Mr Tay Gan Tin was born in Singapore, and entered the University a year after classes first started, becoming one of our earliest graduates in mechanical engineering in 1918. While he was able to get some practical training as an undergraduate in the Taikoo Dockyard, and also in the University’s own power station, in which he served as a student demonstrator for four years, his practical experience was mainly acquired after graduation in various workshops in the United States. He finally returned to Singapore in 1922, and has since spent his life there with shipping firms that ferry cargo and passengers between Amoy and Rangoon, and all main ports in the Eastern Archipelago. For most of us a ship is something to have a holiday on, something we try not to be sick on, and something full of people who somehow look quite different on land. For Mr Tay Gan-tin a ship is a large piece of complicated machinery which periodically has to be scraped and painted and intimately investigated in a boiler-suit, something whose creaks and vibrations at sea are clear indications of sickness or health. But he has much more to give to ships and shipping than his skills as an engineer. Organising ability and business acumen ultimately led him to positions of management and direction, and his concern of the welfare of seamen has been expressed in extensive humanitarian service. He was, for example, a member, representing the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, of the Singapore Commission on the Manning of Ships, whose recommendations improved conditions of Native Masters. He was also a member of the Commission which led to the formation of the Seaman’s Registry Board in Singapore, which has eliminated many of the iniquities previously practiced in engaging crews. He has also served on the Seaman’s Lodging House Licensing Authority, and is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Royal Malayan Naval Volunteer Reserve dealing with questions affecting the welfare of personnel. His appointment as member of the Singapore Harbour Board from 1946 to 1955 was the longest in the history of the Board, and terminated only on his retirement. As an Unofficial Justice of the Peace in Singapore since 1946, he makes regular visits to the prisons, the Opium Curing Centre, and the quarantine station on St. John’s Island.
In 1958, Mr Tay Gan Tin was elected Associate Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. The following year he was designated Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). He has always been an active member of the University’s Alumni Association in Singapore, and was elected its President in 1945. In 1957, he followed another honorary graduate, Dr Soo Hoy Mun, in serving as President of the University’s Pan-Malayan Alumni Association. Today, Your Excellency, it is the University’s pleasure to put him in the same boat as Dr Soo, and confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.
Citation written and delivered by Professor D Barker, MA, DPhil, the Public Orator of the University.