Mr Lee Kuan Yew
A ForeFather of our nation
“Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.”
“You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools.”
On his iron-fisted governing style:
“Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no way you can govern a Chinese society.”
“If you are a troublemaker... it’s our job to politically destroy you... Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.”
“We have to lock up people, without trial, whether they are communists, whether they are language chauvinists, whether they are religious extremists. If you don’t do that, the country would be in ruins.”
On his policy of matching male and female university graduates to produce smart babies:
“If you don’t include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society... So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That’s a problem.”
On the high pay of cabinet ministers and senior civil servants:
“You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government. You get that alternative and you’ll never put Singapore together again: Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again... and your asset values will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people’s countries, foreign workers.”
“I wouldn’t call myself an atheist. I neither deny nor accept that there is a God. So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God – nor deny that there could be one.”
On his wife of 63 years, Kwa Geok Choo, who died in October 2010:
“Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life... I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”
“There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach.”
“Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me to the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up.”Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister and architect of the tiny Southeast Asian city-state’s rapid rise from British tropical outpost to global trade and financial centre, died early on Monday, aged 91, the Prime Minister’s Office saidBarack Obama said after meeting the still-healthy Mr Lee at the White House in October 2009 that “this is one of the legendary figures of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries”.
He had set Singapore on a path that has seen average incomes rise 100 times, with investments across the globe, a widely respected civil service and world-class infrastructure.
But he was criticised for his iron-fisted rule, forcing several opposition politicians into bankruptcy or exile, and once invoked Machiavelli in declaring: “If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.”
Mr Lee’s political career spanned 30 years as premier and 20 years as senior government adviser.
But in his last years, he was a shadow of his old self as his health deteriorated following his beloved wife’s death in October 2010.
He remained revered by many but also became the target of scathing attacks in social media as some Singaporeans began to muster the courage to speak out against him and the political and social model he had bequeathed.
The statement from the Prime Minister’s Office that was posted on Facebook
His impact, through his policies and via his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is likely to be felt for years to come.
Lee Kuan Yew first became prime minister after Britain granted Singapore self-rule in 1959 prior to its stormy post-colonial union with Malaysia.
Born to a 20-year-old father whom he described as a “rich man’s son, with little to show for himself” and a 16-year-old bride in an arranged marriage, Mr Lee grew up thinking British colonial rulers were invincible.
He had a rude awakening during World War II after Japanese invaders easily overran British forces and took over Singapore in 1942, shattering the myth of European supremacy in Asia.
“The dark ages had descended on us. It was brutal, cruel,” Mr Lee said of the Japanese occupation, calling it “the biggest single political education of my life because, for three and a half years, I saw the meaning of power”.
Mr Lee survived massacres of civilians and at one point worked for Japanese propaganda. After liberation, he left to study law at Cambridge, where he secretly wed his classmate Kwa Geok Choo before returning home in 1950.
Queen Elizabeth II shares a toast with Singapore’s then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in 2006 (AP)
He was shaken by Kwa’s passing after more than 60 years of marriage and admitted that “at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief”.
They had three children, the oldest of whom is Lee Hsien Loong. Daughter Lee Wei Ling became a doctor, and son Lee Hsien Yang became a top corporate figure.
Mr Lee stepped down as prime minister in 1990 and handed power to his deputy Goh Chok Tong, who in turn gave way to the veteran leader’s elder son in 2004.
In 2011, he stepped down as a cabinet adviser after the ruling People’s Action Party suffered its worst performance yet in a general election, its share of the vote falling to a low of 60 percent.
The Prime Minister’s Office said arrangements for the public to pay respects and funeral arrangements will be announced later.SINGAPORE: She was his closest friend, his “tower of strength”, for more than three-quarters of his life — the woman who got his attention when she bested him in school, who ran their household and their law firm, and without whom he would have been hard-pressed to enter politics.
Madam Kwa Geok Choo and Mr Lee Kuan Yew were often seen as inseparable. But the Singapore public found out just how much she meant to him only when he published his memoirs in 1999 — telling all for the first time about the great love of his life and revealing an unexpected side to his unsentimental, hard-nosed public face.
At Raffles College, she had beaten him to be the top student in English and economics at the end of the first term, giving Mr Lee stiff competition for the coveted Queen’s Scholarship.
When the Japanese Occupation interrupted their studies, they reconnected under different circumstances: Mr Lee and her brother-in-law ran a business making stationery glue.
With their friendship blossoming by September 1944, Mr Lee knew Mrs Lee well enough to invite her to his 21st birthday dinner, “an event not without significance” in those days.
With the end of the war, Mr Lee decided to read law in England on his family’s savings. Mrs Lee, who was two-and-a-half years older than Mr Lee, said she would wait for his return.
In the months before he left in September 1946, the couple spent a lot of time together and took photographs.
Mr Lee wrote in his memoirs: “We were young and in love, anxious to record this moment of our lives ... We both hoped she would go back to Raffles College, win the Queen’s Scholarship to read law and join me wherever I might be.
“She was totally committed. I sensed it. I was equally determined to keep my commitment to her.”
Indeed, Mrs Lee was awarded the Queen’s Scholarship the next year. However, the Colonial Office could not find her a university place for that academic year and said she would have to wait till 1948.
Mr Lee, who was studying at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam College, managed to eventually arrange a meeting with the mistress of Girton College and persuaded her to take in Mrs Lee.
She arrived in Britain in October. And two months later, during the Christmas vacation, they decided to get married at Stratford-upon-Avon. But they kept their marriage a secret as they felt her parents, her college and the scholarship authorities might not approve.
SHE WAS HIS ‘INSURANCE POLICY’
Back in Singapore in August 1950, the young couple got married on Sep 30 for a second time. They started their careers doing their pupillage at Laycock & Ong and, in 1955 with Mr Lee’s brother Dennis, they set up the law firm Lee & Lee.
When the People’s Action Party was formed, Mrs Lee helped draft its constitution. In the 1959 general election, she even gave a speech on radio urging women to vote for the party.
One of Singapore’s best conveyancing lawyers, she also in 1965 helped Law Minister Eddie Barker draft the clauses in the Separation Agreement to guarantee the water agreements with the state of Johor. And for most of Mr Lee’s political career, she was his unofficial speech proofreader — indeed, since his first speech to the Malayan Forum in 1950.
But for the most part, she devoted herself to the role behind the scenes of being her husband’s staunchest supporter, running both the household, especially after the birth of their first son Hsien Loong in 1952, and the law firm as Mr Lee immersed himself in politics.
Not only did her income enable him to continue in office over the years, she also put his mind at ease. Mr Lee said once, for “in case anything untoward should happen to me, she would be able to bring up my three children well”.
While she was often seen by Mr Lee’s side over the years at official functions and on official trips, Mr Lee said he “made a point not to discuss the formulation of policies with her, and she was scrupulous in not reading notes or faxes that were sensitive”.
But he did pay attention to her uncanny gut feel for people’s characters. “She would tell me whether she would trust that man or not. And often she is right,” he said.
When he penned his memoirs, she would stay up with him until 4am going over the drafts, correcting, critiquing and getting him to write “clear and crisp”.
FACED CRISES TOGETHER
In terms of their relationship as a couple, they did not dodge difficult personal problems, but faced them and sorted them out early on, Mr Lee said. “We gradually influenced each other’s ways and habits, we adjusted and accommodated each other. We knew that we could not stay starry-eyed lovers all our lives, that life was an ever-ongoing challenge with new problems to resolve and manage.”
When their younger son Hsien Yang married in 1981, Mr Lee wrote the newly-weds a letter with advice on marriage: “We have never allowed the other to feel abandoned and alone in any moment of crisis. Quite the contrary, we have faced all major crises in our lives together, sharing our fears and hopes, and our subsequent grief and exultation. These moments of crisis have bonded us closer together.”
Mr Lee’s brother, Mr Lee Suan Yew, described the couple as being inseparable — they had to be seated together at family dinners.
While her husband did not prefer the arts, Mrs Lee loved classical music. “And he, being very much in love with his wife, would comply and follow her to the Esplanade and listen to some concerts,” Mr Lee’s brother said.
Others, such as former minister George Yeo, who had the opportunity to observe the couple on overseas trips, spoke of their very special close relationship. Education Minister Heng Swee Keat recalled their bantering over Mr Lee’s sweet tooth and how Mrs Lee would “with good humour keep score of the week’s ‘ration’."
While she sat quietly and unobtrusively, anyone who saw them would know “how much strength her presence gave her husband” at official events.
HER STROKE AND HIS TOUGHEST MOMENTS
In October 2003, Mrs Lee suffered a stroke while she and Mr Lee were in London. She was flown back to Singapore for an operation. As Mr Lee had already planned to have a prostate operation, they were admitted to Singapore General Hospital in adjacent rooms, with a sliding door between them so they could keep each other company.
Mrs Lee recovered, but as the stroke left her with a tendency to neglect the left side of her body, Mr Lee would sit on her left at the dining table and prompt her to eat the food on the left side of her plate. He also took care of her medication — a reversal of roles, for it was Mrs Lee who used to ensure he kept his cholesterol level under control.
They continued to travel together and Mr Lee would always choose hotels with swimming pools so she could get her exercise, which he helped her with. But in 2008, she suffered two strokes which left her unable to get out of bed, move or speak.
As her condition deteriorated, she responded almost exclusively to Mr Lee’s voice. His most difficult moments came at the end of each day: She would stay awake waiting for him to return from work and he would spend an hour or more by her bedside, talking to her and reading her the news and her favourite poems and books.
His brother recalled how at family dinners, “at 10pm … he’ll say: ‘I’m sorry I have to leave you now’ and go back home and read her favourite storybooks”. Even when abroad, he would speak to her via webcam.
To fill the “empty blank spaces” now that she was unable to accompany him for meals and walks, Mr Lee kept himself occupied honing his Mandarin. To cope at night with hearing the sounds of his wife’s discomfort in the next room, he took up meditation. The constant stress of her illness, he said, was harder on him than the stresses of the political arena.
“I can’t break down. Life has got to go on. I try to busy myself, but from time to time in idle moments, my mind goes back to the happy days when we were up and about together,” Mr Lee said.
Mr Lee’s pain at his wife’s death in October 2010 was evident in the words of his eulogy: “Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children. She was always there when I needed her.
“She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning. I should find solace in her 89 years of life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”I got the chance to meet Mr. Lee Kuan Yew for the first time during the National Day Celebration at the Istana on the 10th of August 2010.
That was the year that I had composed and performed ‘Song for Singapore’ as the theme song for the National Day, and I was invited to sing the song for the Prime Minister, the President and various other dignitaries, including Mr. Lee Kuan Yew at the Istana.
I was thrilled to be able to sing for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. In fact, so excited that I forgot two words of my lyrics…the words ‘my beginning’ in the first verse. I was the most nervous I have ever been in all my years of performing. After all, here I was, singing for THE founding father of modern day Singapore.
I remember deliberately directing my gaze to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew as I sang the words ‘With every generation, there’s more to be grateful for’. I had written those words with a heart of gratitude for all that Singapore had come to be, and I wanted to convey my gratitude to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew for all that he had done for Singapore.
I was heartened and delighted that Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and the rest of the dignitaries applauded after I finished singing.
Following this, I led everyone in singing the song ‘Happy Birthday’ as a huge cake was lit with candles and Singapore’s birthday was celebrated.
As Mr. Lee walked down from the stage, supported by his security personnel, I had to fight the urge to run up to him and to speak with him. I was struck by how tall he was, how rosy his cheeks still were, and yet, how frail he seemed to be as he relied on his aides to help him sit down at the dining table.
I have the utmost respect for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and for all that he has done for Singapore. I admire his tenacity, his courage, his can-do attitude, his fortitude, his passion for all he did. I admire the way he showed true leadership when Singapore’s future hung in the balance.
There is a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. that I feel is apt for Mr. Lee : “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
We all have our critics. I remember one of my friends saying : “We don’t have to like everyone, so why should we expect everyone to like us?” Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had no shortage of critics. But when push came to shove, and even in the face of unpopular policies, Mr. Lee stood his ground in times of challenge and controversy and was passionate in doing what he believed was right for Singapore.
He gave much and sacrificed much of himself for the sake of Singapore and I feel blessed that his gifts have made Singapore what she is today. His contributions to this nation are in the blueprint of Singapore. Like a craftsman who gives his all to his craft, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s fingerprints will forever be a part of the fabric of this nation.
However, it was his devotion and unconditional love for his wife that I find myself most in awe of.
I read Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter, Ms Lee Wei Ling’s column for the Straits Times and read her reflections on her parent’s love for each other. I was moved by the anecdotes she shared, of how Mr. Lee would read poetry to Mrs. Lee at her bedside when she could no longer read for herself, and how, despite being bedridden, Mrs. Lee would stay up to wait for Mr. Lee to return home every evening. I read about how Mr. Lee painstakingly helped to nurse Mrs. Lee back to health after her first stroke.
Most tellingly, Ms Lee also mentions how Mr. Lee Kuan Yew wrote a little note to his children that read : ‘For reasons of sentiment, I would like part of my ashes to be mixed up with Mama’s, and both her ashes and mine put side by side in the columbarium. We were joined in life and I would like our ashes to be joined after this life.’ (Source: The Sunday Times , October 2, 2011)
There is a beautiful quote by the poet and writer Khalil Gibran that reads : “But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”
To me, that was the love story of Mr. and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.
She was there for him and he for her, and yet there were spaces in their togetherness. The spaces allowed them to grow independently and yet to be bonded in love.
I believe that the greatness of a man lies in his capacity to love. It lies in his willingness to empty out himself for the sake of his beloved.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew loved his wife immensely. I teared seeing him leave those two last kisses upon his wife’s face as she lay in the casket at the Mandai Crematorium.
And, he loved Singapore. Loved her to the point of giving his all; His time, and talents to building this nation. And for that, I will always have the utmost gratitude and respect for him.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR LEE !!!!!
this is mr lee kuans yew birthday . yep i said his birthday. that day was him turning 90 . i am so happy its mr lees birthday
Mr Lee talking with Barack Obama
its mr lee with barack obama who is the prez in USA
when he was a man
this is lee when he was a man of justice