Some of us might have seen Margaret Perry from SingHealth Group Communications around, but few are familiar with the story of how she left a village in East Yorkshire, England to be a journalist, and 18 years later, is living, working and giving in bustling Singapore, as a Manager in the SingHealth HQ Development Communications team.
If you thought someone like Margaret would have always had a passion for the English language and writing, you thought wrong!
“When I was a child, I didn’t enjoy reading, and English was my least favourite subject at school!” Margaret laughs, “I had no interest in being a journalist or even in communications, but I was interested in healthcare,” she adds.
Pursuing a dietetics degree in university and later becoming a dietitian, she initially found joy in helping her patients eat healthier to control their chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, or to lose weight. As time went on, however, she grew increasingly frustrated that patients would rather follow advice from their friends and the media than advice from her.
For Margaret, the final straw came when a patient with diabetes declared she did not need the help of a dietitian to control her illness because she was following the ‘Mars Bar Diet’ – a fad diet in the 1990s that recommended Mars chocolate bars as meal replacements.
Having had enough of unhelpful and inaccurate health articles and media coverage confusing and misleading patients, Margaret decided to leave dietetics, taking up a one-year post-graduate diploma in broadcast journalism in a bid to do her part in addressing this issue. Much to her and her family’s surprise, she enjoyed the practical nature of news writing, and listening to and sharing people’s stories.
In 2000, she came across an advertisement in a newspaper for journalists, posted by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). Having always hoped for an opportunity to live overseas and with the knowledge that Singapore was a developed country where English was spoken predominantly, she applied for the job and was offered it soon after.
Alone, but with the full support of her family and friends, she boarded a plane to Singapore and joined The Straits Times’ Health Desk in August 2000, on a three-year contract. 18 months later, she was asked to transfer to the news team on Channel i, an English television station set up by SPH. “I went reluctantly, but found I enjoyed TV reporting even more because of the creativity required to think visually, use the spoken word and to talk to people from all walks of life,” she remarks, “I reported during SARS and the RSS Courageous tragedy off Pedra Branca, as well as the opening of the Esplanade, and the International Olympic Committee’s visit to Singapore in 2005 when London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games,” she adds proudly.
When Channel i shut down and ceased transmission in 2004, she was transferred again, this time to Channel News Asia (CNA).
When asked why she stayed in Singapore past her three-year contract, Margaret bashfully replies, “I met a Singaporean six months before the contract was due to end, who convinced me to re-sign for another three years. During that time, we married, started a family, and Singapore became my home.”
Despite her love for the team work and tight-knit atmosphere of a newsroom, she soon found it challenging to juggle the long hours with caring for her young children. As a result, she joined the Corporate Communications team at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) for the next seven years. Then deciding she wanted to specialise and help improve patients’ lives and healthcare, she took up her current role at SingHealth.
This is home, truly
It has been 18 years since she packed her suitcases and flew halfway across the world in pursuit of an adventure, and while she misses her mum’s Yorkshire puddings and the changing seasons, Margaret sounds almost as Singaporean as the rest of us when it comes to some things.
When asked about any of the stresses she faces living here, she is quick to react, “PSLE! My son is in Primary 6 this year and it’s a baptism of fire for the both of us. I constantly have to remind myself that, while it is important, his PSLE results will not determine his long-term future. Nobody could have predicted that I would, one day, be working in Singapore and earning a living writing, so I’m sure my son’s future career choices will surprise me too!”
Though, of course, there are other things that are challenging to have learnt, even in 18 years.
“I tried to learn conversational Mandarin when I first arrived in Singapore, but I couldn’t hear the difference between the four tones and nobody could understand my attempts at speaking, so I gave up,” she laughs, “But I’m hoping to one day learn conversational Malay – all recommendations on lunchtime tutors working in the Bukit Merah area would be gratefully received!”
“It’s time to start giving back.”
Today, Margaret’s role in the SingHealth Development Communications team continues to allow her to do what she is passionate about and loves – conducting interviews and writing articles for Inspire, the bi-monthly e-newsletter about giving matters across SingHealth institutions, and provide other donor-related communications support.
She actively participates in staff giving, driven by her family’s experience with ill health. “My father had Parkinson’s Disease, and my aunt has advanced Alzheimer’s, so I donate $50 monthly to National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), which is split between the Needy Patient Fund to support patients, and the Research Endowment Fund to help find better treatments,” she explains, “I know that $25 a month is not enough to support a research project, but when pooled with gifts from other donors, it all adds up. I look forward to the day when they do find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease or Alzheimer’s, for the hope and joy it will bring me and thousands of others will be truly priceless,” she adds.
If you are looking to make a difference but are unsure of where and how to start, Margaret has some advice:
“I think it’s best to start small and to support a cause that resonates with you. Signing up for $10 monthly donations is easier on your wallet than an annual lump sum, and it also provides a steady stream of income for institutions’ patient funds and the Academic Clinical Programmes’ (ACPs) medical research and training causes.
If you’re blessed with good health, support a programme that relates to something you’re passionate about. For example, if you love watching movies, donate to SNEC’s VISIONSave to support patients who are at risk of losing their sight. If you’re celebrating your child’s birthday or a new grandchild, you could give to the KKH Health Fund or the Obstetrics & Gynaecology ACP to support research into healthier and safer pregnancies.”
For more information about staff giving (or lunchtime conversational Malay tutors!), please email Margaret Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org or Carol Wee, SingHealth Development Office at email@example.com.