Teresa Hsu Chih (许哲) was born in Swatow in 1898, during the Qing Dynasty, in an extremely poor family where her father abandoned the family. At aged 16, her family moved to Penang, Malaysia, where they found jobs as cleaners in a convent.
Teresa received her first formal education at 27, after joining the children classes at the convent. Eight years later, she left for Hong Kong and then Chongqing of China for a secretary job at a German news agency. By then, the Second World War had erupted on the full-scale, and the terrible sights of the wounded and casualties made Teresa determined to become a nurse.
When the Second World War ended in 1945, a 47-year-old Teresa went to London to study nursing for eight years. In the meantime, she also travelled around Europe to promote peace and help the needy. Teresa spent another eight years building homes for the aged and sick in Paraguay before returning to Penang.
In 1961, Teresa arrived at Singapore to become the matron of Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital. By then, she was already 61, but her dreams of helping the poor and sick were as strong as before. Four years later, she and her sister Ursula used their own money to start the Home for the Aged Sick. In addition, Teresa also bought several flats for the homeless.
By 1983, Teresa retired as the matron and left the home under the care by the Rotary Club. She continued her social works, setting up the non-profitable Heart-to-Heart Service to reach out for the single elderly, providing them with basic necessities and allowances. The talented lady, proficient in Mandarin, English, Malay, Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese, had no problems communicating to the old folks of other races and dialects.
Dedicated her whole life in doing social works and helping the needy, Madam Teresa was truly a great person who won the respect from all, and the perfect inspiration for others in helping the less fortunate of our society. The selfless centenarian did not stop her charitable role even after turning 110, where her life philosophy was “The world is my home, all living beings are my brothers and sisters, selfless service is my religion”.
On 7th December 2011, Madam Teresa, then the oldest living Singaporean, passed away peacefully at her Hougang home at an age of 113. She would be well-remembered by many for her legacy.
Published: 14 December 2011
Updated: 14 July 2019