Freddy never fails to offer a friendly smile from his station at the Academia's security counter
Many of us know Freddy Seah as the friendly face behind the security counter at the Academia on SGH Campus. What most of us may not know is that he spent a large part of his career amongst some of Singapore’s luminaries.
How it all started
It might have been fate or a stroke of luck, but Freddy was more than happy to have been assigned to the Singapore Armed Forces Guards' Unit some 40 years ago when he enlisted for National Service. The reason was simple – it allowed him to serve and protect others, which was his passion.
As part of the Unit, Freddy started out as a guard at the Istana, working 12-hour shifts where he had to stand still in two-hour blocks with only a short break in between.
He was also part of the security entourage that accompanied Ministers to events. "Ministers interact with members of the public at events. While they did that, I had to be alert and observant of the surroundings for their safety. I kept an eye on the Minister, who he or she was speaking to and generally, looked out for anyone or anything suspicious," shared Freddy.
Freddy also added that most of the work undertaken by the security team was out of the public's eye. "When people see us standing next to the Minister, they are only seeing a fraction of what our job entails," said Freddy. "There is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes such as meeting the event organiser to run through programme details, planning the security operations, ensuring that there's an escape route in case of emergency and more. We also had to inspect the restrooms and the escape route to ensure that there is nothing unusual such as suspicious objects."
Freddy is most proud to have served as part of the security entourage for Singapore's founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He chuckles, "Back then, I thought it was already a privilege to meet Mr Lee in person. Little did I know that it was the start of a good and enduring working relationship that lasted for years."
Later in his career, Freddy also had the opportunity to work with the late Mr S R Nathan during his two terms as President. Reminiscing, he shared that he misses Mr Nathan's friendliness and warmth. "I have never met anyone as humble as him. The security officers who worked with him would be invited to his house during the festive season where we joined his family for meals. They always made us feel at home."
From left: Freddy's daughter, Felicia with former President S R Nathan, Mrs Nathan and Freddy
Freddy with the former President S R Nathan, whom he misses alot.
An eye for detail
Having gained some experience in the field, Freddy decided to pursue a career in the security sector where he worked as a security officer at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) for five years. Thereafter, he joined SGH’s security team in 1994.
Several years into the job, Freddy was approached to take on the role of a ‘VIP coordinator’ due to his experience in handling luminaries. This new role required him to take care of the needs of visiting VIPs. For example, if a VIP requested to visit the pharmacy to pick up their medication, Freddy would coordinate with the pharmacist to ensure that their prescriptions are prepared prior to the visit. He would also arrange for the visit to take place during off-peak periods so that there is less of a crowd.
Even though he shone in this role for twenty-five years, Freddy shared that he was initially reluctant to accept the offer because of the high pressure involved. “When people are sick, they are sensitive and stressed. I thought this meant that it may not be easy dealing with them. Nevertheless, I decided that I must not give up even before trying, and it turns out that my fear was unfounded most of the time!” he laughs.
Expecting the Unexpected
Freddy always considered himself a fit person and loved running marathons but his health took a drastic turn in 2012 when he suffered his first stroke.
Two more strokes followed in the next few years, taking a serious toll on him. However, at one of his lowest points, Freddy found the spark needed to keep his spirits up after learning that someone from the Lee family had called SGH to ask after him. He says, “Words can’t describe how I felt. I knew that this was how they showed their appreciation for the years of hard work I put in.”
Still, recovery was tough. Freddy struggled to walk and was bed-ridden. But with the help of his loved ones, he slowly regained mobility and made lifestyle changes such as brisk walking daily and eating healthy meals, with less sugar, salt and oil.
Freddy exercises daily to keep fit
Still wanting to contribute following his recovery, Freddy joined the Academia’s concierge team in 2013. Though less active than he used to be, he takes great pride in his current role and has become one of the most recognisable faces at the Academia.
Freddy with his colleagues at the Academia
Freddy is proud to have dedicated much of his life to protecting others, sharing that one of the greatest lessons he had learnt is to always take challenges in his stride. “The key is to handle the unexpected with patience and professionalism.”
He continues to enjoy his work and concludes that retirement has not crossed his mind yet. He jokes, “I will only leave when my boss asks me to. If I retire, I will go on a cruise around the world, leaving my phone and stress behind!”