in Malaya, he stood up and spoke for his community during the Japanese Occupation and ended up being arrested and tortured by the Japanese.”
“He was later arrested by the British, chose deportation back to our ancestral village in east Guangdong and joined the Chinese Communist guerilla army up the hills, fighting for what must have been his ideal: A fairer society. In July 1949, he was unlucky to run into some rival Nationalist KMT soldiers and was later killed in a mass execution. He left a heartbroken wife and five young children behind in Malaya, his death a pivot in the family’s life.”
The rest – Chi Yin’s quest to document the disenfranchised in society through the compassionate filter of her camera lens – is history, as they say, and the reason why she’s Her World’s Young Woman Achiever for 2014.
As for Her World Woman of the Year, Rachel Eng – advocate for gender diversity in the workplace, managing partner of a leading legal firm and smasher of what was once considered an impenetrable glass ceiling – she says her hubby is her constant cheerleader: “Dennis encourages me to push myself to the fullest. He supports me when I am offered a promotion, he allows me to continue travelling during pregnancy, and he doesn’t stop me when I travel to any remote country for work. Whenever I am called away for urgent work, he and my children will try to work their schedule around mine.”
You know what they say: Behind every successful woman …
At the end of the evening, I was left with a good sense of just who Rachel Eng and Sim Chi Yin were: Singaporean sisters bound by a soul-stirring sense of commitment to doing what they know to be right. Incredible individuals in their own right, and well deserving of their newly minted status.
Congrats, both! We’ll sign off with this video retrospective of the awards ceremony—with a little extra by way of our champs revealing their pick for personal woman of the year thrown in for good measure!