Khaw Kok-Tee obituary

Images above: Kok-Tee, having just discovered that champagne is very good for getting stains out of white material; Kok-Tee with husband Peter Taylor. Her cremation service was on Monday 28 November at Mortlake crematorium

Khaw Kok-Tee 1955 – 2022

Kok-Tee Khaw was one of those people who lit up the room when she came into it. It is a cliché, but really to find her, you just had to follow the laughter. I only had the pleasure of knowing her for the past couple of years as she came to Jazz at George every week with her husband Peter Taylor, but each week she would greet me like a long-lost friend and compliment me on that week’s newsletter from The Chiswick Calendar, making me feel good.

She died on 15 November after falling down a flight of stairs and breaking her neck. She had been unsteady on her feet since suffering a stroke in 2005 at the age of only 50. When she recovered sufficiently she organised a pink party, “The Staying Alive” party to celebrate the fact that she was back. A common sight around Bedford Park she would hold on to Peter’s arm for stability, giggling that all their neighbours would think they were “lovey dovey”, which they evidently were, even after 47 years together.

They met at Cambridge in 1973, where they were both reading medicine.

“There were ten men to every woman in those days so they were highly sought after” says Peter. “She was a stunning sight in Cambridge because she cycled from Girton College on an old bicycle with her long hair in danger of being caught up in her spokes while wearing her mother’s short arctic fox fur coat.

“We met at the age of 18 and started our relationship aged 20. We grew into each other.”

He says the stroke made her determined to live life to the full. They were always off at something – Venice with a bunch of friends, Glyndebourne, classical music concerts at the Barbican or the Wigmore Hall – but it sounds to me like she was always that way.

Peter went on to be a surgeon, while Kok-Tee became a consultant radiologist. “One of us has to be sensible” she said. It enabled her to buy her second great love, a white Toyota first generation MR2. On an errand in north London she couldn’t get the key to work in the lock to open the door.

A man appeared above the fence “What are you doing to that car?” he demanded. “My key doesn’t seem to work” she said. “That’s because it’s my car, yours is two down”. She later realised it was Timothy Dalton. She progressed to an open top MG.

Typically for a funeral in the medical fraternity, there were testicle stories. One poor man with a back complaint had his trousers wrestled off him to have his testicles x-rayed. Ignoring his protestations they later found he was the wrong man, with a similar name to the one who really needed the x-ray.

On another occasion Kok-Tee approached her next patient and told him that she was going to examine his testicles with an ultrasound probe. “I’d rather you didn’t” responded the patient. “Why not?” demanded Kok-Tee. “Because I’m your builder” said the patient.

Images above: Kok-Tee with her siblings. L to R Khaw Chay-Tee, Khaw Kok-Tee, Professor Khaw Kay-Tee CBE and Professor Sir Khaw Peng-Tee

Originally from Singapore, her family were Chinese. Her sister, Professor Kay-Tee Khaw CBE, (Honorary Senior Visiting Fellow at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine) told those gathered for Kok-Tee’s cremation on Monday 28 November that their grandmother was the last of the generation of women who had their feet bound.

As the youngest girl it fell to Kok-Tee to charm their father and get them back into his good books when the siblings had transgressed. Her colleagues also responded to her charm. When she got her first job at St George’s hospital in Tooting she quickly became the social organiser. A highly skilled and efficient radiologist who influenced the career of many junior radiologists, she made it her business to make the work environment fun as well as professional.

“Over the years I have realised that Kok-Tee had a brain the size of a planet, with an astounding memory” says Peter. Her stroke meant she could not articulate her thoughts in the way she used to, so she took to reading six or seven books a week instead, to maintain her intellectual life. Their house is stacked high with books in every room.

She and Peter shared the common interest of medicine but they also shared a love of music, and a fair degree of proficiency as players. Peter resolved to impress her by learning Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto during their last year at Cambridge. She played Schumann’s piano concerto, which Murray Perahia played at the cremation service.

Peter concluded his speech with the words:

“She was a much loved, funny, determined, highly intelligent, talented lady who brought joy and laughter to all she came into contact with.”

Images above: Kok-Tee with Peter

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