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LEE KUAN YEW 1923 - 2015

He was 'a good man, a good husband, and a good father and grandfather'

Mr Lee's younger son lauds his father, thanks S'poreans on family's behalf for their affection in a touching eulogy
Monday, March 30, 2015 - 05:50
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Speaking last at the state funeral service for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the UCC, Mr Lee Hsien Yang related some very personal stories as a child growing up in the Lee household.

Singapore

THE entire Lee family was "overwhelmed" by the outpouring of grief and affection towards the late Lee Kuan Yew over the past week, said Lee Hsien Yang, the second son of Singapore's first prime minister.

"We have been touched beyond words by the many Singaporeans who have braved the elements to pay their last respects at all hours of the night and day," he said during his eulogy at the state funeral service for his father at the University Cultural Centre (UCC) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Sunday afternoon.

"Young and old, on foot or aided by walking sticks, in push chairs or wheelchairs, you came to pay your last respects, to sign condolence books and to write messages. You have posted touching tributes and poems online and waited patiently to greet his cortege as it passed."

During the four days that Mr Lee Kuan Yew's body lay in state at Parliament House from Wednesday to Saturday, nearly 455,000 people turned up to pay their respects, some queueing for as long as 10 hours. Some 1.2 million people also visited the 18 community tribute sites that were set up islandwide.

Mr Lee added: "Please accept my family's inadequate but deep and heartfelt thanks. We know our loss is your loss too, and that the loss is deep and keenly felt. We are humbled that so many have come forward to demonstrate your affection and respect for and gratitude to my extraordinary father - a father we share with Singapore."

The last of 10 people to speak, Mr Lee, current chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, related some very personal stories as a child growing up in the Lee household.

In a touching eulogy, he shared how, in different circumstances, his father could well have gone on to become a successful businessman or entrepreneur. In the end, "Papa chose to serve the people of Singapore and to build a better future for all".

"He wanted to ensure his three children had a 'normal childhood'. He did not want us to grow up with a sense of privilege and entitlement," he said.

"For as long as I can remember, Papa was a public figure. As a child, I was only vaguely aware that my father was an 'orang besar', or 'VIP' in Malay. All little children must think their fathers are special. I do not remember when it dawned on me that he was not just my own special father and not just an ordinary 'orang besar'; he was an extraordinary 'orang besar'."

He talked about how his father was always immersed in work as he was growing up. That was a reason why the family treasured their vacations together as they got to spend more time with their father.

"We did not go anywhere far away, posh or exotic: the government rest houses in Fraser's Hill, Cameron Highlands, and later Changi Cottage, a small, two-bedroom seaside bungalow that holds many precious memories for me."

Mr Lee Kuan Yew enjoyed playing golf, and he often indulged in the sport while on vacations and after work in the evenings.

"The nine-hole course in the Istana grounds provided ample room for us children to find adventure whilst he golfed. Both (Prime Minister Lee Hsien) Loong and I were sent for golf lessons. We learnt to hit a long drive from the tee box, but neither of us really took to the game and we stopped when we grew up," said Mr Lee.

The Lee family didn't celebrate family birthdays, but after the death of PM Lee's first wife in 1982, Mr Lee began inviting the extended family to their home for his parents' birthdays.

"I would cook a simple meal," he added. "Papa loved a good steak and he had a Peranakan sweet tooth for desserts."

Mr Lee also recalled how the arrival of grandchildren - seven in all - brought "great joy" to his parents, and how Mr Lee Kuan Yew loved having them play around him when he exercised in the evenings after work.

Mr Lee married his wife, Lim Suet Fern, in 1981 and they have three children, all boys. He shared how his mother, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, "was traditional enough that she was thrilled" that they had one son after another.

"But my sense is that Papa would have been equally delighted if Fern and I had had three daughters.

"Our youngest son, Shaowu, arrived long after all the other grandchildren, and long after they had given up hope of any more grandchildren. Papa was in his 70s and less active in public life, so he and Mama took this as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy their last grandchild," said Mr Lee, his eyes reddening at this point.

He added: "I know that growing up as his son, I have also been privileged to have witnessed what it means to be a good man, a good husband, and a good father and grandfather."

During the private cremation service at Mandai Crematorium in the evening, Mr Lee spoke of how he had taught his children to never mention or flaunt their relationship to their famous grandfather, and that they needed to succeed in life on their own merits.

He suggested to them that, when asked if they might be related to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, they could, truthfully, reply that their surname was spelt "Li" - one of the most common Chinese surnames - and not have to respond directly to the question.

"This suggested response was not meant to mislead and obfuscate. Rather, it was born out of a desire to be recognised for who we are as individuals and not for who we are related to," said Mr Lee.

"We are immensely proud of Papa and his achievements. Yet perhaps it is part of our DNA to seek our own way in life. I am sure that Papa would not have wanted it any other way."


"MR LEE did not blaze this path alone. He was the outstanding leader of an exceptional team - Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Othman Wok, Hon Sui Sen, Lim Kim San, Toh Chin Chye, Ong Pang Boon, Devan Nair, and quite a number more. They were his comrades, and he never forgot them."

- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Singapore's "old guard" of first-generation leaders who helped Mr Lee Kuan Yew build the country

"HE made a ceaseless effort to learn Mandarin over decades - listening to tapes of his teacher in the morning while shaving at home, and in the evening while exercising at Sri Temasek. He kept up his Mandarin classes all his life. Indeed, his last appointment on Feb 4, before he was taken ill early the next morning, was with his Mandarin tutor."

- PM Lee, on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's relentless drive to improve himself

"TO Singapore and Singaporeans, Papa was at various times PM, SM, MM. But whatever his office, he was actually always LKY. Even after he stopped being MM, people found it awkward to refer to him by anything other than this alphabet soup. But to his grandchildren, he was always Ye Ye, and to Fern and me, he was and will always be Papa. We will miss him dearly."

- Lee Hsien Yang, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's second son, in his eulogy

"I KNOW that growing up as his son, I have also been privileged to have witnessed what it means to be a good man, a good husband and a good father and grandfather."

- Lee Hsien Yang

"WHAT struck me most about Mr Lee was his complete passion for Singapore. He spent every moment thinking of how he could improve Singapore and Singaporeans' lives. 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."

- Former cabinet minister Ong Pang Boon

"MR LEE never tired of repeating his war stories, observations, and conclusions about events and personalities. To me he was Minister Mentor from the time I started working with him."

- Former cabinet minister S Dhanabalan

"TO Singaporeans, he was our first Prime Minister, our leader who fought for our independence, the man who turned Singapore from Third World to First, our national father. For me, he would always be my teacher."

- Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong

"MR LEE was a worrier. He worried incessantly whether Singapore would survive after he and the Old Guard were gone. He wanted to be judged on this, not by the city he had built and the lives he had improved."

- Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong

"HE was a tough taskmaster but always full of advice. Never waffle, he would say. Be open. Be attentive, firm. But above all, be polite. His advice was to concentrate on education. This would ensure our children would go on to become trustworthy trustees of our nation, he argued."

- Former senior minister of state Sidek Saniff

"YE YE (grandfather) showed me that you could make a difference in this world. Not just that you could make a difference, but that you could do it with your head held high. You didn't have to lie, cheat, or steal. You didn't have to charm, flatter, or cajole. You didn't have to care about frivolous things or play silly games. You could do something good with your life, and the best way to do so was to have good principles and conduct yourself honourably."

- Li Hongyi, elder son of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and wife Ho Ching, at the private cremation service at Mandai Crematorium.

"YE YE, you chose to forsake personal gain and the comforts of an ordinary life, so that the people of Singapore could have a better life for themselves, and for their children and for their grandchildren. That Singapore is safe, that Singapore is prosperous, that Singapore is - for this we owe a debt that we cannot repay."

- Li Shengwu, eldest son of Lee Hsien Yang and wife Suet Fern, at the private cremation service.

 

READ MORE:

IN DEPTH: Lee Kuan Yew: 1923-2015

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