Stella Kon: Family Background

Stella’s brothers are Lim Su Min, Su Chong and Su Hui, her sister is Sing Lim of Jitterbugs Swingapore. She has two sons, Mark Kon and Luke Kon, with their own wonderful families: Oliver, Harry and Ella Kon in  Harrogate, UK, and Madeleine, Catriona and Sebastian Kon In Stydney Australia.

 

Stella’s great – grandfather was Dr Lim Boon Keng. Born into a Nonya-Baba family,  a Queen's Scholarship winner at Eaffles Institution, trained as a doctor in  Britain, and learning classical Chinese late in life, he epitomised in himself the various strands that make up the Peranakan heritage. Reformer, educator and legislator, he was one of the most influential men in Singapore’s history. He wrote, taught, lectured and campaigned  on a variety of social causes, and served for over twenty years on the Legislative Assembly of the colonial Government of Singapore.  He was co-founder of the Straits Chinese Association – the progressive, Westernised grouping of the ”loyal Queen’s Chinese”, which was the forerunner of the Peranakan Association. He tried to foster ties between Singapore and China, and held a post from the last Emperor of China. He founded the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School; Stella’s father, Lim Kok Ann, was born in his house at 2 Emerald Hill Road, which later became the site of the School.

At the age of 52, Lim Boon Keng went to China to spend the golden years of his life in the difficult and challenging position of President of Amoy University.  He returned to Singapore before the Second World War.  When the Japanese occupied Singapore, Lim Boon Keng was forced to become Chairman of the Singapore Chinese Overseas Association; his work with the Japanese authorities  cast an unjustified shadow over his name which remained till his death in 1957.

 

Stella is also a descendant, through her maternal grandmother, of  well-known  Philanthropist Tan Tock Seng.

 

Tan Kim Ching, a grandson of Tan Tock Seng,  was a prominent member of the Straits Chinese community, with links to the court of the King Of Siam; when a tutor was wanted for the young prince, Tan Kim Ching helped to  introduce Anna Leonowens.

 

Tan Boo Liat, Kim Ching’s son,  built a mansion at Pender Hill which still survives, which he named “Golden Bell” after his father Kim Ching.  In “Emily of Emerald Hill,” Tan Boo Liat’s expansive life-style is memorialized in the character of family patriarch,  Mr Gan Eng Swee.

 

Tan Boo Liat’s daughter,  Polly Tan, married a Singapore banker, Seow Poh Leng.  Poh Leng was one of the westernized, progressive Babas who gathered around Dr Lim Boon Keng in the Straits Chinese Association.  He was a body-builder and an amateur actor, a romantic who named his houses with titles from Shakespeare – “Titania” for his Siglap property, and “Oberon” for his house  at 117 Emerald Hill Road, where he and his friends would hold evenings of singing and music.   His stage performances were immortalized in the earliest reviews of Singapore theatre, in Song Ong Siang’s “100 years of the Chinese in Singapore”.   His love for the theatre was transmitted to his daughter, Rosie Seow Guat Kheng. 

 

Polly Tan,  Stella's grandmother, was a woman of great charm and energy.   Educated at Raffles Girls School, she could sing songs such as "old Black Joe and accompany herself on the piano. Before the war she ran her big household with the competence of a corporate manager, entertaining the top levels of Singapore society.  During the Second World War the family fled to Perth in Australia, en route to which Seow Poh Leng died.  After the war Polly returned to the devastated Oberon and made it once more a home for the extended family -- until by the late 1960's the family moved out, and the mansion was sold and replaced by the condominium Emerald Mansions.

 

Seow Poh Leng’s name, together with the names of Dr Lim Boon Keng and Tan Boo Liat, appears on the founding documents of Singapore Chinese Girl’s School.  It was perhaps not surprising that after the death of Seow Poh Leng’s first wife, he married the grand-daughter of  Tan Boo Liat – Polly Tan. A generation later, their daughter Rosie Seow made a love-match with Lim Kok Ann – the grandson of Lim Boon Keng. 

 

Lim Kok Ann, like his grandfather Lim Boon Keng, had been studying medicine in Edinburgh as a Queen’s Scholar when the Japanese invasion of Malaya began.  When Rosie's family fled Singapore to go to Australia, she boarded a boat to cross the oceans imperilled by war, to join her fiance in Scotland (A great romantic story.)  They were married in Edinburgh  Stella was born in sight of the crags and castle of Edinburgh, and named Sing Po (Stars & Ripples)  in remembrance of distant, war-ravaged Singapore..

 

Kheng Lim, as Rosie was known after marriage,  became a noted actress in Singapore in the 1950’s. In 1952 she had the opportunity to spend a year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where she garnered high praise although not able to complete the entire course of study.

 

Stella remembers seeing her mother’s roles as Desdemona, in the old Teacher’s Training College in Cairnhill which is now the Cairnhill Arts Centre; as Ariel in an open-air production, directed by Peter Wise, in Alkaff gardens where Serangoon Gardens estate later rose; and as Silver Stream, in a production of Lady Precious Stream in the old Victoria Theatre.  Stella was a theatre kid who watched rehearsals, and often held the prompt book while her mother learned her lines.  Kheng was a great theatre buff and took her family to many shows.  She taught Drama as an ECA in Bartley Secondary School, and Stella learned much from watching these classes.