Top Stories

PM Lee recalls papa's anxiety and devotion

RARE GROUP PHOTO: PM Lee with his parents at a special appreciation dinner to honour 24 retired MPs in 2006. The route to Singapore's achievements were paved with consternation for the Lee family, particularly before the separation from Malaysia.
PM Lee recalls papa's anxiety and devotion



    Mar 30, 2015

    PM Lee recalls papa's anxiety and devotion

    PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave a moving and wide-ranging eulogy yesterday at the state funeral of his father, Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, summing up his extraordinary life and reminding all Singaporeans of his "passionate, formidable and indomitable" personality.

    Speaking at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre to hundreds attending the ceremony, PM Lee recounted that his father was a fighter who, when faced with a seemingly hopeless situation, would demonstrate himself to be "ferocious, endlessly resourceful, firm in his resolve and steadfast in advancing his cause".

    "Because he never wavered, we didn't falter. Because he fought, we took courage and fought with him, and prevailed. And thus Mr Lee took Singapore and took us all from the Third World to the First," said the Prime Minister.

    He recalled that just weeks after separation from Malaysia, Mr Lee had boldly declared: "Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear!"

    "And indeed he made it happen. He instilled discipline and order - ensuring that in Singapore, every problem gets fixed. He educated our young. He transformed labour relations from strikes and confrontation to tripartism and cooperation. He campaigned to upgrade skills and to raise productivity, calling this effort a marathon with no finish line."

    While Singapore's later achievements are sterling, the route to them were paved with consternation for the Lee family, particularly before the separation from Malaysia.

    PM Lee remembered the night of Aug 7, 1965, when he and his siblings slept on the floor in his parents' bedroom at Temasek House in Kuala Lumpur, which was then full of ministers who had travelled from Singapore.

    "And every so often my father would get up from the bed to make a note about something, before lying down to rest again. But obviously he wasn't asleep," PM Lee said, looking back to that night of anxiety when Singapore faced the prospect of separation.

    And Mr Lee's devotion to the cause of building Singapore and ensuring it survives made it difficult for him to look away from that mission - even for a moment.

    "After my first wife Ming Yang died, my parents suggested that I tried meditation. They gave me some books to read... but I did not make much progress," recalled PM Lee.

    "I think my father had tried meditation too, also not too successfully. His teacher told me later that when he told Mr Lee to relax, still his mind and let go, he replied, 'But what will happen to Singapore if I let go?' "

    Nevertheless in his old age, after wife Kwa Geok Choo died, Mr Lee started meditating again, this time with help from a Benedictine monk who did Christian meditation, said PM Lee.

    "My father was not a Christian, but he was happy to learn from the Benedictine monk, and he even called me to suggest that I meet the monk, which I did," said PM Lee.

    One lifelong obsession that dogged Mr Lee was water security - which led to the water agreements with Johor, water-saving campaigns, the building of reservoirs, turning of much of the island into water catchment areas, Newater, Marina Barrage and research on desalinisation.

    "So the result today is Singapore has moved towards self-sufficiency in water, become a leader in water technologies and turned a vulnerability into a strength," said PM Lee.

    "So perhaps it is appropriate that today for his state funeral, the heavens opened and cried for him."

    Later at the Mandai Crematorium, PM Lee gave a private eulogy in which he described his father as a loving but non-indulgent, strict parent.

    He cited a speech his father made back in 1972 in which he said: "Life is better short, healthy and full than long, unhealthy and dismal. We all have to die. I hope mine will be painless."

    "I re-read it with delight. It was vintage Lee Kuan Yew - thoughtful, erudite, elegant, witty but with a deeper point," said PM Lee.