Sixty thousand, and counting – that’s how many marriages Mrs Tan Yeow Liang has solemnised over her 41 years as a solemniser. After starting her Public Service career in 1962 as a nurse, Mrs Tan became a general clerk with the Public Works Department before joining the Registry of Marriages (ROM) in 1973. For her, solemnisation is a vocation, and more.

The very first volume of ROM’s Marriage Register, from 1961.

ROM is a wonderful place to work. Where else can you witness outpourings of joy every working day?

Most people visit public agencies because they have to get something done or resolve an issue. But people actually look forward to coming to ROM, either for their own marriage or those of their relatives and friends. It’s a place that holds beautiful memories.

I have many wonderful memories too of work. Once, I solemnised the marriages of a pair of twin brothers to their wives. After the ceremony, their father came up to me and said, “Mrs Tan, you also solemnised my marriage, 25 years ago.”

I got the shock of my life – I’d actually solemnised the marriages of two generations of a family. And it was all because I happened to be on duty at ROM that day. Such a happy coincidence!

I’ve also solemnised the marriages for all four children in a family. After I’d officiated over the ceremonies of the first two, their father said, “Mrs Tan, I don’t know when my other two children are going to be married, but I’m going to ‘book’ you first.”
Eventually, I fulfilled his wish – he was so happy when all his children were married. But you should have seen me at my first solemnisation in 1974. I was 30 years old. There was a hush in the room, and so many pairs of eyes were on me. My heart was pounding so hard I thought everyone could hear it. But the Registrar had given me this advice before the ceremony: “Remember, the couple is more worried than you because they don’t know what you’re going to say to them. So you should be calmer than them.”

Thank goodness the whole thing went well!

In those early days, as an Assistant Registrar at ROM, I had to perform 66 solemnisations a week. Sometimes all of them happened in a single day – 42 in the morning and 24 in the afternoon.

From the 1970s to the early 1990s, solemnisations were simple affairs. It’s a different story now. Have you ever noticed the bus bays at ROM?

A good solemniser must convey authority, but should also be kind and friendly. I like to interact with people; perhaps that’s why I can be a solemniser for so long. A solemnisation usually ends with the couple embracing and kissing. After so many years, that still warms my heart.

I’ve also conducted a solemnisation at a hospice. The bride was lying in bed and breathing with the help of medical equipment. Nurses, doctors and family members filled the room, which they’d decorated with bouquets and ribbons. After the ceremony, we celebrated with kueh kueh brought by the nurses

I felt a mix of sadness and joy. Isn’t it a blessing to celebrate your marriage with so many people who love you? I was glad to have fulfilled the bride’s wishes, at this final stage of her life.

I celebrated my 45th wedding anniversary this year. There are ups and downs in every marriage, but a good one is about love, trust and communication. I hope all the couples I’ve married have happy marriages and lead fulfilling family lives. I’m proud to be able to grant legal licences to couples, and honoured that I can still serve ROM after my retirement. I’ll continue to volunteer as a solemniser for as long as I can.

Some people have said to me, “I envy you – you have a happy job.”

It’s true, you know. How many of us have jobs where we can see joyful faces all the time?