As our Statesman, Founding Father and first Prime Minister is laid to rest, members of CHC share the encounters they had with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Elim Chew, 48, Founder of 77th Street, N529
Over the years, I met Mr Lee Kuan Yew at various events, such as the launch of the Speak Mandarin campaign but we had never spoken. I was inspired to serve as a grassroots leader by my father Chew Chin Cheong, who served in Tanjong Pagar and Anson Community Centre. He met Mr Lee many times and was recognized for his service to the community.
Singapore has not seen a week like this past one. The passing away of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the nation’s first Prime Minister, at the age of 91 on March 23, 2015 sent the country into a week of mourning—and Singapore is joined by countries all over the world that respected Mr Lee greatly. India has declared tomorrow, March 29, a national day of mourning for Mr Lee, and New Zealand will fly its flags at half mast tomorrow, as will the Russian Embassy in Singapore.
In 1965, when the Federation of Malayan States rejected the merger with Singapore, Mr Lee famously wept on television at the news. But the years that followed only showed that in adversity, a great leader emerged, fuelled by a determination to succeed when failure seemed imminent.
Among the most important—albeit controversial—decisions made by Mr Lee and his team was to build a society that set aside differences of race and religion, and instead, upheld meritocracy as its belief system.
In 1969, Mr Lee said, “Whatever our race or religion, it is what we produce that entitles us to what we get, not our race or religion. Developing the economy, increasing productivity, increasing returns, these make sense only when fair play and fair shares make it worth everyone’s while to put in his share of effort for group survival and group prosperity.”
Meritocracy was a great social leveler—Singaporeans got credit and benefits for how hard they studied, worked, produced. For most part, all races were treated equally, and all approved religions given equal opportunity.
For that reason, Christians in Singapore—and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus—have been free to worship these past five decades. The significance of this is perhaps more obvious when one travels to countries in the region, where Christianity has not been or may still not be welcome.
His anointed wisdom made him a valued advisor to leaders the world over, many of whom have paid heartfelt tributes to him, and many others who have arrived in Singapore to attend his funeral at the University Cultural Centre tomorrow, Sunday, March 29. Among them is his longtime friend in politics, Henry Kissinger, who is part of a US contingent led by former President Bill Clinton. Other world leaders attending include the King of Malaysia Abdul Halim, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, China’s Vice-President Li Yuanchao, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Korean President Park Guen-Hye, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In his 2013 book, One Man’s View Of The World, Mr Lee said, “I am not given to making sense out of life–or coming up with some grand narrative on it–other than to measure it by what you think you want to do in life. As for me, I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.”
As Singapore bids its final farewell to Mr Lee tomorrow, City News pays tribute by remembering this great man through the members of City Harvest Church.
Cheralyn Tay Meiqi, Pharmacist, N109
I was given the privilege to usher Mr Lee Kuan Yew during one of our grassroots events in 2009. I remember after his speech, he smiled at me and asked if I was a student. About a year later, I saw him again at an Istana dinner from a short distance away and was greeted by a warm, genuine smile from him.
And I will never forget the sparkle in his eyes and the smile he had as he watched the PCF (PAP Community Foundation) children perform—such genuine, pure joy was in amazing expression as he observed the little children that are Singapore’s future. That really left a deep impression on me as to how deeply he cared for and loved our nation.
Dawn Seow, 29, Writer, W327
The one time I encountered Mr Lee Kuan Yew was at the Marina Barrage in 2008 where our cell group was having an outing. We were on one side of the green when we heard a commotion on the other side–someone had spotted Mr Lee! My cell group members and I jumped up and ran as fast as we could to the other side. True enough, the elderly Mr Lee appeared with his security detail. He waved to us as he walked over to a site that overlooked some construction.
At that time, we were all wondering what he was looking at. Now I know, he was inspecting the construction of Gardens By The Bay, which opened in 2012, the last piece of beautiful landscape he left Singapore.
Thank you Mr Lee for building this nation. Without you, we wouldn’t have HDB, MRT, CPF…all the things that we complain about all the time, yet cannot do without. You have left your legacy. And you will be greatly missed.
Jefferson Khoo Yin Hao, 26, Student, N506
The only time I encountered Mr Lee Kuan Yew was on August 13, 2010, the day before the Youth Olympics Opening Ceremony. He was the guest-of-honor for the Olympic fire light-up at Marina Bay. Since I was quite far away from him, I really couldn’t see him clearly but as he took his leave on a golf cart, I waved at him and shouted “Hello Mr Lee!” to him while he passed by me.
He waved back at me and acknowledged me by nodding his head. It’s a small gesture but it made me happy the entire night.
What I did not know back then was that his wife was critically ill during that time and less than a month later, she passed away.
On March 25, 2015, I queued for three and half hours to pay respects to him for the last time at the Parliament house. After I bowed in respect to him, my last words to him were, “Goodbye, Mr Lee”.
Andrew Wong Cien Theng, 66, Businessman/Certified Independent Director, E411
It saddened me when I read the news that our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had passed away. I would like to share this story, although I do not have any photos from the event, which was in the year 1966.
I remember, in his early years as the Prime Minister, he was a very energetic leader. He was the guest-of-honor at the opening ceremony of a cement brick factory in Jurong in 1966. Our 5th Coy Boys’ Brigade band was invited to perform on this occasion; I was the band’s drum major. After our performance, he came to shake my hand and inspect the band. I was only 15 years old.
On March 27, 2015, I went to the Parliament House where Mr Lee’s body lay, to pay my respects. I proceeded to Ang Mo Kio Central to sign the condolence book.
Enoch Seet Zhiren, 29, Senior Officer (Planning) at SPRING Singapore, E501
In remembering Mr Lee, I’ll like to share perhaps my one and only encounter with him in person. It was on Oct 20, 2009, when I was a second year student at SMU, and was given the opportunity to pose a question to him on the world’s economic order. This event took place at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum organized by NUS, following the 2009 financial crisis.
While I do not have a photo of Mr Lee and myself together, you can watch the video here. Mr Lee’s answer to my question was reported in the Straits Times the next day.
What I recall from the forum was his great foresight on global affairs, and especially his insights on US and China. Even though many predicted the decline and fall of the US economy, it panned out as Mr Lee said: America’s cultural value of being “all-embracing”, coupled with its strengths in science and technology, played a critical role in attracting and retaining talent, empowering itself to rebound from crises and competition. This is still happening in the US today as its economy recovers from yesteryear’s shocks.
Secondly, his statement also implicitly reaffirmed why Singapore continues to pursue a strategic partnership with the US, both on economic and security fronts – it is in our interest and benefit to do so.
This encounter certainly reinforced one of Mr Lee’s strongest personas: that of a strategic visionary. His long-term perspective and analysis of both global and domestic affairs have helped to shaped Singapore’s national strategies and policies as we maneuver through the choppy waters of the international relations. He served also as a counselor to world leaders, mediator in conflicts, and as a catalyst for regional and international cooperation, enabling Singapore to punch above its weight.
Singaporeans today do fear that without Mr Lee’s insight and wise counsel, we may not survive or succeed in the future. But I do believe that because Mr Lee has actively mentored the current generation of leaders, and established institutions and systems to ensure Singapore continues even without his existence, as a country, we will prevail. This is a hallmark of a great leader and statesman: a successful man who has left behind successors.
Corinne Ng, 52, Director, S49
In my line of work, I travel frequently and many a times, many people have said to me, “Oh Singapore … where is it?” But when I mention Mr Lee Kuan Yew, many know him. Whenever that happens, I feel a deep sense of pride being a Singaporean.
My most memorable experience meeting Mr Lee was when I was in Shanghai doing a project in 2006. The weather was so very cold, and having run around the whole day, I was exhausted when I returned to my hotel. On my way to the lobby to arrange for wake-up calls for my group, I saw red carpet being laid out on the floor. So I asked, “Is there a VIP?” The hotel’s policy was not to disclose such information. I even tried to persuade the concierge, but all he would tell me was that it was a VIP from Singapore. Even though my legs were hurting, I told myself to wait for 30 minutes to see if I could catch this VIP from Singapore. I had waited about 15 minutes when I saw Mr Lee Kuan Yew wheeling his wife out from the lobby lift. He had many security guards, and knowing that I will not have a chance to meet up with him, I ran out into the cold night and waited at the passage way of the hotel entrance, hoping to catch sight of Mr and Mrs Lee. I waited patiently as I watched Mr Lee settle his wife in the car. As the car drove passed me, I waved at the car, not sure, if they could see me. To my shock, the car stopped and reversed. Mrs Lee opened the window and asked me, “Are you from Singapore?” I was too shocked to answer, but nodded my head. Guess what—Mrs Lee extended her hand out of the window and said, “Stay out of the cold!” Then Mr Lee asked me, “What are you doing here in Shanghai?” I replied, “I am here for work, bringing a group of Singaporean businessmen to attend the Canon Expo.” Then he shook my hand. I was too emotional and shaken to what happened next, except that the car drove of.
The concierge ran out of the hotel happily shouting, “Xiao Jie, you met your Prime Minister – 李光耀!”
Samuel Kwan, 39, Deputy General Manager, Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, W566
I may not have had a photo taken together with our late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, however, I had encounters with him several years ago in my constituency.
I live in Tanjong Pagar GRC at the Queenstown zone—the first establishment of HDB estates for close to 40 years! I have seen the development of old, rundown, poor living conditions to clean water, a smooth supply of electrity, to improved greenery and SERS (Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme) in my area.
My father and I spoke to Mr Lee once, but unfortunately we did not have photos of him together when he was here at the Tanglin Halt 10th Storey zone (better known in dialect as “zarp lao“). We expressed our gratitude to him at the upgrades and improvement in our estate, and we remember vividly his spirited personality and visionary attitude when in response to our words, he guaranteed that there would more to come. It blew me away that he spoke such simple promises, yet with authority!
Priscilla Chong Li Ting, 29, Secretary to the General Manager, N108
I had the honor to serve as Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s personal butler on two occasions at a five-star hotel I worked at a few years ago. Both times were gala dinners hosted by various government ministries, with many VIPs in attendance.
Mr Lee was totally different from what we commonly think of him. Being so up-close to him, it surprised me how fatherly he really was. He was very cautious about his food and beverages, and he actually talked to us butlers and servers, asking our names, asking about our families.
My second encounter was even more impressive because he actually remembered my name , even though it had been about six months since the last gala. He remembered everything I had shared about my family and studies, and encouraged me to never give up.
Both encounters let me see the fatherly side of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the concern he had for all of us.
Emily Wong, 24, Copywriter, W588
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was invited to Nanyang Girls’ High School’s 90th anniversary gala dinner at Swissotel in 2007.
Judy Teh, 42, Shop Assistant, Choir Ministry
My mother owns a furniture shop. A number of years ago, she took a bank loan in her company’s name for her sister who was studying overseas. Unfortunately my aunt chalked up a large debt, and so my mother needed help as the bank demanded repayment.
My mother would go to meet-the-MP (Member of Parliament) sessions for help, and that is where she met Mr Lee Kuan Yew. She told Mr Lee her problems and he got his personal assistant to help. This assistant went to our home to understand the situation and then he helped to arrange for my mother to repay the bank loan in instalments.
We were very grateful that because of Mr Lee’s help, my mother’s business was not endangered. May he rest in peace.