Joseph Conceicao, ex-Katong MP & ambassador to Soviet Union, dies at 95

He was present at the inauguration of the PAP.

Sulaiman Daud| August 14, 07:16 PM

One of Singapore's foremost public servants passed away on the night of Aug. 13.

Joseph Francis Conceicao, who served as a Member of Parliament and Ambassador, was 95. He is survived by his wife Anita and three children.

Brought into politics by Goh Keng Swee

Conceicao first worked as a Literature teacher at St. Patrick's School and the University of Singapore (today's NUS).

Conceicao recalled being present at the inauguration of the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954, taking in speeches by Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman.

He didn't join the party then, but was later cajoled into entering politics by none other than Goh Keng Swee. In an interview with the National Archives of Singapore (NAS), he said:

"When I was working in the university, as head of the department of Extra-Mural Studies, I was called by Dr Goh Keng Swee."

Conceicao thought he was being asked to offer courses for the party members, but Goh wanted him to be an MP instead. Conceicao was "absolutely flummoxed".

He was hesitant at first as he believed he was not a very good public speaker, but Goh said he was the same, and told him not to worry.

Conceicao then became MP for Katong in 1968, running unopposed, as the Barisan Sosialis had boycotted the election. He would serve until 1984.

MP to Ambassador

After leaving politics, Conceicao joined the foreign service. He served as Singapore's Ambassador in Moscow, both when it was under the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

He also served as Singapore's Ambassador to Indonesia, as well as the High Commissioner to Australia.

In an interview available on the National Archives of Singapore, Conceicao recalled:

"It was a very closed society. The Russians were always keeping secrets. The only way to find out things was talking to other ambassadors."

He added that talking to Russian officials was a "little bit of a hazard" because they were trying to obtain information from the diplomats too.

Singaporean officer seduced by a Russian spy

Conceicao happened to serve as Ambassador during the time of the infamous Russian spy affair, where a Singaporean cypher officer was seduced into giving up his encryption codes.

"One of our staff began to get involved with Russian women. We suspected that he was involved in a way that they wanted to find out secrets from him, about Singapore, about the Mission, about the Embassy. We believed that he did betray us."

Conceicao retired from the foreign service in 1994.

According to Straits Times, he was active in the Eurasian community, serving as a Trustee of the Eurasian Association.

He pursued his interest in literature, writing a number of books such as his own autobiography.

Foreign Ministers paid tribute

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that Conceicao made numerous contributions to Singapore, including as a distinguished member of our foreign service.

He added that Uncle Joe's "heartfelt dedication and service to Singapore will be missed".

Former Foreign Minister George Yeo paid tribute to Conceicao in a Facebook post on Aug. 14.

It read, "Farewell, old friend. Joe Conceicao 1924-2019."

Top image from George Yeo's Facebook page.