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LEE KUAN YEW 1923 - 2015

Farewell, Sir

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching bowing to thank Singaporeans for their outpouring of grief and affection towards the late Lee Kuan Yew.


THAT common view of Lee Kuan Yew's ferocious, unflinching style of leadership was softened through a series of eulogies delivered at Mr Lee's state funeral on Sunday.

In its place was a more deliberative form of decision making, particularly in convincing his political colleagues of his policies as Singapore's first prime minister.

"The idea that he expected his team to follow him like a herd of sheep without question completely misrepresents the man and his values," said S Dhanabalan, former Cabinet minister, and one of 10 who spoke at the funeral.

Mr Dhanabalan said that when Mr Lee spoke as prime minister at important occasions, he would send repeated drafts of his speeches to his colleagues for views and suggestions, before he settled on the final version.

"The myth is that he brooked no opposition to what he wanted and that the Cabinet members merely fell in line. That was not my experience," said Mr Dhanabalan.

"He argued tirelessly to get Cabinet to accept his views not because it was the PM's view but because of the strength of his arguments. I think he felt he had failed were he not able to convince his Cabinet colleagues."

Mr Dhanabalan also said that Mr Lee was driven by "an absolute obsession" to ensure an honest public administration system. With his actions taken to determine this, Mr Lee would sometimes be seen as a hardhearted man, he added.

"But on the few occasions he discussed privately with me the decision to act against someone, I know that he agonised over the decision," said Mr Dhanabalan. "He was convinced that a softhearted approach would undermine the ethos he wanted to embed deeply in public service."

Ending his eulogy, Mr Dhanabalan paid a final tribute to Mr Lee as "the Father of our Singapore that we know".

"Up to the very end he was committed to this nation. In the words of Tennyson, though 'made weak by time and fate' he remained 'strong in will', determined not to 'rust unburnished' but 'to shine in use'," he said.

Ong Pang Boon, who was part of the first People's Action Party Cabinet, praised Mr Lee for his broad perspectives.

"During Cabinet meetings, there would sometimes be differing views on certain issues, but after active discussion, he was able to accept alternative views and ideas," said Mr Ong, the former Minister for Home Affairs, in Mandarin.

Mr Ong noted that there were critics to Mr Lee's policies but said that Mr Lee was always "wholeheartedly fighting" for the best interest of a small and vulnerable nation.

"Once he decided that a certain policy was in the interest of his beloved Singapore, he would implement it, even if it meant making himself unpopular," said Mr Ong.

Sidek Saniff, a former senior minister of state, remembered being surprised by Mr Lee when the latter asked him to stand as a candidate in the 1976 General Elections. Mr Sidek said that he had expressed differing views from the government on education just a few years earlier.

"I am most grateful to Mr Lee for fully supporting the formation of Mendaki," said Mr Sidek, who did not hold back tears during his speech.

In demonstrating Mr Lee's fatherly character, Mr Sidek related how Mr Lee took care of his needs for an overseas trip, in typical frugality.

"In 1979, when I was to accompany Hon Sui Sen, then Minister of Finance, to China, Mr Lee asked me if I could take the cold Chinese winter. 'Do you have an overcoat?' he asked. I said that I would buy one. 'No, don't waste money', he replied. He paused and said: 'Ahmad Mattar has a good overcoat. Borrow from him'," said Mr Sidek in Malay.

"What about boots to cover your shoes for walking?" he continued. I said I didn't have any but I would buy a pair. "No, no don't waste money. Borrow from Chok Tong!"

The simple living of Mr Lee, as seen by former Straits Times journalist Cassandra Chew during her visits to his home at 38 Oxley Road, also left an impression on Ms Chew.

"It didn't matter to him that his furniture was more than 60 years old and outdated," she said.

"That was how he lived his life: very simply and frugally, and always putting the country first and his own creature comforts second."

Unionist G Muthukumarasamy recounted an incident which showed how Mr Lee expected responsibilities to be taken seriously.

As an apprentice wireman, Mr Muthukumarasamy was once asked by his supervisor to fix the air-conditioning system at Changi Cottage.

In walked Mr Lee, who would spend holidays with his family there.

"When we were done, Mr Lee asked me to call in my supervisor," said Mr Muthukumarasamy. "When my supervisor came in, Mr Lee said, 'when a job is given to you, you should do it'. 'I asked you to service the air-conditioning. Please service it now.'"

At one Chinese New Year celebration, Mr Lee was not pleased that the firecrackers did not go off in time before the National Anthem was played, recounted Tanjong Pagar community leader Leong Chun Loong.

"We thought it was quite funny but Mr Lee was not amused at all. Later he told us: 'If we can't even do this right, how can we run the country?'"

Mr Lee made sure that he sat with grassroots leaders during constituency dinners, so he could talk to them, Mr Leong added. "When Mr Lee heard that his old friends were doing well and leading good lives, his face would light up with pride."