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Benjamin Henry Sheares, GCB, (12 August 1907 – 12 May 1981), was the second President of Singapore.

Early lifeEdit

Benjamin Sheares was born the second of six children in Singapore to a Eurasian family with an English lineage. His father Edwin H. Sheares, a technical supervisor of the Public Works Department, was born in England and raised in India. Edwin later migrated to Penang and married Singapore-born Lilian Gómez, of Chinese Singaporean and Spanish descent, and had six children - the first died in infancy. Life was hard for the Sheares family with the meagre salary that Edwin received from his post.[1]

As a young child, Sheares was affectionately known as Ben or Bennie. He was a quiet boy who kept much to himself and loved to play at Pierce Reservoir, where his father worked.[2]

He had a close relationship with his sister Alice and often loved to play doctor with her. On one occasion, he made Alice swallow a one-cent coin as a medical "pill" in their game. Benjamin was six years old then and received a good hiding from his mother Lilian. Throughout his growing years, Benjamin showed ambition to become a doctor - a dream deemed almost impossible for someone who was Asian and came from a poor family in the early colonial days of Singapore. However, Alice continued to spirit him on with that dream, against his mother's wishes for her son to take up a job as a clerk and start helping out with the family bills as soon as he completed his Senior Cambridge Examinations (O-Level equivalent).[1]

Sheares attended the Hwa Chong Institution and then in 1918 went to Saint Andrew's School, Singapore. In 1922, he transferred himself to study at the Raffles Institution, the only school equipped with scientific laboratories - making it an ideal place to further his ambition to become a doctor. In 1923, he enrolled into the King Edward VII College of Medicine (a predecessor of the National University of Singapore) to begin his medical training. But he knew too well that his family could not see him through the hefty school fees afforded by the College, and he won a generous scholarship offered by the Council of the Medical College with his exemplary academic performance. With this quantum, he was able to give $50 monthly to his mother for the support of his family.

He continued to excel in his studies and was awarded four medals by his College. Later, he passed his Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O&G) final examinations with distinctions. Upon graduation and working as an obstetrician in the Kandang Kerbau Hospital and a professor at the University of Malaya he continued to support his family, and assumed full responsibility for his family when his father died in 1940.[1]

One of Sheares' main contributions to medicine was a technique to create an artificial vagina for those born without one. A modification of it is still used for sex change operations today.[3]

Sheares was also the first Chancellor of the National University of Singapore.

PresidencyEdit

Benjamin Sheares became Singapore's second president on 2 January 1971. His mother was 91 years of age when she learnt that he had become President of the Republic of Singapore. Just two weeks before she died, she said "God has blessed Bennie especially after the way he looked after us and me."[1] Sheares held the office until his death in 1981. He was buried in the Kranji State Cemetery. C. V. Devan Nair succeeded him as President.

The Benjamin Sheares Bridge is named after him, as is a student's residence hall, Sheares Hall, in the National University of Singapore; and a college at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School[4][5]

NotesEdit

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Further readingEdit

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