James Supramaniam: Fine scholar, distinguished churchman and community leader

The remarkable story of the Rev James A. Supramaniam is worth telling because he stood out not only as a young man made good, but made good use of his talent to preach and teach in Methodist churches and schools for more than 40 years. A reminder of this was when two awards were made to two outstanding Anglo-Chinese Junior College students in his memory.

homepage2-Aug 2007

Two top ACJC students win awards named in his memory

AN EARLY pupil of Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) was James Supramaniam, who joined the school when he was a 12-year-old in 1892, and completed his Standard 7 in 1898 and Senior in 1901.

He was also the first recipient of the “ACS Diploma” awarded in 1902 and went on to be selected one of two Asian teachers (the other being Goh Hood Keng) to teach Standard 7 with marked success.

Born into a distinguished Hindu family in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, he was orphaned at age 10 and was sent to Singapore where he joined ACS to stay with his maternal uncle who was a community leader. However, the school had a profound effect on him, and he became a Christian in 1896, for which he was disinherited and chased out of his relatives’ house. Left on his own, he often studied under street lamps with his good friend, Goh Hood Keng.

The following year, he joined as a full-time teacher in his alma mater, one of the first few ACS pupils to do so, having taken up the Government’s offer to train locally recruited teachers, and in 1910 graduated from the Normal Training Class with a first class diploma.

He served the school in many ways, and for a time, was Sunday School Superintendent and a pastor at the Middle Road Baba Church, like Goh Hood Keng and Chen Chang Lok. He later became a very active local preacher in the Tamil Methodist Church, laying the foundations of the Short Street church by raising funds to build it. Until 1916, he followed a dual career as teacher and Christian worker.

At the same time, James Supramaniam was an inspiration to all those around him with a sense of mission, devotion to duty, exemplary character and service to the community, a founder member of the Ceylon Tamils Association and a director of the YMCA.

In 1916, he decided to serve the Methodist Church full time and was, after some directed study, ordained elder. He was to serve as teacher and preacher, and appointed Headmaster of ACS Penang, Methodist Boys’ Continuation School, Kuala Lumpur, and ACS Seremban. His importance in the work of the Methodist Church can be gauged from his appointment as District Superintendent of the Tamil FMS District which he held until his early death in 1937.

His connection with 21st century ACS spans more than 110 years, ranging from the pastor himself, his five sons, two grandsons, and two great-grandsons who are pupils in ACS, representing four generations. One of his sons, Dr James Supramaniam, now aged 85, was a member of the ACS Board of Governors.

To remember the Rev James Supramaniam’s qualities of being a fine scholar, distinguished churchman and community leader, and to encourage the students of Anglo-Chinese Junior College, his grandson, Mr Paul Supramaniam, has made two awards to students who are “academically excellent, clever, faithful and noble of character”.

This year at the ACJC Founder’s Day on March 1, the James Supramaniam Gold Medal was awarded to Miss Tan Li Feng. She topped the 2005 “A” level examinations with nine distinctions and made outstanding achievements in co-curricular activities and in community service, a team player who displayed a high level of sacrifice while performing her duties with honour.

The Silver Medal was awarded to Miss Magdalene Koh, a current JC2 student meeting similar criteria while sitting her JC1 promotional examinations.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.