WHEN she was just 9 years old, Madam Annie Ee's mother used to take her to the famous death houses at Sago Lane every month.
While their chauffeur waited outside, Mrs Ee would whip out $50 notes - big money then - and give them to the caretakers for them to buy coffins for the unburied and abandoned dead.
The curious young Madam Ee would wander around the beds, not fully realising that she was literally walking among the dead.
Now 70, Madam Ee recalled: "Whenever I got too close, my mother would pull me away in fright.
"You couldn't really tell which ones were dead and which ones were still alive. When you go close, some are actually still breathing."
Today, the death houses are long gone. And Madam Ee's monthly trips are now to the Singapore Cheshire Home, which she has been honorary secretary of for the past 17years.
The retired remisier is the first to admit frankly that she is "spoilt" and can't do without luxuries like air-conditioning.
But it is also her privileged background - she is the eldest daughter of a wealthy Peranakan businessman - that compels her to do her bit for the less fortunate.
"Since I'm so blessed, I must bless others too," she said simply.
An avid dancer, the gregarious Madam Ee used to attend and organise charity fund raisers.
But these days, she has bowed out of the circle as most of her friends are either retired or dead.
So now she brings cheer directly to the needy instead.
When Madam Ee pops into the home in Serangoon Gardens, the residents are visibly excited to see her.
Besides chatting with them, Madam Ee, a widow, occasionally helps to feed them when the home is short-handed.
Long-time resident Dulcie Wee, who is in her 60s, told The New Paper on Sunday:
"She (Madam Ee) is a very nice lady. We are always happy to see her."
Like Madam Ee, Mrs Betty Chen is an elderly socialite committed to good works.
In her case, she is continuing her a family legacy of philanthropy.
Her mother is the late Mrs May Wong, who has been described as the First Lady of Charity here for her long years of charitable contributions until her death in 1989.
Mrs Chen "inherited" her mother's position as president of the Chinese Women's Association (CWA) and chairman of the Henderson Senior Citizens' Home.
The CWA may be the more glamorous side of her charity work, but Mrs Chen, 81, is no less enthusiastic about her work at the care centre.
She admitted that she did not plan to take over the leadership of the home when her mother died.
But having helped her mum build up the home over the years, Mrs Chen was reluctant to give up her mother's baby.
She said: "It makes a difference if you have a passion... You cannot just give away a charity like that."
So, like her mother, she is very involved in running the home.
Mrs Chen also attends the free luncheons the home holds every Saturday, and pops down for regular meetings on weekdays.
For the home's nearly 30 ambulant residents, she is also just a phone call away, she said.
"You know how old people tend to quarrel over trivial matters. Sometimes, they just want someone to settle the dispute.
"But they don't abuse the system. They don't call unless it's an absolute emergency," she said.
Women like Madam Ee and Mrs Chen are inspiring younger socialites like Ms Sulian Tan Wijaya.
The 42-year-old, a director at the Singapore Tourism Board and a mother of two, said that she would love to do more than the usual charity balls and cash donations.
But, she added: "Honestly, that will have to come when I'?m in semi-retirement."
Another familiar face on the charity scene is Mrs Serene Liok, 59, owner of Avana boutique.
She has already been volunteering with the Inner Wheel Club East as well as with her husband's Rotary Club for many years, but is hoping to do more now that she is passing on the reins of her business to her two daughters, Natasha and Vanessa.
What she would like to do: Get her weekly prayer group to visit homes.
To that end, she is organising singing lessons for group members, who are all women.
Mrs Liok admitted that some in the group may be uncomfortable getting close to the aged sick, but said optimistically: "The shock will not be as bad in a group."
Is doing charity work better than just giving cash? The socialites we spoke to would not say so.
Most said that the distinction was unimportant as long as the donations helped those in need.
As founder of Food From The Heart, Mrs Christine Laimer, who gave up her expatriate tai-tai lifestyle to start the bread-delivering charity, said: "You have to leave it up to them. You can't press people to do it."
But Madam Ee still hopes that her friends will change their minds about doing charity work.
"They keep giving me the excuse that charity begins at home. But if everyone thinks that way, then who will be left to do charity?" she asked.
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