Super Gramps: Gun-Toting Grandparents And Protectors Of VIPs

They may be in their 50s and 60s but these super-fit police bodyguards say they can take down younger opponents anytime.

Super Gramps

When I grow up, I want to be like Alice Lim.

At 55, she walks with a spring in her step, runs 2.4km in under 14 minutes, clears six pull-ups (chin over the bar, always) effortlessly, and crushes 24 push-ups in a minute.

Oh, did I mention that this grandmother of five can handle a submachine gun with deadly accuracy, and disarm you easily with her bare hands?

To her eldest grandson, she is a real-life gun-toting Super Gran who protects Very Important People.

Mdm Lim, together with fellow grandparents Francis Joseph, 61, and Eng Choon Hui, 61, is among the handful of Personal Security Officers (PSOs) who were re-employed by the Police Security Command (SecCom) when they reached the Police’s official retirement age of 50.

“I’m more of a modern grandmother who thinks children should go to childcare to be more socialised,” said Mdm Lim with a twinkle in her eye. She confessed that the task of looking after five grandchildren full-time seemed more daunting than protecting VIPs – a job she’s had for 33 years – so she chose to continue working, seeing the kids every evening instead.

Her colleague Mr Joseph, who has a one-year-old granddaughter, wanted to remain active when he reached 50. “I didn’t want to do nothing. This is a very challenging job that keeps my mind active all the time,” said the police veteran who joined the Police Marine Division in 1978 and then SecCom in 1982.

Francis Joseph  

I would feel very confident to take him down. 
– Francis Joseph, 61

Mr Eng was one of the earliest to be re-hired in 1999 when the retirement age was 45. With no precedent then, extra administrative effort was made to rehire the pioneer batch on a case-by-case basis, said Mr Eng, who has an 11-year-old granddaughter.

In 2002, re-employment in SecCom was officially rolled out, with the aim of retaining the invaluable knowledge and skills of officers who are still in tip-top mental and physical condition. To date, four female and 21 male officers have been re-hired.

Same as the rest

The three officers, who specialise in close personal protection, don’t enjoy any “pioneer” privileges because of their age – they get the same duties as younger colleagues.

When assigned to guard a minister, they have to be up before their “principal”, or VIP, is awake, and only stand down when he or she is safely home. On days that the minister has a “Meet the People” session, for instance, their protection duty ends as late as 2am. Working more than 16 hours a day hardly fazes the three officers, who say they are used to it. “Four hours’ sleep is good enough,” said Mr Joseph.

“Most of the time, the father or mother is not around,” said Mr Eng of how the children of PSOs grow up, given the long hours they work.

Mdm Lim recalled she had to send her children to school “very, very early” so that she herself could report to work.

Staying on top of the game

In Singapore, they are rostered for protection duty on alternate days – the “rest” days are known as “in-service” days when they report to SecCom headquarters in Toa Payoh to train and prepare for the many tests they have to pass yearly. “[It’s like] almost one test a month!” chimed Mr Eng.

The three officers rattled off a list of tests from the standard Police fitness, baton and shooting tests, to specialised SecCom ones for upper body fitness, close contact combat tactics, pistol and submachine gun shooting, protective driving with advanced manoeuvring techniques, and medical response training such as life-saving.

 Eng Choon Hui  

We’re addicted to exercise. 
– Eng Choon Hui , 61 

On top of all that, they still find time to do the sports they love, from running, swimming, golf, squash, to yoga and pilates. “We’re addicted to exercise,” laughed the three grandparents, who consistently achieve the Gold award for both the Individual Physical Proficiency Test and the Upper Body Fitness Test in their age categories.

Though he tops the fitness charts for his age, Mr Joseph admitted that it takes him slightly longer to recover from a sprint than before. They are also more conscious about weight gain, something that occurs naturally with age.

“I don’t feel 55, I feel like I’m only 40-plus,” said Mdm Lim, who used to run an 11-minute 2.4km, but has dialled down her pace owing to minor joint pains – another inevitable aspect of ageing. “You just have to slow down a bit and do more of those exercises that you can still do well.”

Experience counts

They may never be as fit as their younger selves again but the officers say their years of experience in personal protection will give them an upper hand when assessing a situation or faced with a younger opponent.

“I would feel very confident to take him down,” said Mr Joseph with a steady look in his eyes.

Mr Eng added that experience is what matters when a bodyguard is in unknown territory, especially when overseas. Not only do they meet counterparts with very different ways of working or encounter language differences that require translation, they also have to react to changing ground conditions nimbly.

 Alice Lim  

I don’t feel 55, I feel like I’m only 40-plus. 
– Alice Lim, 55

The overseas assignments are the toughest as there are no rest days for the bodyguards. Mdm Lim relies on copious cups of coffee to stay alert throughout the trip. “I hardly sleep at all,” she said, adding that she catches up on rest only when she returns home.

The thrill of going to places that many others do not have the chance to see is a key motivation that have kept the three officers at their job for more than 30 years. The other perk is the array of training opportunities and specialised skills they have picked up over the years.

Most of all, they say, it is the pride of being able to protect a VIP.

“I’ll keep working till I feel that I’m no longer fit,” said Mr Joseph. By the looks of it, that would be many more years to come.

    Nov 9, 2015
    Bridgette See
    Teck Lim, Lumina
    Yip Siew Fei
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