SINGAPORE: Local academic and sporting legend Dr Arumugam Vijiaratnam died in his sleep on Thursday morning (Feb 18). He was 94, and leaves behind three daughters and a son.
His only son Vijendran Vijiaratnam, 55, told Channel NewsAsia that his father had woken up at 6 plus in the morning to have breakfast before going back to sleep. About an hour later, Mr Vijendran went to check on him and noticed that he had stopped breathing. An ambulance arrived shortly after and Dr Vijiaratnam was pronounced dead.
Mr Vijendran said his father was diagnosed with lung cancer two months ago, had been suffering from asthma, and underwent a heart bypass surgery 40 years ago, but was otherwise “healthy and in perfect shape”.
“I was shocked. My father was still having three cups of coffee a day - with sugar - and eating everything, like nasi goreng, and could walk with a walking stick. And did you know he only stopped driving when he was 90?” said Mr Vijendran, who went on to cite his father’s “countless” and “incredible” academic and sporting achievements.
"A BRILLIANT LIFE"
Dr Vijiaratnam remains the only Singaporean to represent the nation in four different sports - hockey, football, rugby and cricket - at international level. The feat is published in the Singapore Guinness Book of Records.
Of note is Dr Vijiaratnam’s participation at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in hockey, which made him Singapore’s oldest surviving Olympian until his passing.
Dr Vijiaratnam was also a force to be reckoned with in academia. In 1953, he returned from overseas studies as Singapore’s first engineer, and went on to collect a laundry list of pioneering accolades including being the first Asian Vice-President of the UK’s Institution of Structural Engineers, and the first Pro-Chancellor of Nanyang Technological University.
According to Mr Vijendran, his father was also mentioned in founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs, as one of the engineers involved in Singapore’s first reclamation works and who made Changi Airport a reality.
“With so much limited time in our daily lives, I still can’t see how my father managed to do so much. It’s impossible, I tell you,” said Mr Vijendran, who is married with two children. “Despite being involved in so many things, he was still a full-time family man who raised four kids to all become professionals who are now doing well.”
He added: “My father also taught all his children and grandchildren maths - in fact, all of us scored distinctions because he tutored us!”
“For him to pass in his sleep, I think that’s all each and every one of us wants. He had 94 and a half years of a brilliant life, doing things people can’t do in their 60s, 70s, let alone 50s.”
Dr Arumugam Vijiaratnam’s wake will be held at 5 Maryland Drive.