Singapore’s ‘father of counselling’ Anthony Yeo, who had leukemia, died yesterday from complications. The veteran counsellor and consultant therapist at the Counselling and Care Centre was 60 years old. He was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer of a type of white blood cell that fights off infection in the body, after he collapsed at home on the evening of May 9.
(Shull Sudderuddin, “Consellor Anthony Yeo dies aged 60,” The Sunday Times, June 21, 2009, 12)
The last time I was with Anthony Yeo, we were making fun of a speaker. We were both guests at an event where the main speaker used a PowerPoint presentation. We agreed that “only speakers without power needed PowerPoint.” Like two naughty school boys, we were laughing away and making nuisances of ourselves and probably intimidating the speaker. I am glad that my last memory of Anthony was one of laughter. So much of our time together through the years, were times of tears, my tears.
Anthony Yeo, the “father of counselling” in Singapore, passed away last Saturday (June 20, 2009). He was my counsellor, mentor, and confessor. He was my friend. Our paths first crossed in the late 80’s. We both moved in FES (Fellowship of Evangelical Students) circles. He walked with me when my first wife died of cancer. He would end up walking with me through all my valleys, the “fourth person” (Daniel 3:25) in the furnaces of my life.
I often wonder how I survived the death of my first wife, my remarriage, the disastrous second marriage, my divorce, my journey into depression, the loss of much of my public ministry, the controversy of my remarriage, etc. I am not a strong person. In truth, I know how I survived. I survived because of the grace of God, and the love of a few key friends like Anthony, who were willing to walk with me often at great cost to themselves.
Anthony said he wasn’t a psychiatrist so he couldn’t prescribe medication but he could prescribe a good merlot. Many of our “therapy” sessions took place over dinner, with good food and wine. I often forgot that he came to our evening sessions after having been with clients the whole day. Obviously, for Anthony, counselling wasn’t a job. He helped people because he cared. He never charged me for all our sessions. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if I had seen him professionally. I am glad that now God can pick up my tab.
I have long come to the conclusion that death always comes unexpected even when it is expected. Anthony’s death was unexpected. We heard he was ill just before our recent trip to North America. Good friends updated us while we were away. It all seemed a bit unreal. By the time we got back and visited him in the hospital he was already unable to respond to folks around him. We don’t know if he recognised us waving at him through the ICU window. Soo Lan (wife) told us later that she told him that Bernice and I had visited but she said she would not be able to tell if he heard.
In recent times, some of us became uncomfortable with some of Anthony’s positions on homosexuality. But whatever our theological differences, none of us doubted that all that he did was motivated by his compassion for the broken and the hurting. He often complained of evangelical churches who took ungracious stands on human problems. He said that those same churches, who attacked him for his more “liberal” positions, would quietly send their broken to him for healing. These broken people, including leaders, would come to him quietly at night, like Nicodemus. After seeing so many broken lives, Anthony had little tolerance for BS.
I didn’t want Anthony to go yet for the most selfish of reasons. If he passed on, who would I go to now with the complex problems of my life? On a more enlightened note, I thought of his family and friends … who dies at 60 these days? Who loses a husband and a father at this young age? And how can Singapore afford to lose this advocate of common sense, this defender of the broken and the marginalised? I know I am not alone in being unable to imagine a world without our goateed friend. So why has he been taken home so early?
Well the God of Job is not obliged to give you His reasons. Perhaps Anthony has carried too many people’s problems for too long. Perhaps his heavenly Father decided it was time for him to rest, to be renewed by that final transformation. Whatever the divine reasoning behind Anthony’s departure from this world, the hard fact we all have to get used to is this — he is gone. Which is a shame really. I had a number of jokes I wanted to run by him that I thought up while I was away, like, “I respect people doing first-hand research for the books they are writing but this is ridiculous…” Guess I’ll have to run those jokes by him at another time and another place. Good bye Anthony. And thank you.