On 16 February 2020, my mother, Dr Khin May Sein, passed away peacefully in bed. We had a lovely funeral in Greenock on Saturday 7 March. I’m gathering here some memories and photos for friends and family who were unable to attend. Some of this information is gleaned from her own handwritten notes, while other information comes from other family members and myself.
My mother was born on 29 October 1935 in Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma). Her father was U Hoke Sein, son of U Boon Fong and Daw Kyin Hmone. Her mother was Daw Mya May, daughter of Teoh Eng Hock and Daw Kyin Lwan. She was the youngest child in her family and grew up with five older brothers. (A sixth brother had passed away in childhood). She grew up in a large extended family and did not lack for company.
At the age of 4, she started attending St John’s Convent High School while her brothers attended St Paul’s High School. However, her schooling was disrupted when World War II broke out. Her extended families and household staff (according to her notes, around 65 people!) piled into 6 cars and travelled towards Upper Burma just before Rangoon fell into Japanese hands. The Japanese army caught up with the family’s flight at Sagaing.
For the three years of the Japanese occupation of Sagaing, my mother and her family lived in a monastery. This meant twice-daily prayers, but also lessons with the monks. Sirens and bombs were part of life, and the children helped carrying stones when caves were dug out in order to store supplies. Fortunately, there was also time to play. My mother remembers playing on a swing and hopscotch, as well as learning to ride a bicycle.
After the war, my mother studied medicine at Yangon University, graduating with MB BS in 1960. She moved to the UK to undertake postgraduate medical training, and in 1963 she obtained the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the University of London. She initially worked in Birmingham. That’s where she met my father, Dr U Mya Thaung. The story goes that she was struggling to do a lumbar puncture one night and had to call in the duty anaesthetist, who turned out to be another Burmese doctor. He can’t have been too grumpy about the matter since he then asked her out!
My parents were married in Glasgow on 25 March 1966. By that time, my mother was working in Geriatric Medicine at Bridge of Weir and Ravenscraig hospitals while my father, an anaesthetist, was working in the various Greenock hospitals where operations were performed. Initially, they lived in Bridge of Weir Hospital staff accommodation (as did I during my early years), and they moved to Kilmacolm in 1974. When Inverclyde Royal Hospital opened in 1979, centralising the services, both of them transferred their duties there.
Both my parents retired in 1995. They had always enjoyed travelling, and continued to do so with the further time available. They attended international family reunions and went on cruises where they enjoyed dressing up and dancing.
The countries they visited after retirement included Myanmar, Australia, the United States, Mexico, Iceland and Norway.
After my father passed away in 2010, my mother continued to be active in the local community (Kilmacolm, Port Glasgow and Greenock). She was a member of the Greenock branch of Soroptomist International, where she served a term as President. Additionally she was an active member of the Inverclyde League of Hospital Friends, where she also served a term as President. She enjoyed swimming, line dancing, walking and meeting people, and she was a familiar sight around the area.
My mother’s passing was unexpected, but we can take comfort from the fact she died peacefully at home, in the heart of the community where she had lived for over fifty years.
Memories from Uncle Oscar, one of my mother’s cousins
Around the mid-80’s I worked for an American oil company that BP eventually acquired. Before then, I was involved in an exchange program and visited their head office in London around 1987. On one of my first visits there, I reached out and contacted my cousin Aik Kyi, your uncle Dr. Thet Tun. Shortly after, while I was working at BP’s office in Britannic House at Moorgate, one of my new colleagues handed the phone to me with a quizzical look and told me I had a call from Scotland. Equally puzzled, I picked up the phone and was delighted to find out it was from your Mother! She found out from Aik Kyi and immediately called the BP office. Needless to say, my colleagues were impressed and envious I had such a large and close knit family – especially when I had told them I had never been to the UK before! My stature was elevated even higher when they found out both my cousins were practicing physicians who had settled in the country. So thanks to your Mom and Uncle, I gained newfound respect from my new team mates who were already impressed with the software that we were bringing over to UK’s old stalwart petroleum company BP!
This is a 1946 group photograph taken following the safe return of everyone back to our hometown of Rangoon after the Japanese invasion during WWII. The two seniors encircled in Red are your grandparents U Hoke Sein and Daw Mya May. Others marked in the backrow are your mother’s brothers, and the young lady under the star is probably your Mom – Sin Kyu, Dr. Khin May Sein!