‘A true Renaissance Man’: Shanmugam leads tributes to late Law Society president Adrian Tan

SINGAPORE: Tributes have poured in for the late Adrian Tan, president of the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc), who died on Saturday (Jul 8) aged 57 after fighting cancer for more than a year.

Describing him as a “true Renaissance Man”, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said Mr Tan’s death came “far too young, far too soon”.

The minister noted how Mr Tan had sought to address the long hours and working conditions faced by young lawyers. Tackling what he described as the “great resignation” was one of Mr Tan’s focal points as the LawSoc president.

“A sharp mind with a wonderful heart,” wrote Mr Shanmugam in a Facebook post. “I have had the privilege of knowing him for many years. His passing is a big loss.”

Mr Tan first came into the public consciousness in the late 1980s as a young author of The Teenage Textbook and The Teenage Workbook – two bestsellers that were eventually adapted for the stage and screen.

Worker’s Party Member of Parliament Jamus Lim wrote of the “profound impact” the coming-of-age books had on him as he “wrestled with the doubt, insecurities, and fears of adolescence”. 

Local photographer Darren Soh thanked Mr Tan for “Mui Ee, Chung Kai, Sissy, Kok Sean and other awkward teenagers” – characters in the books that so many readers, including Mr Soh himself, could “painfully relate to so we knew for sure we were not the only weird ones growing up”.

“You will be sorely and terribly missed,” he added.


Personalities in Singapore’s literary scene also mourned the passing of Mr Tan.

Author Felix Cheong – who wrote The Call From Crying House and its sequel, The Woman In The Last Carriage – was unstinting in his admiration for the late lawyer.

“To call Adrian Tan one of our funniest humorists is an understatement. His one-liners were biting, always-touche-wish-I-had-thought-of-it sharp, but never did it hit below the belt,” said Mr Cheong.

“SingLit has lost one of its sharpest minds, its wittiest voice. We’re the poorer for the loss”.

Cartoonist Colin Goh remembered how Mr Tan, at the height of his Teenage Textbook fame, contributed the foreword to Mr Goh’s very first collection of Orchard Road strips.

“He remains an inspiration and hero to me personally,” said Mr Goh.

In his later years, and especially after he became LawSoc president, Mr Tan was prolific in commenting on a wide range of issues.

Describing himself as a “masked litigator, advocate for advocates, socially and emotionally distant law firm partner” in his LinkedIn profile, Mr Tan wrote virally popular posts ranging from school admissions to migrant workers.

He covered a swathe of topics – his last LinkedIn post, two weeks before his death, was about media coverage of the doomed Titanic tourist submersible, and before that, musings on Singapore’s Presidential Election.


In recent years, Mr Tan would sometimes, in his writing, adopt the persona of “King of Singapore” as a playful way of talking about things in Singapore he would change if he had the power.

Those pieces were to be compiled into a book, said Mr Goh Eck Kheng of Landbook Books, which, back in 1988, published The Teenage Textbook.

“Adrian once said sadly to me that his books were not considered literature. This great storyteller was wrong,” said Mr Tan in a Facebook post.

The royal persona was a common thread in the many online tributes. 

“You will be missed,” said blogger Lee Kin Mun (Mr Brown). “You are truly King of Singapore.”

Mr Goh, the cartoonist, wrote: “A star in Singapore’s firmament has dimmed … RIP, HM (His Majesty) The King of Singapore.”

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