13 November 1948 – 29 September 2013
IFSW is sad to report the death of Anthony Tan in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 29 September 2013. Anthony served on the world IFSW Executive in the 1990s and made a significant contribution to international social work. This is reflected in the following personal tributes.
Tribute from Malaysian Association of Social Workers
Anthony graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in social work in 1974. He contributed towards the development of Montfort Boys’ Town in Singapore and in Malaysia (a residential home for boys and young men) until he moved on into the business and corporate world. During his two terms as President of the Malaysian Association of Social Workers in 1987-1989 and 1997-1999, he actively promoted awareness of MASW at both regional and international levels. He represented MASW on the IFSW Asia Pacific committee. He was also one of the Malaysian Professional Centre’s (Balai Ikhtisas Malaysia) nominees for the Commonwealth Foundation Friendship Award in 1992, the first social worker within Commonwealth countries to win the award.The following year, after a period of orientation in London, he was sent on a Goodwill Mission with 11 other recipients to promote commonwealth relations with counterparts in Cyprus and Malta. Subsequently, together with another social worker, David Jones of UK, Anthony founded the Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work which he chaired for a few years.
Anthony leaves behind his loving wife, Michelle, a son, Leonard and his wife, a daughter, Stephanie and her two lovely sons, and many siblings, relatives and friends to mourn his loss.
Tribute from the Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work
We at Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work are deeply saddened with the news that Anthony Tan passed away after a long, hard and courageous fight with cancer at 8pm yesterday.
Anthony was a nominee for the Commonwealth Foundation Friendship Award in 1992 and the first social worker within the Commonwealth countries to win the award. He was a key founder of the Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work.
To Tiong he was a mentor in International Social Work and an inspiration in relating with people all over the world with dignity and respect. It was through his sponsorship that Tiong was elected executive and later Vice President of International Federation of Social Workers.
Charles and Tiong are privileged to carry on his vision for the Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work, as co-chairs, after he stepped down as chair of this organisation.
We remember fondly the generosity of spirit, the fellowship and comradeship of social work that is the hallmark of Anthony’s life.
Our sincere condolences and regards to the family, friends and loved ones.
Ngoh Tiong Tan & Charles Mbugua
Co-chairs, Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work
David N Jones, former IFSW President and the first Honorary Secretary General of the Commonwealth Organisation for Social Workers, writes:
I first met Anthony when he called to visit the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) in Birmingham, UK, in 1993. He was in the UK as part of the programme for winners of the Commonwealth Foundation Friendship Award (see above). Anthony told me (and BASW colleagues) about his Commonwealth award and also said that he was frustrated that he had discovered that most professions had Commonwealth professional bodies but social work was absent. He wanted to persuade BASW that we should support the formation of a Commonwealth social work body.
BASW was initially sceptical. We were fully committed to IFSW as the international voice of social work and did not have the capacity to invest in a new international body. We also had reservations about becoming identified with a ‘post-colonial’ structure. Anthony was very persuasive, however, and we remained in contact and continued to reflect on the idea. The 1994 IFSW conference was being held in Sri Lanka, a Commonwealth country. Anthony and I were both in attendance so we agreed to raise the issue with Commonwealth countries at that meeting.
To my great surprise, there was universal acclaim for the idea, especially from African and Asian delegates who saw opportunities for new forms of dialogue and also project funding. The ‘old’ Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia and New Zealand shared the BASW ambivalence, but agreed to explore the idea. A steering group was formed to take forward the proposal, led by Anthony with myself as secretary. Fiona Robertson (IFSW Treasurer) agreed to serve as Honorary Treasurer and Terry Bamford provided wise counsel.
We formed a steering group of members from different Commonwealth countries, were given accreditation by the Commonwealth Foundation and in 1997 COSW was formally accredited to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Anthony led the COSW delegation. We provided a briefing pack on social work in the Commonwealth to all national delegations and took part in many formal and informal events; Anthony attended the official opening ceremony, hosted by The Queen. COSW has been represented at all subsequent CHOGMs, which take place every 2 years. During this period we finalised our constitution, with pro bono assistance from Bates Wells and Braithwaite (BASW lawyers) and Anthony was the first signature on the formal memorandum and articles of the Organisation, which were affirmed during the IFSW world conference in Montreal, Canada in 2000. Anthony later handed over the Chair to Tiong and Charles (see above).
During this period I had many discussions and emails with Anthony. He and Michelle generously hosted me at their home in Kuala Lumpur on 3 or 4 occasions, once with my wife on our return from the IFSW world conference in Adelaide in 2004. He was always welcoming, friendly and keen to discuss social work practice and international issues. He also proudly showed me the various major buildings whose construction he had project managed following his change of career.
In common with many social workers, Anthony’s passion for our profession came out of his personal and family experience, underpinned by his active Catholic faith. He showed huge personal resilience and immense personal warmth.
I owe Anthony a personal debt for introducing me to the richness of Commonwealth networks and for sharing his Asian perspectives on life. The profession in Malaysia, Singapore, Asia and around the world also owes a debt to a truly inspirational social worker. He is one of the few people in the world who leaves behind an international organisation which would not be there without him. COSW and international social work mourns the loss of a true social worker and friend and we give thanks for his life and his legacy.
Website of the Malaysian Association of Social Workers
COSW website at Commonwealth Secretariat – COSW webpage
What is Commonwealth?
Website of the Commonwealth
Website of the Commonwealth Foundation
COSW young carers project – watch the video