My Tribute to Mrs Bertha Neo, Former Principal of Rosyth School


I suppose it is somewhat unusual for a student to pay tribute to a school principal as opposed to paying tribute to a teacher, as the student-teacher relationship is one far closer than that of student-principal relationship, but this is different. Mrs Bertha Neo nee Tan, who passed away on 30 June 2012, was the former principal of Rosyth School where I spent my last year of primary school education in 1977. She retired from the education service in 1978, after an illustrious career spanning almost 40 years.

In 1976, I had done poorly in my Primary Five Chinese examinations while studying in Catholic High School (a Chinese stream school) and had little or no chance of getting into English stream secondary school of my choice. Thus I had to switch streams at a relatively advanced age of eleven, and had been rejected by the school my brothers went to. I was however accepted by Mrs Neo at Rosyth School, which already had a reputation of being a humble neighbourhood school that produced exceptional students.

It was a late December morning in Mrs Neo office where I was to write an essay about myself and my dreams.  After a somewhat paltry effort, she looked at the piece of paper that I had produced and proclaimed to my mother and I, "There is lots of room for improvement." I was grateful to be accepted and that was that. Primary Six in Rosyth School proved to be one of the most important years of my education. 

The teachers, no doubt inspired by Mrs Neo's dedication and single-minded, ensured that there were no muck-ups in preparing for that all-important Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), that determined pretty much your fate in secondary school.  Mrs Mary Lau was a hard taskmaster in Mathematics and Science, and the infamous Madam Saroja Sellasamy made an impression in the mastery of the English language. From the latter, I received my first and only public caning - 5 strokes of the handy feather duster. The transgression? Misspelling "night" (as in Saturday night) with a capital N! All that just spurred me to a being a rather obsessive stickler with spelling, punctuation and the like (quite useful preparation for the future Editor of BraviSSimO! and music reviewer for The Straits Times). I also represented my school in Swimming (winning several  silver medals), and Mr Neo (husband of the Principal) was one of my coaches. For a coach, he was surprisingly laid-back, even buying us ice-cream and drinks after each training session! 

It was not a great surprise when Rosyth School (which for years had to endure the jibe of being referred to as "Roadside School") became selected by the Minstry of Education to be one of Singapore's few schools to house the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). The humble school soon moved out of its small premises at Rosyth Road into much bigger grounds. With Singapore's dwindling birth rate, many primary schools have  become defunct, or get merged with others, Rosyth School still stands strong and proudly as a testament to the importance of a good early education.

I enjoyed my Primary Six but that had to end sometime, when my future at Raffles Institution loomed ahead.  I will never forget my teachers, fellow classmates and friends, and Mrs Neo for the kindness she showed to one 11-year-old.

The service was presided by Mrs Mary Lau, former Rosyth School teacher, now the ordained pastor of the Mennonite Church of Singapore.
The old students of Rosyth School sang the school anthem (the one that goes "The boys and girls of Rosyth School, we march one thousand strong..."), accompanied by its composer and former teacher Janet Chee.

Re-united after 35 years, Mrs Lau was my form-teacher, who taught me the all important subjects of Mathematics and Science during my crucial PSLE year in 1977. I passed.

With Mrs Caroline Heng (sister of Mrs Neo) and Ms Ada Ponnappa (who succeeded Mrs Neo as Principal of Rosyth School from 1978).