‘Lam’s life was dedicated to RI. Put it this way, he didn’t really
have any personal ambitions, only ambitions for the school,
you sensed that everything he wanted was rooted in the
betterment of the school, never himself.’
– Mr Magendiran, Senior Deputy Principal, Student Development.
For many of the countless students who were taught by him, the ASEAN scholars who were under his charge during his stint as Boarding Master and his fellow colleagues in Raffles, Mr Lam Nam Soon (RI’75, 77) was all these, and more. A Rafflesian himself, Mr Lam’s 40-year relationship with Raffles Institution began in 1971 when he entered as a bright-eyed and intelligent Year 1 student who, according to his sister Doris Lam, had been
well-loved by his teachers in Whampoa English Primary school.
A talented judoka, he won many awards for the school in the annual Inter School Games, as well as for his house Moor in the Inter-House games. He came in tops in the Upper
Secondary Division of the RI Judo Meet, and also finished as Gold Medalist in the individual categories of the 1974 B ‘Div’ Inter School Judo Meet and the 1975 CHIJ Invitation. Mr Ong Chiau Jin, a Chemistry Teacher in RI who was Mr Lam’s junior when they were both students, recalls how, ‘His name was often announced, because the Judo boys frequently won the interschool competition and he would be the one presenting the trophy to the Principal.’
An active member in school as well, he held several leadership roles throughout his six
years in RI as Class Treasure, Class Monitory, Class Disciplinary Committee Member, Moor House Captain and Class Councillor. Equally adept at his studies, Mr Lam was also known for his prowess in Mathematics, receiving a prize when he was in Secondary Two for coming second in level for Modern Mathematics. He later represented the school in the
Nanyang University – Math & Computer Quiz in Pre-U One.
‘I first met Lam when we were trainee teachers in NIE. Even
then, you could feel his passion as a Rafflesian oozing out.
The way he spoke about the school, the Raffles T shirts he
wore and talking about going back to Raffles to help out with
Judo still. You could sense that he was a really true blue
Rafflesian through and through.’
– Mr Magendiran
His experiences in Raffles had a large impact on him, from his teachers to the school’s ethos, and these led him to pursue a path in teaching. Upon graduation from the National Institute of Education in 1984, he was posted to Raffles as a teacher for students in the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) and was, later assigned to head the GEP department. He also held various roles in the Student Development Department as well as a teacher-in-charge of the Prefectorial Board.
A patient teacher, he set aside time for special intensive math lessons for those students who were weaker in the subject in a bid to boost their grades before their ‘O’-Levels.
Daniel Li (RI’04, RJ’06), a recipient of one of these sessions described Mr Lam as a jovial and empathetic teacher who was firm but also knew when to take the foot off the pedal. ‘After our Preliminary Examinations, most of our parents and teachers were pressuring us to continue studying. But Mr Lam told us to take a break and invited us to his Boarding
apartment, where he had a really impressive theatre set up, to de-stress by watching a movie or two and that really helped us in terms of our long term preparation for the O Levels.’
As a former student judoka, he was naturally tipped to become Judo teacher-in-charge, that under his tutelage and guidance, took gold for both the ‘B’ & ‘C’ Divisions in 1991. To the judokas under him though, his influence went far beyond the title wins. The founder of Judo, Kano Jigoro envisaged that the practice of Judo, while conforming to the importance of efficiency in the execution of the techniques, to be a route to self-improvement and the betterment of society in general, and this was something that Mr Lam tried to impart to all his students. Eng Han Seng, current Dean/ CCA & Physical Education, shared, ‘When I was Sec 2, we were preparing for Y1 Orientation by setting up our booths to attract the incoming Sec 1 Rafflesians. We were all not terribly serious that day so one of the
seniors started telling us off for not being serious. But as he was also goofing around with us earlier, it felt weird that he was telling us off and some of us started to snigger. Mr Lam noticed it and came to tell us off and we were punished with physical training for quite some time.’
Yet beyond mere punishment, Mr Lam would go the extra mile to encourage his judokas, by trying to helping them to understand where they had veered off-course. As Han Seng
added, ‘After, Mr Lam came to myself and explained to me why I was being punished, and the importance of respect, that if someone is trying to be serious, we should respect that instead of being condescending and returning the favour with sniggers and a lack of respect.’
Another lesson which Mr Lam sought to impart to his judokas was to avoid complaining about the circumstances that they might find themselves in and instead to put in their best efforts and fight on. Judo competitions were not categorised by weight classes back then, which meant that the smaller- sized Judo team would often find themselves physically disadvantaged. His advice remains sounds: by training harder instead of complaining unproductively, a victory would taste that much sweeter. While a firm disciplinarian, Mr Lam also had his softer moments: during the 1988 Inter-School Championships, RI was uncharacteristically knocked out in the opening bouts of the
tournament by Balestier Hill Secondary School (who eventually finished champions), the team was devastated. Mr Lam took it upon himself to go around consoling not just the active team, but also their seniors. When some of the judokas later spotted their firm, macho teacher-in-charge quietly going to a corner and tearing at the loss as he shared their disappointment and sadness in the loss, they realised how much he felt for the team as well.
In 1992, RI began its plans to open a Boarding complex, responding to a rise in its numbers of ASEAN Scholars who were entering the school. Along with a few other teachers, Mr
Lam became the Boarding Master for one of the Moor House blocks, helping foreign students who entered RI to adapt to a new life, country and environment. On Mr Lam’s biggest contribution as Boarding Master, Mr Mag explained that, ‘More than anything else, Lam really set the standards and values for what it means to be a good boarding master. He role modelled what a good boarding master needed to be, such as the dedication he showed to the boarders, and that really helped with the initial buy-in during the early days of Boarding.’
As their guardian, mentor and teacher, Mr Lam frequently went out of his way to ensure that the scholars under his charge were able to get used to their new life, in part by trying
to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Almerick So, who joined RI in 2001 as a Secondary Three student , recalls his first experience with Mr Lam. ‘Our flight reached Singapore pretty late, so when we finally had dinner, the food that had been
packed for us had turned cold. Mr Lam felt bad that our first meal in Singapore was not an enjoyable one. The next day, he brought us all to Junction 8 and treated us to MOS Burger.’
It was not always fun and games for the scholars. The international scholars were naturally intimidated by him and always thought twice about being mischievous out of fear of being on the receiving end of Mr Lam’s wrath. The same ‘reward’ was also meted out to scholars who had underperformed academically. However, like how he dealt with his judokas, Mr Lam always made sure he sat down with his scholars to help them understand their transgressions, to become better versions of themselves. Thanks to his skill in Mathematics, the scholars also had an extra reason to respect him, recognising that this was indeed a teacher that was intelligent and not someone you could easily outwit or out-reason. Extra Math lessons were also conducted over the weekends for those who were weaker in the subject.
‘I think what really typifies Mr Lam for me is this –
in the world of technology now, every year he would still
meticulously write down everyone’s birthday in chronological
order. I think he went up to 4 pieces of A4 paper. He made sure
to wish everyone on their birthday, and if you were in school,
you’d get a cake, and that’s how much he valued the human
relationships he had with everyone.’ – Almerick So (RI‘02)
Many of the scholars who were under Mr Lam shared that their relationship with him had transcended that of ward and guardian long before graduation, and this was down to Mr
Lam’s heartwarming ability to keep in touch with everyone and looked after them year after year. Of course, not everyone developed a similarly deep friendship with him, but he was always fair to all of them and treated everyone equally.
Even with those relationships that did not develop further, Mr Lam often made sure that he had more than just a superficial understanding of the scholars and made them aware that he was not just there for them in school, but also a confidante for their personal issues in life. He would also reach out to their parents, enabling him to work with them better if their child ran into any problems in school. Whenever he knew or noticed a scholar having problems or discipline issues, he’d speak to them and try to get to the root problems and help them solve it.
Friday nights were also affectionately known as ‘Movie Nights’ by the scholars, as Mr Lam had built up a veritable library of Blu-Ray movies to facilitate the scholars learning of
English while being a source of entertainment. His time, energy and resources were often focused on those under his charge.
An avid foodie, Mr Lam would invest yearly in every edition of Makan-Sutra, reading it from cover to cover and then embarking on food hunting adventures. Almerick recalls
joining Mr Lam on a ‘Laksa Hunt’ once, tracking down different laksa stalls that had been recommended by Makan-Sutra, sharing a bowl of Laksa at every location. They concluded that their favourite stalls were the Katong 328 Laksa as well as the one in Holland Village, noting its more ‘lemak’ flavour.
Mr Lam also loved the Beach Road Hokkien Prawn Mee; he would often order several packets as a treat for as well as non-teaching staff. As his sister Doris Lam noted, ‘he was a very generous man that would rather have no money in his pocket, as long as everyone around him is well-fed and happy.’
Apart from food, other loves included singing and recreational travelling. He enjoyed singing and performing during Teachers’ Day concerts, singing his favourite Andy
Lau songs. China was also one of his favoured travel destinations, where he was occasionally hosted by parents of the scholars. On a lighted hearted side note, in the 1989 edition of the Rafflesian Times, he was voted ‘most elegant eater’, ‘most addicted to snacks’ as well as ‘best wardrobe’, the last accolade attributed in part to his impeccable dress sense that was always complemented with beautiful silk ties. Another
interesting piece of trivia – ever since mobile phones allowed one to personalise ringtones, his had always been the RI School Anthem.
‘Even when I came back as a teacher to RI, I still always felt
like I was Mr Lam’s student, he would notice when I wasn’t
myself and speak to me, to point out the positives instead of
letting the negatives fester and spiral out of control. If I was
feeling tired he’d bring me out for dinner to grab
some good food together and encourage me , telling me that I had done
my best’ –Eng Han Seng, Dean/CCA & Physical Education
Paradoxically, Mr Lam was always an introvert or as Almerick explains it ‘your typical Grade A Raffles nerd’ who didn’t always mix well with others, unless they were already
acquainted. To put it metaphorically, his door would always be open, and he would wave at you from there, but not everyone would be invited in.
But for those who had already entered, Mr Lam always had their interests at heart, sometimes ahead of his own. After his diagnosis in 2008 though, he began opening up to others a little more, especially to colleagues that he knew on a superficial level but had not really made an effort to know better.
Reflecting back as well, Almerick also shared that Mr Lam became more relaxed and more forgiving of himself, where he would previously dwell on issues, wondering if he could have done better, he was now more inclined to let it go and move on more easily.
Doris shared that towards the end of his life, Mr Lam often doubted himself, wondering if he could have done more in his life to impact a greater number of people positively. She often assured him that he had, pointing to the outpouring support that he had received from many of his former students and their families, as well as his fellow staff members, but it was only at his funeral that she genuinely was able to recognise the extent of how well loved he was.
She notes with a wistful smile, ‘Former students flew back from overseas and even some of the family members of his scholars were wondering out loud and blaming themselves for not doing more to help him survive his battle. When you have people who weren’t even related to you expressing that sort of love and anguish, I think you must have done something right in your life.’
Thank you Mr Lam, for your years of dedication to the school and the many Rafflesians that have been touched by your love and generosity.
Auspicium Melloris Aevi.
The Lam Nam Soon Scholarship was started on 26 November 2016 and will be awarded to a Rafflesian student in financial need throughout his or her 2 or 6 years with the school.
Whether big or small, your donation will help ensure that RI continues to be open to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds – that no student will be turned away because of financial need or difficulty.
To make a donation,
ONLINE (for donations of S$3000 and below)
Fill up our online donation form.
In the field ‘Gift Designation’, click on the drop-down menu and select ‘Existing Scholarship’.
In the next field, ‘Existing Scholarship’, type ‘Lam Nam Soon Scholarship’.
Complete the form and submit it online.
OFFLINE (for donations of any amount)
Via Bank Transfer, Credit Card or Cheque (crossed and made payable to ‘Raffles Institution). Download and print this gift form, and send the completed form to us via email (to email@example.com), fax or physical post. Should you be making your gift via Bank Transfer, kindly include your NRIC number in ‘Comments to Payee’ as part of your actual transfer. This will enable us to match the transfer to the information you’ve provided in the gift form.