Cecilia M Lopez Nayar

She brims with exuberance and playful laughter just like a youthful convent girl. Her face lights up every time she recalls an incident from her past. Even the moments that slips her mind is punctuated with a wide grin as she laughs away her forgetfulness. 84 yr old Mrs Cecilia M Lopez Nayar, the first medical social worker in Singapore, shared her stories with 50FACES starting with her childhood days.

She was born into a wealthy Christian family with a hardworking father, demure homemaker of a mother and two elder siblings. She describes herself as a quiet little girl who loved to read and play the piano. She adored the people around her, like her neighbours and caretaker. She recalls fondly how peaceful the days were before the War.


“Life was so easy and so happy. You go to school, you buy mee siam for just 2 cents.”

This peace and tranquility in Singapore was threatened as World War II slowly spread through the region. As the Japanese threatened to invade Singapore, air raids became a frighteningly common phenomenon says Mrs Nayar.

But life for young Nayar was still full of fun and laugher except when the air raid sirens went off, when they had to hide in the bomb shelter in front of the house. It was quite fun, says Mrs Nayar, as they would normally pack some food and have a pinic like atomosphere in the shelter. Once, the siren stopped, Nayar would be out and about without a care in life.

On that fateful day, the sirens blared once again. But this time it was anything but normal. The series of events which followed would change the course of Mrs Nayar’s life for ever.


“The whole place was as if an earthquake had shaken it up.”

With the advent of war, Mrs Nayar’s family made their way back to their hometown in Kerala, India. She was to spend the next 10 years in Trivendram studying and even working for a while there before making her way back to Singapore.

Growing up, Mrs Nayar’s world revolved around her books, her convent friends and family. However, the struggles of the poor were a constant sight throughout her life. She saw people in her neighbourhood in Singapore before the war, who did not share the luxuries she had. More so during her refuge in India from 1942 to 1952. As India was already suffering the consequences of war, and people were poverty stricken, their plight deeply affected Mrs Nayar. Having had been more fortunate than most people, she was thankful yet aware of the need to help the rest.

When her brother presented her the opportunity to do what she was passionate about, she decided to pursue it. It changed her life in several ways. She also found new company, one of whom was former president S R Nathan. Together with the first batch of medical social workers, they set out to create an inclusive society.


“He was my classmate you know. Yes, SR Nathan.”

An almoner is an equivalent of a social medical worker at hospitals. Their way of offering alms to the needy is to source the root psychosomatic causes of their illnesses that are medically incurable.

Mrs Nayar chose to become an almoner albeit having high qualifications and knowing that social work did not pay as much as other professional careers during the post-war period. Mrs Nayar identified herself with the nature of social work. She found it her duty to service the marginalized community in a country that was tirelessly working to resurrect itself from the inflictions of war. Her profession helped her to tackle health and social issues holistically.

It was her faith in her work and passion to redeem the poor from their poverty traps that helped to develop the community that was severely affected by the war. Mrs Nayar also regards her journey in social work as God’s blessing in disguise to teach her valuable lessons that her books could not.

“It was only social work that opened up the world to me.”

Although Mrs Nayar wishes for all senior citizens to be able to retire more comfortably in their old age, she continues to have a deep rooted affection for the country. She holds great pride in being Singaporean and has a strong message for all of us.

Mrs Nayar’s contributions through her job as a social medical worker have been critical to our nation building at a time it was needed most. Her works and words are lessons in history and compassion that should not be forgotten. We thank her for reminding us that we need to look after those who lag behind and continually care for those marginalized in our modern society.

A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

50Faces brings your stories of ordinary Singaporeans who have contributed to our community and nation building.