Today we’re mourning the death of Singapore’s first prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away at 3am this morning. The face of Singapore, he built the foundations of this country, and his passing is especially poignant, in the year of it’s Golden Jubilee, 50 years after independence. He came from a prominent Singapore family and was born a British subject in 1923. He met his wife Kwa Geok Choo, at Cambridge, and after graduating, dropped his name ‘Henry’ in favour of being called by his Chinese name only. He worked as a lawyer before entering politics, mainly because his wife was able to support the family financially. He was the First Secretary-General of The People’s Action Party. Following the 1964 race riots, he was forced to sign a separation agreement, splitting with Malayasia, and in a televised speech, fought back tears as he announced Singapore’s independence.
Despite the inauspicious beginning (and a 6 week period of isolation), Mr Lee began to fight for international recognition for Singapore by building it’s economy, building a unique cultural identity, and encouraging religious tolerance. He introduced legislation to curb corruption, and recruited top professionals into the civil service.
There are so many fascinating elements to his tenure, some controversial, all in the pursuit of doing what he thought would progress the country. In the 1960s, he started a Stop At Two family planning campaign, during which some couples underwent sterilisation.
In the 1980s he set up a government matchmaking agency to encourage marriage between graduates and personally urged male graduates to marry educated women!
He stepped down as PM in 1990 but still remained in cabinet and remained active but in the background ever since.
He was a strong family man, with three children, the eldest of whom is current Prime Minister. He was a strict father, very busy with politics but always a strong presence. His wife passed away in 2010, and he kept a strong vigil by her bedside until she died.
All state flags will be flown at half mast, and the nation will be in a state of mourning from 23-29 March for the man who led a small island into an economic and business hub, a model and source of inspiration for all developing nations, and the embodiment of self-sacrifice in favour of nation building.
I’m not Singaporean and I’ve only lived here for 2 years but I feel sad at his passing. Talking about him with my husband this morning, he said “When you leave a legacy, even people who didn’t know you recognise who you were”.
RIP Mr Lee.