SHE’S the only practising doctor in Parliament and for over 34 years she plied her medical trade in the heartlands of Tanglin Halt Road.
Dr Lily Neo (above, right) ranks as the longest serving woman Member of Parliament for 22 years and rightly so, the Tanglin Halt Clinic serves as a gathering spot for residents, majority from the lower-income group..
They simply adore and trust her as she goes beyond her duties as a general practitioner.
More than aches, pains and other common ailments, she also offers a caring listening ear to family or financial concerns.
But she finally called it a day and switched off the lights in the iconic clinic in one of Singapore’s oldest public housing estates, nestled between Queenstown and Commonwealth as it was time to go – ahead of a 2021 deadline to move out before the block gets demolished under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme.
MOVING TO NOVENA
Dr Neo is, however, not throwing in the medical-towel as she plans to share clinic-space at Royal Square Medical Suites in Novena, with her gynaecologist husband Ben Neo.
But with an exclusive new name: Lily Neo Clinic.
She was born in Medan, Indonesia, on August 12, 1953. She studied at Primary Thamrin Methodist School in Medan from 1961 to 1969. Thereafter, she attended Methodist High School in Penang and furthered her studies in Australia before graduating with MB Bch BAO; LRCPO and LRCSI Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1980.
She relinquished her Indonesian citizenship and has been a Singaporean for more than 35 years.
She deservedly earned her stripes as an MP because she spoke up with conviction in Parliament on issues such as community health screening and public assistance, which endeared her so much as a heartlander clinic doctor.
“Being on the ground to see and feel these things happening gives you the passion and conviction to bring them up in Parliament,” says Dr Neo.
With her easy manner and ability to switch effortlessly between English, Mandarin, Malay, Hokkien and a smattering of Teochew and Cantonese, it is no wonder she is very popular with her patients.
“Some doctors will talk to you very haughtily and don’t want to answer if you have extra questions. But Dr Neo is different,” retired supermarket packer Ang Hong Eng, 83, who has been seeing Dr Neo for the past three decades, told The Straits Times. “She will always listen to me and assure me if I have some condition I’m worried about.”
Since becoming an MP in 1997, Dr Neo, who is now with Jalan Besar GRC, has consistently pulled in well over 70 per cent of the vote share in her Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng ward in the past four general elections, said a party activist. Not bad for someone once dismissed as a “tai-tai MP”. During the last GE in 2015, the PAP team in Jalan Besar GRC scored 67.7 per cent.
But when it comes to her political career, she hints that it may be time for her to step back. After Punggol East MP Charles Chong, who entered politics in 1988, she is the longest-serving backbencher together with Bukit Panjang MP Teo Ho Pin.
Time to call it a political day before the next general election, which is due by April 2021?
The grandmother of five – aged between two and seven – confesses that she had already thought about doing so two parliamentary terms ago. She explains: “Backbenchers usually stay on for three terms, but this is already my fifth term. As a politician, I’ve overstayed my terms.”
But medicine will always continue to be her top priority especially in serving the lesser-fortunate heartlanders, most of them senior citizens.
What’s up, Doc?
“I will still like to continue with my medical practice. Medicine has always been my first love, and I took it up as I wanted to be more useful in life,” she says passionately.