updated 24 Dec 2010, 11:05
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Mon, Oct 11, 2010
The New Paper
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Poverty, cancer can't kill our love
by Maureen Koh

TO LOVE and to cherish. In sickness and in health. These simple words sum up the 29 years of marriage of Madam Eileen Lim and Mr Gordon Tuea.

At an interview in their office on Friday afternoon, a side glance, a raised hand or just a shift in the seat were indications of how they could read each other's mind.

The couple, who run an automation business, have three sons aged 23, 20 and 18, and a daughter, 17.

Mr Tuea, 52, conceded: "Well, there are misses sometimes. It's not 100 per cent hits."

That earned a nod of agreement from Madam Lim. "Yes, there's still room for improvement, we just keep learning."

Their easy banter and ribbing of each other belied their ages. One easily forgets they are not young sweethearts.

Like when Mr Tuea complained that his wife "spends too much time on her meetings" and does not have time for him.

Madam Lim, 50, retorted in jest: "He'd tell me, oh, I'm going to do this and that without you."

She is serving her second term as the chairman of Punggol Hibiscus Residents' Committee.

She received the Public Service Medal last year.

Mr Tuea cherishes every moment he gets to spend with Madam Lim these days, especially after her successful battle against stage 2 breast cancer two years ago.

She underwent a mastectomy on her left breast.

While the worst is over, Madam Lim admitted that those difficult months from discovering she had cancer to her recovery reaffirmed their love for each other.

She said: "He was my pillar of strength and the perfect caregiver.

"He took care of everything - from my meals and medication to changing the dressing.

"He even accompanied me to shop around for a wig."

A beaming Mr Tuea brushed aside his wife's compliments and instead, praised her courage.

Not wanting to worry their children, they did not break the news to them and only dropped occasional hints.

Mr Tuea said: "At first, I was worried and fretted over what'd happen. But Eileen was very composed even on the day when she got the result.

"That somewhat set my heart at ease and gave me the confidence to fight this battle with her."

Mr Tuea was first attracted to Madam Lim because of her bubbly and happy-go-lucky nature.

The Broadrick Secondary School schoolmates happened to live just a few streets apart.

While they bumped into each other in school or at bus-stops, they didn't even chat with each other.

Then they met again when Madam Lim and a group of friends visited another friend who was serving national service in the same camp as Mr Tuea.

She said: "I was really quite surprised to see him again."

Mr Tuea, who had by then "sort of recognised the intervening hands of fate", took the chance to exchange home phone numbers with her.

He said: "I'd actually noticed her for some time and from my observations, I'd felt she was a really sweet and caring girl.

"She was also quite pretty then."

Catching his wife's glance, he added: "Of course, she's prettier now."

Several phone calls later, Mr Tuea invited Madam Lim to join him for his 21st birthday celebration with a group of friends.

She said: "I could sense that he was interested and well, I'd kind of developed a liking for him by then."

It didn't matter that Mr Tuea was the fifth of 10 children to a shoemaker father and a housewife mother.

Or that Madam Lim had to rent her wedding gown and they could not afford a lavish wedding banquet.

Madam Lim was the seventh of 10 children and her father was a wayang troupe manager.

She said: "We were fortunate that everyone from both families pitched in to contribute what they could.

"The simple reception was home-cooked, one of my brothers took the wedding photos and I sewed my own 'dinner gown' - a red dress."

The next day, the newlyweds went on their honeymoon - a one-night affair at the then-Kallang Wonderland.

Madam Lim said: "Those are precious memories that I would not trade for anything in the world.

"It's the man I love that gives the marriage meaning, not what he could or could not provide."

Which is possibly why the love story between Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Madam Kwa Geok Choo has inspired MrTuea even more.

He said: "We're just ordinary citizens but from what we have read and learned, we're reminded again that we should cherish our spouse.

"I've been blessed to find my soulmate and marry her. If I have the fortune of meeting her in my next life, yes, I want Eileen to be my wife again."


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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