Meet Chu Lin Ooi. With his hiring on March 7, he is now the City of Swainsboro’s financial director. He is a native of Singapore, but his heart has been in Emanuel for quite some time. Today, he is excited to combine his love for the community with his education and experience in finance to help move Swainsboro forward fiscally.
In an interview, Ooi, a husband and father of seven, explained his connection to the area.
“The seeds of love for Swainsboro were planted in my heart as a young boy. Sitting in church in Singapore, I would listen to boyhood stories told by pastor and Swainsboro native Cliff Hunnicutt,” Ooi said.
Hunnicutt’s stories epitomized small-town living at the time. Ooi recalls the pastor telling about living on the second floor of a southern colonial home with columns while his dad operated a funeral home downstairs. Pastor Hunnicutt, as Ooi recounts, talked about how he would go to the theatre a couple of doors down or cross North Main Street to attend church or play baseball at a field beside the old First Baptist Church, which was then located where Ware’s BBQ is today. Hunnitcutt also spoke about how as a young teen, he would sit on extra cushions so he could drive an ambulance (because in the days before EMS, funeral homes operated ambulances) as many young men were drafted and away fighting in World War II.
These colorful relays of Swainsboro immediately attached to Ooi’s heart, and he would be drawn here physically by them later in life.
Prior to the intercontinental move, however, Ooi was a studious pupil. He had a special love for numbers.
“In high school, I loved history and geography, especially urban geography and city planning. Most of all, I loved numbers. I took to it like a fish to water, and to this day, I could sit here all day working in these areas,” he continued.
He went on to fulfill the requirements for an undergraduate degree at a Singapore institution, then attended the University of London. There, he majored in economics and management—but he took plenty of accounting and finance courses as well. He graduated with a bachelor’s in 2007, then a trip to Swainsboro changed his life.
“A few weeks after college graduation in 2007, I was considering a couple of job offers when I received a phone call. A friend I’d met in Singapore had just bought the old Hooks Milling feed store and warehouse and asked if I could help him move. A group of five of us came from Singapore to visit and help him move. In the group was a young lady named Bevelin. She and I had known each other for years but never dated. Anyway, while we were helping to clean out the old Hooks feed store, God drew our hearts together, and the rest is history.”
The couple wed in Singapore. Following the nuptials, they packed up and moved to Swainsboro.
This was in 2008, and Ooi took a job working for AeroXS, an aviation parts business in town.
This experience alone taught him firsthand the advantages of a community of small business leaders who work together. He lists Mason Henry, then manager of Emanuel Peanut & Grain, Emanuel Janitorial’s Harrison Pitts, Danny Wayne Faircloth, the folks at Ogeechee Steel, and others who were a huge help as a remodel took place at Hooks Milling.
After working for AeroXS for 13 years, so began the next phase of his professional life, which ultimately led to him applying for and being hired as the city’s finance director.
In 2021, Ooi started turning over in his head the idea of starting a small restaurant with his family. However, that would not come to be.
“My kids are still young and so my plan was to learn the business first. I started to help at Leannas because I really admire what the Stoltzfus Family has done,” Ooi explained. “Well, as life and divine planning would have it, my wife got COVID in August. Having had asthma and a history of breathing problems in the past, it hit her hard.”
Bevelin ended up being hospitalized for 24 days with the first 16 days entirely spent prone on her stomach and on oxygen. Their family is grateful for God’s mercy on her life, but even today, they’re not sure if she’ll ever regain her strength to pre-COVID levels.
His wife’s experience with COVID further tied Ooi emotionally to the area.
“I’ll never forget the sacrifice and kindness of our EMS paramedics who agreed to send her all the way to Memorial Hospital in Savannah because Emanuel Medical Center was full,” he commented.
When the City of Swainsboro underwent its hiring process for city administrator, Ooi knew right away he wanted to throw his hat in the ring. Sure enough, he applied and went through the interview process, which he says was impressive in itself.
“I was just impressed by how professional the whole process was conducted by the mayor and city council,” he detailed. “Obviously I was just a candidate and had no idea who else had applied. When the council voted on Melissa [Kirby] to be the administrator, I told her as well as the mayor and city council members she was, indeed, the best person for the job. She’s served at city hall for 23 years and knows exactly what needs to be done.”
This opened up Kirby’s previous position, one which perhaps better fits Ooi’s niche, given his affinity for numbers. He applied and was hired earlier this month. His first day on the job was Monday, March 14.
When asked about his goals as the finance director, Ooi focused his answer around the city’s administration.
“As far as specific goals are concerned, my job is to help the city administrator execute the goals of the mayor and the city council so the city staff’s vision can be accomplished,” he stated. “On a personal note, last year’s experiences have made me value the time we all have more than ever before. I will be trying my best to improve the efficiencies of our city’s financial processes so our time is used in a better way.”
All in all, he says it’s a great honor to be working in such an important role in a special town that has poured into him for years.
“It’s a great privilege for me to serve the people of Swainsboro by being a trustworthy steward of our taxpayers’ hard-earned money. After the difficulties we faced last year, I feel I can better empathize with people when I hear about their physical, financial, and emotional troubles. I believe all things work together for good for those who love God, and I look forward to being able to help the Swainsboro community.”
In his spare time, Ooi can be found “making joyful noise” with his four older kids playing musical instruments together. He also enjoys cleaning their family’s church and doing yardwork there.