Dr Wally Tow: creationist, internationally-renowned gynaecologist1 and pastor
Dr Wally Tow, FRCOG (Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London) graduated in medicine from what is now the National University of Singapore in 1953, and became Professor and Chairman of its Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1965 (succeeding his mentor Dr Benjamin Sheares, who became second President of Singapore).
Dr Tow played a vital role at Kandang Kerbau Women’s Hospital (KKH), where his reorganization of the postgraduate program earned it Royal College accreditation for MRCOG training in 1963, enabling Singapore to train its own obstetricians and gynaecologists. This was crucial for the speciality to grow and keep pace with development and demand.
His ground-breaking research in ‘molar pregnancy’ in the early 1960s (an uncommon disease in the west—see box), earned him the prestigious William Blair Bell Lectureship awarded by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, in 1965, and made his hospital a world leader in the management of this disease.
In the course of his long and interesting life, Dr Tow has seen his adopted country, Singapore, transformed from a Third World British colony into a First World metropolis, for which he credits the exemplary leadership of former Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Dr Tow has also planted over twenty Bible-believing churches and related Christian institutions in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, London, Toronto and Vancouver. He is currently Senior Pastor of Calvary Pandan Bible-Presbyterian Church, Singapore.
Dr Tow Siang Hwa was born in 1925 in Canton, China, the fourth of eight children during a time of revolution and political turmoil. “By God’s clear leading”, he says, “our family fled from China’s great upheaval to a rubber estate in Johor, Malaya (now Malaysia).” There the family survived the global economic depression following the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929.
Fortunately, the young Siang Hwa had one of the best gifts a child could have—godly parents—plus a saintly grandfather. He says of his mother:
“Truly, the joy of the Lord was her strength. Many an afternoon, at sunset, she would gather us children for an hour’s sweet fellowship, telling us stories of Jesus. Such memories remain, timeless and priceless.”
Then “in 1938, at the age of 13, I heard the call of Christ”, under the ministry of renowned Chinese evangelist John Sung (1901–1944).
Siang Hwa experienced four years of Japanese rule when the British colonies of Malaya and Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. Winston Churchill called it the “worst disaster and largest capitulation” in British history.
Though many suffered greatly at Japanese hands (e.g. the infamous Sook Ching massacre in Singapore of some 20,000–50,000 Chinese), the Tow family was relatively unscathed. In that time, while assisting in his father’s clinic, the 17-year-old Siang Hwa assisted his doctor sister in a forceps delivery—a portent of many more babies to come.
Early medical training
In 1947, Siang Hwa applied for admission to the King Edward College of Medicine, the future National University of Singapore. The professors were impressed that he had already spent three years as a medical assistant to his sister, including delivering a baby while in his teens!
Siang Hwa excelled at both rugby and sprinting. He graduated in 1953, topping his class with distinctions in physics, chemistry, obstetrics and gynaecology, winning five medals and the Queen’s Scholarship. One of his fellow students was Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, later the longest serving Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Dr Tow, with a group of Christian students, helped to found the Varsity Christian Fellowship. It was here that he met Miss Tan Cheng Im, who later become “Mrs Tow”, his “faithful yoke-fellow” and “lifelong inspiration”. They lived happily together until 2010, when Mrs Tow went to be with the Lord.
‘Exile’ in Ireland
When Dr Tow joined the staff of KKH, it was not accredited by the Royal College in London for training postgraduates for the MRCOG Examination. But with the Queen’s Scholarship which he had won, he was accepted for training in Belfast, Northern Ireland, starting in 1956. This was a hard two-year separation from his wife and family, which to him was like an exile.
While in Belfast he received his ‘Western name’, as he relates: “The Irish boys found my name ‘Siang Hwa’ too difficult to remember. ‘Let’s just call you Wally.’ Thereafter ‘Wally Tow’ became my international name.”
While preparing for the MRCOG in London, Dr Tow heard the renowned cardiologist-turned-preacher Dr David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981), a staunch biblical creationist.2 “For nine blessed months we attended the chapel [Westminster] every Sunday morning and sat under the preaching of the Doctor as he opened the treasures of God’s Word in the Book of Romans.”3
When Dr Wally Tow returned to his hospital in Singapore in 1959, he implemented improvements learned in his UK training, including efficient record keeping, live-in training facilities, twice-a-day ward rounds, student night classes, and the publishing of a Houseman’s Handbook, “a life-saver for brand new graduates finding their feet at the beginning of their six-month posting.” It also helped spare labouring women from “preventable accidents and life-endangering mistakes.”
In 1963, this reorganization bore fruit when the Royal College in London “approved full recognition of the University training posts. … The bottleneck holding up the supply of specialists in Obstetrics and Gynaecology was finally lifted. Singapore would soon have her own home-grown specialists and gynaecologists … whereas in 1959, there were six OB-GYN specialists in Singapore, today (2013) there are over 200!”
The hospital entered the Guinness Book of [World] Records for delivering the highest number of newborns— 40,000 in 1960—within a single maternity facility, calling it a ‘Birthquake’ Hospital.
Post-independence Singapore experienced an “unprecedented population explosion.” In 1960, Singapore’s Family Planning Association organized a debate on the motion: “Therapeutic Abortion Should be Adopted as a Method of Population Control” (although abortion is certainly not therapeutic for the unborn babies).
Dr Tow led the Negative team to victory in the debate. But the best debater was judged to be the leader of the Affirmative team, the international lawyer and diplomat, Professor Tommy Koh.4 Prof. Koh later had a distinguished career as ambassador, author, law professor, and chairman of numerous UN conferences. Despite their differences in religious persuasions (Prof. Koh is a self-described agnostic), they have maintained a warm friendship spanning half a century. As Chairman of Singapore’s National Heritage Board, Prof. Koh gladly wrote the foreword to Dr Tow’s autobiography, saying, “I have many Christian friends, but few are as Christ-like as Dr Tow. He truly is a good and virtuous man.”
But the debate outcome was ignored, abortion was legalized, and Singapore discouraged large families. So “Singapore’s population suffered a serious decline.” But the nation later realized its blunder, and now encourages large families with various material incentives.
Tow Yung Clinic
Thanks to Dr Tow’s reorganization, Singapore was training fully accredited MRCOGs; when he started, he was the only specialist in the University Department. But when he left the Department in 1969, there were seven other very able MRCOGs. So after only four years in the chair, Dr Tow thought it safe to leave the hospital in their hands, and time proved him right. So he could now do what he had always wanted: found his own clinic, with a distinctively Christian emphasis, with time for Church and Gospel.
His partner in this was the late Dr Richard Yung: Obstetrician-Gynaecologist, Christian Lay Leader and Colonel in the Singapore army. Their partnership lasted 36 years until Dr Tow finally hung up his stethoscope on his 80th birthday. The clinic has now registered over 80,000 patients.
Dr Tow saw this as ‘tent-making’ (after the Apostle Paul, cf. Acts 18:3), so he could support his Gospel work. The Lord prospered him greatly, enabling him to fund the construction of churches in Singapore and elsewhere. He also says:
“What Tow Yung Clinic has done is to offer a better way, something beyond medical science which is able to defeat our chief enemy, who wields the power of disease and death. Our greater joy beyond compassionate and quality medical care is to introduce the Saviour, the Divine Physician, the only Man who took on the devil [prophesied in Genesis 3:15], and destroyed him who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).”
Creation and Fall
Dr Tow is a keen supporter of CMI, including donating our CMI–US office building. He sees this as a vital, cutting-edge ministry supporting the Bible’s authority. Only biblical Creation and the Fall can explain both the design, as well as the disease and misery he saw so clearly as a physician. And only this big picture can provide the basis for Jesus to be the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45)—our Kinsman–Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20). Christ is the One who redeems His blood relatives, i.e. the fellow descendants of the first man in all races or people groups, Adam (Luke 3:38, Acts 17:26).
At the time of going to press, Dr Tow continues to pursue a fulltime pastoral ministry in Singapore and oversight of several overseas churches, driven by his concern for the lost and his passion for Jesus Christ.
Molar (‘grape’) pregnancies: world-class research
This strange condition was known even to Hippocrates (c.460–c.370 BC), the ‘Father of Western Medicine’, but he had no clue what it was. Dr Tow explains that pregnancy (and human life) begins with the fertilized egg that rapidly divides into a ball of cells (blastocyst). The inner cell mass normally grows into the baby, while an outer layer, comprising cells called trophoblasts, becomes the placenta. For this, the trophoblasts have the unique power to penetrate the womb’s lining (decidua) and make contact with the mother’s blood vessels. This forms the placenta, “the vital life support organ” for the developing baby.
Sometimes, as in the case of molar pregnancy, no baby develops. But the trophoblasts “still continue to produce nutrients”. Since there is no baby, the nutrient fluid “accumulates and bloats up the villous processes transforming them into grape-like vesicles.”
This condition is known as a hydatidiform mole. The woman has all the symptoms of pregnancy (e.g. morning sickness, abdominal swelling), even more intensely than in normal pregnancy. In most cases, the womb ejects the mass. But in about 10% of cases, the trophoblasts penetrate even further, enter the maternal blood stream, and sometimes become malignant.
Dr Tow studied 200 of these cases. The research was so well regarded that he was invited to lecture in some fourteen top OB-GYN departments in America in 1962–3, including leading universities such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, New York, UCLA, Cornell and Stanford. In 1966, he gave the prestigious William Blair Bell Lecture in London. The subsequent publication in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology put KK Hospital on the world map. As Singapore transformed from a Third World country to a First World one, the cases disappeared, indicating it is a poverty-related disease.
Update, 8 March 2019: CMI was very sorry to learn that Dr Tow died this afternoon. Our prayers go out to his loved ones.
References and notes
- A doctor specializing in women’s health, from the Greek word for “woman” γυνή/γυναίκ– (gynē/gynaik–). Return to text.
- See Batten, D., Famous preacher: “Creation, not evolution”, creation.com/mlj, 14 August 2004. Return to text.
- Another great creationist scientist strongly influenced by Dr MLJ is the world’s leading expert on sickle-cell anemia, Dr Felix Konotey-Ahulu. See interview with him in Creation 29(1):16–19, 2006; creation.com/sickle2. Return to text.
- Professor Koh’s wife, Siew Aing, was a medical student under Dr Tow, who also delivered their son Aun. Return to text.