Thursday, 4 October 2018

In memory of Mrs. Clingeleffer

Mr John Clingeleffer of Cabarita Beach, New South Wales, shares memories of his beloved mother Heather Clingeleffer nee Graham.  Many BBGSians from the 1950's will remember her as BBGS' first science teacher who was responsible for building our curriculum and laboratories; under the headship of Miss Mary Glasgow.  She met her husband Jack while serving in BBGS from 1948 - 1960 and continued her teaching career when she returned to Australia.  Mrs Clingeleffer passed away on 1 June 2018 at Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australia.  

Thank you, John, for your generosity in sharing the eulogy and photos.  

BBGSians who remember Mrs Clingeleffer, please share your memories in comments or email me directly at

Mrs Clingeleffer (on the left of guest of honour) at the opening of the BBGS Science Labs

"Good afternoon and thank you for coming to remember the life of Heather Elizabeth Agnes Clingeleffer.

Apart from knowing that she was born on the 17th of November 1921, not a lot is known about Heather's childhood.  We do know that she completed her leaving certificate at St. George Girls' High School in Sydney in 1938 with honours in Modern History and Biology.  She then went on to Sydney University where she studied maths and science.  After graduation, she took up teaching in various locations in New South Wales.

In 1948, Heather received the call from missionaries in Kuala Lumpur to go and teach in Malaysia.  She answered this call and left the safety and stability of life in Australia to take up a teaching position at Bukit Bintang Girls' School, known as BBGS, in Kuala Lumpur in, as it was then known, Malaya.  BBGS had been established in 1983 by Betty Langlands as a Brethren school initially to teach young girls to read.  Despite the school's longevity, Heather was to become their first science teacher.

This was not a safe time to travel to Malaysia.  Following the end of the Japanese Occupation in September 1945, the Malayan Communist Emergency started in June 1946 and continued for over a decade.  During the emergency, travel outside the capital could be fatal with regular attacks by bandits.  Getting away from the emergency to highland retreats was often undertaken but even walks in the surrounding jungle could result in unexpected encounters with the local fauna.  This was a far less controlled environment than it is today.

Heather enjoyed her time at BBGS and living in Malaysia.  While there, Heather met her future husband, Jack, and after their marriage she moved from the young women's boarding house into a home on Ampang Road complete with amahs, a gardener and driver.  But, with the push for independence from the British empire, Malaysia was becoming a less pleasant place for foreigners to live.

After independence in 1957, and also due to a decline in Jack's health, in 1961, we moved back to Sydney Australia.  We initially stayed with Heather's brother Boyce and his wife Lorna and soon after that, we rented a flat in Artarmon, where, as it was assumed at the time, Heather would simply stop being a teacher and become a housewife.  It soon became clear to us all that Heather's progression from life in her parent's house, to various catered boarding situations, to a home in Kuala Lumpur with servants, had left her singularly unprepared for domestic duties.

She applied for and got a job as a teacher at Abbotsleigh Girls' School where she worked happily for many years.  The students at Abbotsleigh were graded on perceived intelligence, from White at the bottom of the scale through to Red and Green to the top level of Blue.  Heather would frequently be given the White students because she didn't look down on them and treated them all equally.  Heather revelled in frequently getting to outperform the higher levels.  Many times when I returned home from school in the afternoon, there would be some of Heather's students at our house receiving extra tuition.

Mrs Clingeleffer with her family in Australia 

After Artarmon, Jack and Heather moved several times: Warrawee, Wahroonga abd hen in 1976 to what I think was Heather's favourite, Collaroy Plateau, where they lived very happily for 13 years.  After my sister Mary was taken ill in 1987, Jack and Heather moved to Broke in Hunter Valley to be of assistance.  They initially stayed in a caravan, then in a house Jack build at the rear of Mary's residence; then in a couple of houses in Singleton.  I am fairly certain that not all aspects of this nomadic existence excited Heather.  During this period, Jack and Heather also spent time as stand-in caretakers at Camp Kedron.

In 2001, with Mary's health much improved following a kidney transplant from her cousin Helen, and Mary's sons Duncan and Leon much more self sufficient, Jack and Heather moved to Ocean Grove, partly to spend more time with their fourth grandchild Katie.  It also meant Jack and I could play golf more frequently.

Sadly after this move Heather's decline started.  She had a stroke in 2001 from which she never fully recovered.  In January 2007, she lost of her husband of 58 years, Jack and in 2016, she lost her youngest daughter, Debbie.  Both deaths were sudden and unexpected and had a negative impact on Heather's well-being.  Shortly after Debbie's death, Heather had a fall resulting in injuries that required her to go into permanent care at Sea Views Manor  This is where she passed away late on the evening of Friday, the 1st of June, after spending her last day with her granddaughter Katie who is halfway through a medical degree.  Heather was a teacher to the end

What memories do I carry of Heather?

Heather was always curious an in retirement kept her mind active with cryptic crosswords, Scrabble and Sudoku.  Her knowledge was very broad and amazingly deep.  When I went for my first job in computing, I was asked during the interview if I was conversant with Hexadecimal arithmetic.  I said, yes, of course I was.  After leaving the interview, I went straight round to see Heather and she sat me down and explained how the hex worked,  After that instruction, I was able to undertake the job with confidence.

I still wonder how Heather would have progressed through academia if she had been a man.  I comfort myself with the thought that while academia may have missed out on Heather's intellect, hundreds of girls whom she taught at BBGS and Abbotsleigh benefitted from it."

Saturday, 29 October 2016

An evening with old friends

Last night, I invited the BBGS Class of 1987 to my new home. As I looked around at the faces of friends I've known for over 30 years, my heart was very full. We grew up in the era of Cantopop, TVB dramas, Spandau Ballet and MacGyver.  Although our conversations now revolve around kids, work and Korean dramas, we are tied together by shared memories of innocence, discovery and growth. We thought we knew each other well but there's so much more to learn. 

Thanks for the laughter and warmth, dear friends.

Here's to another 30 years! 

Monday, 13 July 2015

Farewell, Miss Yeap

UPDATE: Memorial service for Miss Yeap Gaik Khoon on Sat, 1 Aug 2015 at 4pm, Jalan Gasing Gospel Hall. 

I'd like to encourage all BBGSians who grew up under Miss Yeap's watch to make a donation to the ECEF.  Please tag your donation "In Memory of Ms Yeap Gaik Khoon" so that the administrators can keep track of the funds and announce the collective amount. I will start the ball rolling with a donation of RM5000 today. 

Details of donations to ECEF a can be found here:

Roslinah Daud (Class of 1988) attended Ms Yeap's memorial wake in Seremban and shares her experience with us.  

Kar Hue and I managed to visit Ms Yeap on Sunday 12th July 2015. She passed away on Saturday morning at her brother's house in Seremban after 4 and a half years of sickness due to concussion from a snatch theft outside a church in PJ.
She had not been well recently due to pneumonia and had been in and out of the hospital. Listening to her sister-in-law's story of her last moments brought tears to our eyes. She died an easy death as she was well at the time Kamala left her to go to get some diapers in Shah Alam. Only after 15 minutes she was gone, Ms Yeap had really bad cough and phelgm but there were signs that Kamala noticed in Ms Yeap's behaviour; in that she was always staring at Kamala with tears in her eyes in the past few weeks...and once when Kamala patted her hand, Ms Yeap patted Kamala's hand using her other hand, like she knew she was going to leave.

Anyway, soon after Kamala left the house and Ms Yeap said BYE, she received a call from Mr Yeap. Mr Yeap was called by the maid as Ms Yeap was coughing really badly. While he was tending to her, her head bowed slowly to the front and when Mr Yeap tried to straighten it, her head went to the back. That's when Mr Yeap knew she was gone but still did not give up. He called Kamala to.convey the news and was asked immediately to bring her to the hospital.

When they reached the hospital, the doctor and nurses were already standing by...and they checked on her while she was still in the car and confirmed that she has passed on.
According to Kamala, Ms Yeap's body will be cremated tomorrow, Monday 13th July 2015. 
Goodbye Ms Yeap. Thank you for all you have done to BBGS. 
Nisi Dominus Frustra.

Roslinah and Kar Hue (far right) conveying our condolences to Miss Yeap's family

Saturday, 11 July 2015

In Loving Memory of Ms Yeap Gaik Khoon

UPDATE: Memorial service for Miss Yeap Gaik Khoon on Sat, 1 Aug 2015 at 4pm, Jalan Gasing Gospel Hall. 

I'd like to encourage all BBGSians who grew up under Miss Yeap's watch to make a donation to the ECEF.  Please tag your donation "In Memory of Ms Yeap Gaik Khoon" so that the administrators can keep track of the funds and announce the collective amount. I will start the ball rolling with a donation of RM5000 today. 

Details of donations to ECEF a can be found here: 

In loving memory of Ms Yeap Gaik Khoon, Headmistress of BBGS from 1980 - 1993, who passed away on Saturday 11 July 2015.

"O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells
Rise up - for you the flag is flung - for you the bugle trills
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths - for you the shores a-crowding
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning"

- Walt Whitman

I read this poem as a tribute during Ms Yeap's retirement dinner in 1993.  It seems appropriate to share it once again in memory of a loving woman who was my teacher, my headmistress, my cheerleader, my mentor, my friend.

The memory of her sitting down to cry together with me over my SPM results will forever be etched in my memory.  It was a simple act of kindness that made me realise that she was not only an authority figure, she was my friend.

Thank you Miss Yeap, and Farewell.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Candle 40: Loke Ying Lee

The following letter is from one of my juniors, Loke Ying Lee (Michelle) who wrote in response to my last blog post.  I am honoured that she has chosen to share her story on this blog, warts and all.  Our lives are enriched by the different paths we take, and there is no one "perfect" template in our quest to become all that God has created us to be.

Michelle Loke Ying Lee with her beautiful daughter, Chloe.

Dear Joanna

This is Loke Ying Lee, ex BBGS, 1979 - 1989 and perhaps I should have stayed to do sixth form at BBGS just like you.

I just read the story about your 1989.  I was touched by your courage to finally tell your story.  I felt that your year seems to have been a particularly fine vintage.  Perhaps it is the effect of juniors looking up to seniors.  You might have bemoaned your physical appearance.  I always thought you and Tomasina were equals as shining lights for the rest of us.

For a very long time, I kept my silence about my story.  It hasn't been anything nearly as glorious or glamorous.  Far from it.  I made mistakes, some of which led me to end up as a single mum.  But I am learning to forgive myself.  And I understand now, why you have been collecting BBGS stories.  Here is mine:

I wasn't supposed to go to BBGS.  In the dying days of 1978, my Singaporean aunt dragged my mother to see a school government official and somehow persuaded him to re-assign me to BBGS.  Asian tiger aunt at work, even then!

Being a born blur sotong, I got lost on my first day of school, Standard 1.  I couldn't find my way back to class after recess.  I'm pleased to say that my geography classes (thank you Mrs Abraham) helped me somewhat.  I can now read a map and have successfully navigated (more of less) my way around three continents.

By the time I got to Form 1, I still had a lisp, and couldn't pronounce 's' at the end, as in 'ass'.  That year, we had Mrs Aziz for English.  I was sufficiently terrified and respectful of her that I instinctively rewired my brain to address her correctly as 'Mrs Aziz', rather than 'Mirthirth Athith', which would have drawn such a petrifying glare from her that I would not have progressed to Form 2 to receive my much needed geography lessons.  So thank you, Mrs Aziz for the instant elocution lessons.

Choral speaking was, of course the main activity which we BBGSians learned to present, and speak well.  I don't remember being any good personally, but I do remember having superb tutors (haha - you!) and we sailed through those friendly competitions.  Thinking about it, this was probably what taught me to appear confident at presentations in later life.  

Perhaps the most painful part was growing up, and finally understanding the disparity in wealth levels among the little girls who had grown up together.  I estimate probably 80% of my graduating class of '89 (Form 5) went abroad to study.

I wasn't, am not, all that smart.  I didn't have a scholarship to fall back on.  Being poor and stupid is an unfortunate combination.  However, I had learned two more skills from BBGS:  sheer tenacity and the most useful - how to cook (thank you Miss Yeap for convincing me that cooking is better than learning to balance the books).  With that, I eventually graduated with a degree in Law and a Financial Analyst charter, survived in the world of asset management and raised a reasonably healthy daughter on home-cooked meals.

Looking back, I am grateful my aunt engineered my move to BBGS.  My regret is that I have been away for more than 20 years during which time the school has been demolished and most of my classmates have dispersed to the four corners of the earth.  I haven't given back at all.

This has been my story.  And now with my daughter at Uni, I begin my 'second life'.  If anyone wants to contact me, they can look me up at  I might be a bit different (older, for a start) from what they remember but there is still a bit of the dorky, blur sotong Ying Lee in me.

Nisi Dominus Frustra