She's a human dynamo at 89
Chinese Women's Association president Betty Chen puts many others half her age to shame
Age does not stop Mrs Betty Chen, 89, from living a life more active than that of people half her age.
Said the president of the Chinese Women's Association (CWA): "I have a zest for life because I keep myself busy."
The mother of four, whose ages range from 55 to 65, said her children have been asking her to catch her breath.
Her husband, Mr William Chen, 94, a retired architect, has given up trying.
She chuckled: "They have not been able to stop me. My husband has accepted the fact that I do not like to stay at home all day."
Here is a list of what Mrs Chen does in just one week:
• Attends luncheons
• Organises charity galas
• Attends cultural exchanges
• Attends classes
• Hosts dinner parties
• Replies to e-mails
Said Mrs Chen: "I have always been taught by my mother to share my blessings with others."
Mrs Chen is the daughter of the late Mrs May Wong, a tireless fund-raiser and longest-serving president of the CWA. She led the organisation for 28 yearsuntil her death in 1989 at age 90.
Said Mrs Chen: "I had absolutely no plans for continuing in the association after my mother's death. But after she passed away, I thought of all the old people at Henderson Home and how she had spent so much time looking after them, so I decided to continue in her footsteps."
Mrs Chen took over the presidency of the CWA in 1990 and has been serving for 26 years and counting.
Under her presidency, the association has raised millions of dollars for charity and bodies such as NTUC Eldercare Trust, the National Museum and St Andrew's Mission Hospital.
In 2010, the CWA handed over management of Henderson Home to NTUC Eldercare.
Said Mrs Chen: "I was sad to hand it over, but there was nobody to take over from me.
"But the CWA remains 'friends' with the Home. We organise outings and lunches for the elderly every month."
When asked for her thoughts on young people doing social work, she said: "I am very pleased to find that many young people these days are finding time to help the needy.''
She urged them: "Continue volunteering your time and support those who are less fortunate than us."
Another aspect of Mrs Chen's energetic lifestyle is attending classes.
Every Tuesday, she attends Mandarin class with other members of the CWA at the association.
She said: "We have a teacher who comes in for two hours.
"We learn how to express ourselves in Mandarin by having conversations about current affairs."
Mrs Chen said that lifelong learning is her answer to ageing gracefully and meaningfully.
She lives above the association, located at an old condominium at Gilstead Road.
She said: "I am interested in the world around me and curious about all the things that are changing very rapidly."
Mrs Chen added that talking to people and learning about their experiences is something she enjoys very much.
"We have members from all over the world. They talk to me about their countries, their food, and culture."
She laughed: "It is like learning without the travelling!"
To get friends her age out of the house, Mrs Chen invites them to charity parties.
She said: "They ask me, 'why do you bother doing all this?'
"But people get depression if they stay cooped up at home. I wish they could do the same and go out more."
The New Paper also spoke to Mrs Chen's secretary, Miss Low Yitleng, who is in her 50s and who has known Mrs Chen for 27 years.
When TNP initially requested to interview Mrs Chen at Henderson Home, she was more than willing to arrange it.
However, Miss Low later told TNP that having the interview at the CWA would be better.
She explained that it would be easier for Mrs Chen as she lives upstairs.
Said Miss Low: "She is always running all over the place despite being 89. We (her family and friends) are always trying to stop her. We are afraid she might fall and get injured."
She added that Mrs Chen has a sharp memory and remembers dates very well.
"She is a living example of someone living life to the fullest."
She chuckled: "I get tired just looking at her schedule."
A day in her life
9am Wake up
9.30am Stretching exercises
10.30am Answer many phone calls, respond to e-mails, get ready for events
11am Attend cultural exchange at Malay Heritage Centre
1pm Lunch at Malay Heritage Centre
2.30pm Attend Malay wedding at Malay Heritage Centre
7pm Host dinner party for friends
8pm Chat with friends and watch television
- President of the Chinese Women's Association (CWA) for 26 years and counting
- Board member of the National Museum of Singapore
- Survived breast cancer in 1991
- Chairman of Henderson Home for 21 years
- Editor of CWA Journal
- Received the Public Service Medal in 1993 for Public Service
- Under her presidency, the CWA raised $569,488 for St. Andrew's Hospital, which was matched by the Government through Community Silver Trust Fund, making a total of $1,138,976 for the hospital in 2015
- Represented Singapore at the International Conference on The Status of Women in Wisconsin in 1975
INSPIRATION TO ALL
Before the interview, Mrs Betty Chen requested for some of the questions to be sent to her.
She said firmly over the phone: "I want to be fully prepared for this interview."
Clearly a strong, focused woman, I thought to myself.
When we arrived at the Chinese Women's Association, Mrs Chen greeted us with a warm smile and a firm handshake.
She was indeed prepared for our interview, as she had all the answers to my questions printed on paper, one set for me and another for her.
Sitting across me at the dining table in a sleek black blouse, she looked polished, intelligent and full of energy. She looked 30 years younger than her 89.
Mrs Chen took immediate interest in my colleague and me. Throughout the interview, she took charge of the conversation, asking us about our dreams and aspirations.
She laughed heartily when she saw my colleague's backpack.
She said: "Why are you carrying such a heavy bag full of camera equipment? You are so petite!"
For the photo shoot, she stood beside a beautiful oil painting of her late mother, Mrs May Wong.
I stood in awe of the magnificent image of two powerful yet compassionate women beside each other. Mrs Chen was glowing under the gentle afternoon light.
Miss Low Yitleng, her secretary, was standing beside me the entire time.
She whispered with admiration: "Don't you think she looks so young?"
This sharp eloquent woman looked resplendent for her age.
I was humbled to sit across Mrs Chen, even for a fleeting hour, for her life, dedicated to charity, social work and active ageing, is an inspiration to all.
- ZACHARY SOH