To funeral undertaker Roland Tay, helping the poor is a serious undertaking

He says he'll continue offering free services to the needy, after getting to keep casket business premises in divorce

While undertaker Roland Tay has provided casket services for high-profile murder victims like Ms Liu Hong Mei and Huang Na, and even Ah Meng the orangutan, the funeral services he undertook for ordinary folk were no less important to him.

Stacked in his Lavender Street office are scores of disused identity cards, with punch holes, that once belonged to persons of limited means for whom he rendered funeral services pro bono.

"If anything happens to my body, please contact Roland Tay," he told The Straits Times about a note found in a woman's flat after she committed suicide in September 2011.

Mr Tay, 73, last week assumed total ownership of Direct Funeral Services, the casket company he founded, and where his daughter Jenny Tay is managing director.

The business is run out of two Lavender Street shophouses, which the High Court awarded him in the division of matrimonial assets following his divorce from Ms Sally Ho, and for which she got over $1.4 million.

Under the terms of the division, Mr Tay received 60 per cent and Ms Ho 40 per cent share of the total matrimonial assets worth some $11 million. Ms Ho was also required to hand over all her interests in other businesses - Direct Singapore Funeral Services and 24 Hours Funeral Services.

"The Lavender Street premises are important to me. I was born there, and I've been in the area for over 70 years. People walk in here, rich or poor, because they know I am here," said Mr Tay.

Last week, his daughter Jenny, 33, and son-in-law Darren Cheng, 34, who is company CEO, and other staff decked the office with red ribbons to celebrate, after seven years of tug-of-war litigation to get the properties back, he said.

LIVE AND LET GO

I have learnt from all of this over 50 years, to first continue respecting those who have passed on. Second, live life to the fullest and let go of regrets or grudges that are meaningless.

MR ROLAND TAY telling The Straits Times about his beliefs and why he renders funeral services pro bono to those with limited means.

He was married to Ms Ho for about four years before the divorce was finalised in 2013. They had lived together for over a decade before tying the knot in 2009. "I met her on the first day of the seventh month festival in Geylang Baru when she served me beer," he recalled.

Ms Ho, 53, had been in various lines of work, and has three children from a previous marriage. By 1997, she was working in Mr Tay's businesses.

Both Mr Tay and Ms Ho provided disputed versions to the court about how their various properties - including units at The Sail, Leedon Heights and The Interlace - were acquired, with him saying most of the funds were his, and she saying they were hers. The court found insufficient evidence for a holistic picture and divided the properties based on the parties' direct and indirect contributions.

Mr Tay said that after the couple split, his daughter Jenny, from his second marriage, stepped in to help. The thrice-married Mr Tay has a son and daughter from his first marriage, and two daughters from his second.

"I am glad that this nightmare of seven years is finally over," he said.

He now wants to continue helping people like Mr Wee Yok Tai, a retired odd job worker who visited Mr Tay a few years ago and said he feared his body would be left to decompose if he died alone. Mr Tay installed cameras in Mr Wee's flat and monitored him via a mobile link.

 
 

"About nine months later, I saw him on the floor, so I went to the flat and called an ambulance."

Mr Wee died five days later, aged 85. He was cremated and his ashes duly placed in a Mandai columbarium niche, as promised by Mr Tay.

In another case, a terminal patient in hospital asked for Mr Tay. The man, a commercial pilot, was unable to speak but wrote on a pad: "I can pay now - credit card. On notification of my death cremate me 1st and then inform my wife. She will come down and settle the rest."

Tracked down through the man's lawyer, the wife came from abroad and was able to see him.

Mr Tay said: "I have learnt from all of this over 50 years, to first continue respecting those who have passed on. Second, live life to the fullest and let go of regrets or grudges that are meaningless."

• Additional reporting by Christie Chiu