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Patriarch of Scotts Holdings, Ameerali R Jumabhoy, dies at 94

AMEERALI Rajabali Jumabhoy, prominent businessman and founder of Scotts Holdings Limited, died early on Tuesday. He was 94.

He was a forward thinker and created Asia's first purpose-built serviced apartment building, The Ascott Singapore on Scotts Road, the family said in a statement.

"He was a visionary and a pioneer, always willing to challenge the status quo. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather," the family said.

He founded Scotts Holdings Limited in 1982, which was later renamed The Ascott Limited after it was acquired by CapitaLand in 1996. At its peak, Scotts Holdings had assets valued at over S$600 million.

In 2019, Mr Ameerali was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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The Ascott name itself was his idea with the double T representing Scotts Road and also the family's association with equestrian sports, said Iqbal, his third child, who noted that his father was a horseman who also played polo and took part in amateur races.

Mr Ameerali was instrumental in securing the land on which the current Singapore Polo Club sits, when there was a possibility of acquisition. He was the first Singaporean President of the Singapore Polo Club and served for 12 years, and was its patron until his death.

Under his leadership, the family business grew into a multi-national hospitality, property, food and retail group, with several concepts and brands under its wing.

Many will fondly remember the food court in Scotts, known as Picnic, which was the one of the first food courts in Singapore, said Mr Iqbal.

Mr Ameerali had also pushed for the government to restore and redevelop Lau Pa Sat, or Telok Ayer Market. He imported from Switzerland the historic building's chiming clock, which is still in use today.

The family also owned the fast-food chain A&W; it was Mr Ameerali who forged a path to get a halal certification for the chain. McDonalds and other fast-food restaurants followed suit.

Born in Singapore on Dec 28, 1925, he was the son of Rajabali Jumabhoy, an immigrant from Kutch, India. Mr Rajabali was a pioneer of the Singapore Indian community as a prominent businessman, a member of the first Legislative Assembly and a member of the Legislative Council in Singapore's first General Elections in 1955. He stood as an independent in a three-cornered fight in Telok Ayer, a predominantly Chinese consistency.

Mr Ameerali, or Ameer, as he was known, was born in the family house, then at 310 Orchard Road. This is today the site of Tangs, the department store. He was the eldest of four surviving children. He studied at Anglo Chinese School on Coleman Street; it was while he was sitting his Senior Cambridge examinations that the Japanese began bombing Singapore.

His father persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to send ships for the Indian community, on which Ameer, his mother and siblings were evacuated to India.

Mr Ameerali studied in India during the war and graduated from St Xavier's College in Bombay (known as Mumbai today), with a degree in microbiology.

While in India, he participated in the "Quit India" movement, and was considered a "freedom fighter". He developed a deep, life-long devotion to Mahatma Gandhi, and was arrested several times by the colonial authorities in the struggle for freedom from the British.

He married Amina Dharamsey in 1950; she died of a heart attack at 68 in 1992.

After the war, he returned to Singapore, and joined his father's commodities trading business. A passionate entrepreneur, he took the family into numerous other businesses, including shipping, marine equipment, retail and manufacturing.

He was active in public service and involved in several public organisations including Mendaki. He chaired Mendaki Holdings, MUIS, the Police Academy and the National Crime Prevention Council. He was on the founding board of Singapore Polytechnic and the National Heritage Board. He founded the Jaaferi Association of Singapore, and was a founding member of the Singapore Shipping Association.

He also led the re-building of Masjid Kassim in Changi Road. In recent years, he served on the Sino-Singapore Friendship Association, the Global Organisation of Persons of Indian Origin and the Gandhi Memorial Foundation.

An active person, he continued to walk every afternoon at the Botanic Gardens until a few weeks ago, said Mr Iqbal.

He was a regular attendee of lectures at the Institute of South-East Asian studies, always asking questions at the end of the lectures in his quest to never stop learning; in his 90s, he was still attending courses to learn how to use social media.

He read four newspapers daily - The Straits Times, The Business Times, Financial Times and The New York Times, said his son.

Former Cabinet minister George Yeo said he first got to know Mr Ameerali when he was part of a business delegation to India in early 1993.

"We were together almost two weeks, visiting different parts of the country. I learned a lot from him about Indian history and politics, and treated him as an uncle," said Mr Yeo.

Mr Ameerali is survived by his four children and their spouses, his 11 grandchildren and their spouses and one great-grandchild.

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