Dawn Parry - Lady Extraodinaire

Dawn Parry - remembered as a woman of substance

BORN at dawn in Seremban on Nov 5, 1932, the parents of Dawn Ngui Chon Oi did not know how aptly they had named their eldest daughter. 

Her father, a teacher at Raffles College Singapore who later became headmaster of Seremban Anglo Chinese (Primary) School (ACS), and housewife mother had shaped her personality and instilled in her a strong set of values. From an early age Dawn showed a quiet determination to succeed and a steely ambition to prove to them that she was as good in her studies as her brother.

ACS headmaster C. Dudley Fergurson saw her potential in the teaching profession and wrote in her testimonial: "Miss Dawn Ngui's temperament is very stable. I have seen her in difficult situations and she has been able to meet problems and surmount them with steady determination.

"She is a person who will be able to stand the stresses and strains of leadership and several of our mission officials have declared that she would be well fit for the position of headmistress in one of our schools."

In King George V secondary school, Dawn excelled in Mathematics and English Literature while being active in co-curricular activities, representing the school in table-tennis, basketball, badminton and oratorical contests.

She was also a pianist for her church and school assemblies and her competitive spirit kept her working hard to remain at the top of her class. In this co-ed school where boys out-numbered girls ten to one, it was a sweet achievement for her to be chosen as Head Girl.

Dawn's education was interrupted with the arrival of the Japanese and she literally grew up overnight as the family lived in fear and poverty during the war. While her parents worked at a nearby vegetable farm, she was responsible for her brother and sister and became the family's housekeeper.

Dawn continued her studies after the war. In 1949, she was offered a place in the Malayan University in Singapore where she graduated with a BA Honours degree in History and obtained her Diploma in Education a year later.

Michael and Dawn Parry
She started her teaching career with postings to various schools. In 1956, Dawn joined the Sultan Ibrahim Girls School (SIGS) where she taught History and English.  She went on to become Senior Assistant, and in 1960, Dawn made her former headmaster's prediction a reality when she was promoted as headmistress.

It was a new dawn for SIGS as she became the driving force that propelled the school to new heights of achievements over the next 28 years and made the name, Mrs Dawn Parry, synonymous with SIGS.

At the time of her retirement in 1987, Dawn had shaped SIGS into a school that parents from all walks of life wanted to admit their daughters into, and both teachers and students agreed that "without Dawn Parry, there would have been no SIGS of today".

Besides upgrading the school premises and facilities, she gave the school a national image not only as a premier school but also through its award-winning school band and choir. Her love for music saw the birth of the renowned school band and school choir.

The SIGS brass band was started in 1972 and made news when it became the champion at the National School Bands Competition in 1981.  The band had 17 types of musical instruments and was trained to perform music with spectacular synchronised movements. The invitation to participate in the National Day celebrations every year since 1981 is proof of the nation's recognition of the talent and superior standards of the band.

Dawn [3rd from Left] with Michael [2nd from Left] and
other recipients of the Pingat Ibrahim Sultan (PIS) award
For her contribution to teaching, Dawn was awarded the Pingat Ibrahim Sultan (PIS), Ahili Mangku Negara (AMN) and Pingat Lama Perkhidmatan (PLP) for long service.

In the district level Teachers Day celebration in May 1987, Dawn was awarded the "Certificate of Acknowledgement" and the well-deserved double-honour of Anugerah Hari Guru 1987 and Anugerah Istimewa Guru 1987. In 1991, she was the first female recipient of the prestigious Tokoh Guru award in Johor.

After retirement, Dawn taught English and was an active member of the Johor Speakers Club and Johor Baru chapter of Ikebana International. 

Married to Michael Graham Parry, Dawn has two daughters, Valerie and Adeline Tan, from a previous marriage.

Dawn dressed in costume for her role in a
Speakers Club play, Joy's Pearls
When she passed away due to multiple organ failure on April 19, there was an out-pouring of emotion in the eulogies that were shared by people whose lives were inspired by her.

"She's the epitome of what a teacher is all about," said Jenny Shabudin, SIGS Alumni president, adding that behind every inspirational story of SIGS, Dawn was there.

Former students and colleagues can attest to how Dawn never insisted on academic excellence alone but also encouraged them to be well-rounded in sports and performing arts.

Today, generations of former students who are well-respected individuals and professionals worldwide, can attribute their success to Dawn because she guided them through an education that developed minds for critical enquiry, a passion for life and a desire to make a difference in the world.

Former student, Court of Appeal judge Datuk Zainun Ali said: "If there is one teacher who can be described as erudite as she is elegant, as smart as she is stylish, as fun as she is fastidious, it would be Mrs Dawn Parry. She has made me who I am today -- she made me understand why it is imperative to be one's own person."

"Mrs Parry was not only a school principal but a great educationist. I salute her," said Yao Sum Ling, a teacher in SIGS from 1969 to 1978.

Dawn's eldest grandson, Dr David New, who lives in Australia, recalled how his visits to Johor Baru always included outings with his Nan. Everywhere they went, he noticed that people of every race would come up to speak to Parry in languages he did not understand. Then it struck him that she looked beyond races and knew no boundaries in relationships.

Her daughter, Dr Adeline Tan, paid tribute succinctly in an anagram of Dawn's name: D is for Doer because her motto is "Do it well or don't do it at all"; A is for Artistic because she was gifted in porcelain painting, flower arranging, baking cakes and cookies and an excellent dress-sense; A is also for Articulate because she is the family's official guide for speaking correctly; W is for Winner because even with failing eyesight and limited mobility, she trained herself to be IT savvy and is always smartly dressed, even to the gym; and N is for Never-to-be-forgotten as a mother who raised her girls alone and for being that exceptional person whose life and legacy has touched so many because behind her elegant and formidable appearance is a lady who is warm and caring.

The impact she has on thousands of lives is evident from tributes that are pouring in on Facebook for this extraordinary lady.

To cherish her memory and celebrate the life of Dawn Parry, a special memorial will be held. The next SIGS Alumni event -- its date and venue to be advised later -- will be a tribute to her. For more deatails, email SIGS Alumni at: jennyshabudin4@ gmail.com.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 10 May 2010

* * *


Tribute to a headmistress who made a difference...

Some of the alumni and
former teachers at Reunion 2011

Jenny Shabudin, President of the SIGS Alumni, kept her word and organized this year’s reunion as a tribute to the late Dawn Ngui-Parry, former teacher and headmistress of SIGS who passed away on 19 April 2010.  

Attended by some 200 alumni from 2001 to 1958, the reunion was held in Kuala Lumpur on 16 April 2011 with a special programme to cherish Parry’s memory and celebrate her life. 

Emotions were still riding high among the daughters of SIGS or Sultan Ibrahim Girls School, as SMK [P] Sultan Ibrahim was known then, because they recognized that behind every inspirational story of SIGS, Dawn Parry was there.

The late Dawn Parry was an inspiration to
the students of Sultan Ibrahim Girls School
Besides upgrading the school premises and facilities, Parry gave the school a national image as a premier school in Johor Baru where students excelled not only academically but also in extra curricular activities. 

With the help of Jenny’s able committee, made up of Aishah Ali, Raja Aini, Ruqiah Hassan and Norazah Khamis, the alumni presented an afternoon of cherished school-day memories.  They relived special moments as excerpts from some of the most notable achievements by their choir, dancers, opera and brass band, were warmly reprised.

“This is the tenth year celebration for our alumni,” said Jenny, adding that the alumni started to be active in 1999 and held their reunion twice in Johor Baru.  This year’s celebration honoured Parry’s life and traced her footsteps from 1956 to her retirement in 1987, a golden period that brought the school to new heights of achievements because her love for music saw the birth of the renowned school band and choir. 

Alumni members wearing school's distinctive green uniform!
The programme aptly started with singing the school song led by several alumni members, wearing the school’s distinctive green pinafore uniform matched with a white blouse. 

The tribute to Parry was highlighted by special performances to a backdrop of old photos.  While the photo of the 25-strong school choir that won first prize in the 1969 National Choir Festival was on the screen, five of the original choir members, joined by four others from lower forms, presented their award-winning song, “Fragile Things.”

Members of the original choir who won the 1969 choir
competition, singing "Fragile Things"
“When I open my timetable and see Music, I’m more excited to go to school,” said Khadijah Jidon, 68, who left SIGS in 1962, and clearly enjoyed her music classes. 

Sitting among friends in the reunion, Khadijah recalled how she also loved sports and meeting friends in school.  “My former classmate, Siti Sa’odah Mansord, and I still get together to sing old favourites by Elvis and Cliff Richard,” she said with a chuckle.

Lim Siew Eng [Left] as Eurydice and her
Orpheus played by Aishah Ali
In those days, not many schools attempted to perform operas but encouraged by Parry, the school successfully presented, “Orpheus and Eurydice”, a Greek mythical tale.  Lim Siew Eng who played the role of Eurydice was probably the proudest when Aishah Ali reprised her role as Orpheus and sang her aria 41 years after they performed together at age 17.  Aishah gave a moving rendition as a broken-hearted lover who didn’t want to live without Eurydice and received loud applause from her fellow alumni.

Gladys Yap was bursting with pride as four drummers marched in, smartly dressed in their band uniforms and gave a commendable performance in a simple routine.  Norazah Khamis, Nooraishah Tawab, Norashikin Yahya and Sarimah Yaacob who were not drummers in the band, remember well the words of Parry who encouraged them, “Rain or shine, the band must go on.” 

Helen Foo on the piano with Gladys Yap

The award-winning brass band, that performs music with spectacular synchronized movements, was formed by Parry and Yap in 1971 and made news when it became champion at the National School Bands Competition in 1981 and was invited to perform in National Day celebrations.   

Today generations of former students are well-respected individuals and professionals who can attribute their success to Parry.  A list of SIGS luminaries were introduced and they included an army brigadier general, academics, writers, entertainers, businesswomen and interestingly, out of the twenty female judges in the nation, three of them – Dato Zainun Ali (Appeals Court Judge), Lim Yee Lan and Suraya Othman (both High Court Judges) – are from SIGS. 

These drummers represented the school's
award-winning brass band

Dato Siti Azizah Abod, a Special Officer to the Prime Minister’s wife, recalls how Parry always encouraged them to be well-rounded in sports and performing arts.  In addition to being active in softball and hockey, she and her relay team-mates, Latifah Yaacob, Gwendoline Le Vos and Sylvia Ng, was the pride of the school. 

Zainah Anwar, founder of Sisters in Islam and Project Director of Musawah, an organization which means ‘equality’ in Arabic, summed up the tributes by saying, “There are limitations in a government school but she inspired and galvanized all of us to excel.”

Among the alumni were former teachers, Helen Foo, Laurinda Yee, Chang Siong Ooi, Mrs Yong Kok Heng, Mrs Joan Lim and Pn Faridah Hashim.  Also present were Michael Parry, Chris Parry, Dr Adeline Tan and her husband, Dr Loh Sek Poh, Parry’s brother Sonny Ngui and Norizah Abdul Manap, current headmistress of SMK [P] Sultan Ibrahim.  

The most permanent tribute the alumni can give Parry is to start a trust fund in her name for the needs of the school she dedicated her life to build and develop.  While the alumni were invited to pledge their gifts and volunteer as founding members, the Dawn Parry Fund kicked off with RM10,000 each contributed by Michael Parry and Dr Adeline Tan.  SIGS alumni who wish to pledge or volunteer should email to: jennyshabudin4@gmail.com.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets, on 27 April 2011


  1. Anonymous3/30/2012

    She was an amazing lady. I never ever had a chance to speak to her. She was the Principal of SIGS when i was a student in HIJ Convent JB. When i sat for my HSC Examination, she was the chief invigilator, that was the nearest i came to her.

    Years later when I was the head of a school in Ipoh, her grand-daughter was in my school and i met her daughter, a doc in the town where i reside.

    Such is life and the people you meet. I wish i had had an opportunity to learn from her.

    A lady with style, grace and class.

    siva prasanna krishnan

  2. oh gosh,,, my ex school and my darling principle...mrs Dawn Parry. We are the students of SIGS are always proud of you . Not forgetting Puan Jeganathan and Puan KD Pillay and my form teacher Mrs Zaleha. Extra Ordinary people in my life.

    1. Kak Ngah (31/12/2013)12/31/2013

      I was not among the elite student, but I used to be Valerie's classmate. I remember the school had to organise the food & fun fair / walkathon to raise funds to start the school brass band..., the pride of SIGS. I shall never forget SIGS and Mrs Dawn Parry and also Mrs Ngeow Took Fah, Puan Fatimah Mohamad, Miss Yao Sum Ling,(both my home science teacher) Puan Khadijah and many more...

    2. Anonymous1/06/2014

      This is the beauty of school's life in 70s and 80s. everyone regardless of race is close to each other. Friendship blossoms forever. Schools like SIGS, Convent, EC produce superb generation whom excels beyond scholastic achievement. We really value good education. Teachers really inspire and momentous to their student. it reflects what education should be. Unlike today..we are splitting apart interms of education. So sad...

  3. Anonymous6/26/2015

    I have never heard of this person until this morning when one of my classmates talked about her and it turned out that she was the granddaughter of Dawn Parry and the youngest daughter of Dr Adeline Tan. Her talk moved my heart and it was very touching from what I have heard of Dawn Parry. She's an amazing woman.

  4. I do not know her but reading this article about her and the many comments give me an impression of the kind of person she was as she has reached out to many and left a lasting mark in their lives. She has left the world a better place. She is a rare breed.

  5. Please add my name to the above comment. Mrs Jagjeet Singh

  6. Anonymous9/14/2016

    Was fortunate to meet Mrs Parry a couple of times. Will never forget her love for books and her passion for pottery.This is one lady who will always have my respect. A message from an ex- convent girl.