I came across a short article on Prof Lim Kok Ann today while reading the Straits Times, commemorating the week he became Dean of Medicine at the National University of Singapore in 1965.

Prof. Lim Kok Ann in the Straits Times, 30th August 2015.
Prof. Lim Kok Ann in the Straits Times, 30th August 2015.

His signal achievement in medicine is remembered by few in Singapore now, but he was the first to discover and describe the virus responsible for the Asian flu pandemic in 1957-1958. There are many other achievements, including conducting the first clinical trials with the (then) new oral live attenuated Sabin polio vaccine (still recommended at ages 10-11 years as a booster in Singapore’s National Childhood Immunisation Schedule), and work on enteroviruses, to name but two others.

Excerpt from the 1957 Lancet paper on the Asian influenza pandemic in Singapore.
Excerpt from the 1957 Lancet paper on the Asian influenza pandemic in Singapore.

He is – perhaps justifiably – remembered more for his role in chess than medicine. Prof. Lim Kok Ann was the first Singapore champion in 1949 and also founded the Singapore Chess Federation that year. He tireless promoted the game thereafter, writing many articles on chess for the Straits Times and other periodicals during his time at NUS. After retiring from NUS in 1982, he rose to become the Secretary-General of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), working in Lucerne, Switzerland for 6 years.

Interested parties may find out more about the extraordinary Prof. Lim at the following websites:

  1. The definitive site is a posthumous blog set up by his children, containing his unpublished autobiography for his grandchildren.
  2. The other detailed article was written up by chess player and coach Junior Tay after his death, and it can be found here at the blog of Singapore’s current number 1 chess player Goh Wei Ming.

There will be two other works forthcoming, including an authoritative work on his achievements in chess by chess historian Mr. Urcan Olimpiu, who is based in Singapore and blogs here, while we will be putting up a far shorter piece for our SG50 project on infectious diseases in Singapore. The following photo of Prof. Lim playing Board 1 for Singapore vs. the Japanese team was very kindly provided by Mr. Olimpiu.

Singapore vs. Japan chess match (late 1960s or early 1970s), provided by Mr. Olimpiu Urcan. Prof. Lim is on Board 1.
Singapore vs. Japan chess match (late 1960s or early 1970s), provided by Mr. Olimpiu Urcan. Prof. Lim is on Board 1.

I knew Prof. Lim in the 1980’s as this old man who was difficult to beat over the chess board, only coming to realise the myriad achievements of his rich and meaningful life much later (the folly and inattention of youth!). I will always be grateful for his charity and efforts with junior chess players. He once chaperoned three Singaporean juniors (Mark Chan, Jeremy Lim and myself. I have lost contact with Mark, but Jeremy is a prominent public health doctor who is now the Asia-Pacific Head of Health and Life Sciences at Oliver Wyman) to Puerto Rico in 1989 for a world youth chess championship, and sat with us, window shutters closed, during a hurricane warning while at the tournament. Subsequently, he went on with me to Tunja in Colombia where I participated in the World Junior Chess Championship. I doubt my parents would have let me go to Colombia (the drug wars were at a height then) without someone like Prof. Lim as a chaperone! Teenagers can be really tiresome company but he tolerated me for those four weeks remarkably well.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with two of his children for the purposes of researching the SG50 project, and was again struck by what a truly remarkable man he was. He was indeed a man to whom the term “joie de vivre” would fit to a “T”. Hopefully, we will have an article for the project that will do justice to his remarkable career, especially to the less-remembered aspects of the medical half of his career.

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