Who is Lee Kuan Yew to you? A savior to our parents’ generation who grew up in impoverished Singapore after World War 2? A hard-nosed, ruthless politician? Someone you read about in your history book?
23 March 2015 marks the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew at 91. He definitely lived to a ripe old age and we all knew today was coming, especially after his health deteriorated by the day after being hospitalized for weeks. But when the news hit, I was surprised by how hard it hit me.
As a writer, I grieve in the only way I know — documenting people’s stories. Here’s mine.
Stella Thng, 38, lecturer/writer
I have never met Lee Kuan Yew but growing up, he was a big part of my childhood, in a very bizarre way.
Whenever my mother wanted my sisters and I to pack up our toys quickly, she would say, “Hurry up! Lee Kuan Yew is coming to visit!” Our elusive visitor never ever came, of course. But it left an indelible impression on us kids that LKY = Very Important Man, long before we understood who and what he was.
The man was not a saint (as his many critics never fail to remind us) but he was, without a doubt, the most important VIP to Singapore. He had the smarts and more importantly, the guts and spirit to sacrifice and build Singapore into a success story. How many keyboard warriors today would have been willing to take on that job under those circumstances?
Today, let’s not quibble over politics and whatnot. Today is a sad day for Singapore. Let’s take a moment to remember LKY and cherish our memories of him, no matter how bizarre.
Thank you and RIP, Mr Lee. #thankyoulky #LKY
Cliff Wee, 55, author (My brother-in-law)
“Lee Kuan Yew patted me on my head,” my mother told me a long time ago. She said I was about 5 then, and my grandmother had brought me to witness the victory parade.
As Lee Kuan Yew walked by, he ruffled my hair.
“A great man had just patted you on the head,” my grandmother had said.
“Great man? Why is he a great man?” I asked, curious.
My grandmother proceeded to explain animatedly. I could only stare at her, mouth agape. To me, a good person was one who helped older folks carry their grocery baskets. Did this man help carry a lot of baskets? I shook my head, not knowing what government meant.
“I thought only kings are in charge of countries?” I said, recalling the stories of kings that were read to me.
My grandmother laughed, her gold tooth flashed under the morning sun. “Yes, you could say that. Lee Kuan Yew is like a king.”
My bro-in-law’s portrait of LKY
Renald Loh, 18, Ngee Ann Poly student and editor of www.theurbanwire.com
A famous line from an Apple commercial in 1997 reads: “The ones who are crazy enough who think they can change the world, are the ones who usually do.”
The man behind those words is the late Steven Paul Jobs, known for co-founding and building one of the most successful brands in the world. For many young Singaporeans, Steve Jobs has been an inspiration for his incredible drive and vision for the future. But let’s not forget another man closer to home, whose same ardour and fortitude brought us into first-world brilliance against all odds.
Lee Kuan Yew was born into a well-off Hakka-Peranakan family in 1923, surviving the Japanese occupation as a teen in the 1940s. He studied law in London as a young adult and came back to Singapore in 1950, with his mind set on helping the former colony gain independence from the British and turning his homeland into a blooming city as part of a merger with our neighbour Malaysia.
When the merger failed to work out, the already Prime Minister had his heart shattered along with his dashed dream of cross-country integration. Agonised, demoralised, drained, he still had the welfare and livelihood of almost 2 million people on his tired shoulders. That was still not enough to bring a man like him down.
On paper, there was simply no way a country as small as Singapore could survive alone. Not without natural resources or an army to defend against countless other established powers who may want a piece of vulnerable meat. Singapore, 50 years onward, would be in a very different place if not for one man’s grit, intelligence, and sheer belief in the unity of a country.
On the noon of 9 August 1965, Mr Lee held a televised press conference at the old broadcasting house and addressed the nation that had just been booted out of Malaysia.
“There is nothing to be worried about it. Many things will go on just as usual. But be firm, be calm. We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore. We will set the example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion,” said Mr Lee, his resolve not breaking despite shedding those famous tears.
And with that speech laid the foundation of the National pledge, the words that ring through the halls of hundreds of schools every school day morning.
Our heartfelt appreciation for the sacrifice you have made to make Singapore the first-world country we live in today will never perish. Thank you for being “crazy enough” to try to change our world. With a unifying fist to our chest, let us in honour of our great leader, pledge ourselves as one united nation regardless of race, language or religion.
Rest in peace.
A gorgeous water colour painting by my super talented friend, Tony Law.
Wern Mei Yong, Asst Professor, 38
I recall fondly the summers I returned from studies overseas, driving along the ECP en route from Changi, the trees that lined the expressway a sure sign that I had returned home; a home made possible by the vision, tenacity and audacity of a great man.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew made green living central to Singapore’s identity. Every year, without fail, he would plant a tree. He did so to remind us of the importance of living in harmony with nature, and with each other. But tree planting was also symbolic of a promise made, and a promise delivered. In his words, you can’t plant a tree and just walk away.
On Monday morning, I drove down the PIE with renewed appreciation for the trees that line our expressways. Each one of them is a reminder that Mr Lee delivered. You make us proud to call Singapore our home. Thank you Mr Lee. May you rest in peace dear sir.
Elson Boo, 25, RSAF serviceman currently based in the US
“Actually saddens me that the creator and father of Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, passed away a few years ago. At the same time, I am amazed and touched by the support from all the American political figures.
I wouldn’t be wearing the Singapore flag overseas if it wasn’t for Mr Lee. He brought us from a third world slum to a first world nation in 50 years. Rest in peace, and thank you Sir.”
Elson flying the Singapore flag last October at the Mountain Home Airforce Base Airshow in dedication to the Singapore F-15SG Squadron, the Buccaneers, based at Mountain Home for the last 5 years.
Ally Sun, 5
The whole Singapore is mourning the passing of Singapore’s founding father today. My five-year-old niece came home from school and told her mother: “Mama, someone died today. He is older than Gong Gong (grandpa) but he is a better man than Gong Gong.
Mum: “Oh, so who is he?”
Ally: “Mr Wong!”
Mum: “Hmm… Ally, it’s Mr Lee.”
And she even made her mum print out a picture of Mr. Lee and will bring this to school tomorrow.
“Awww… that is the way a 5-year-old kid honours our founding father,” said her mum Audrey.
On a day like this when our hearts are heavy with grief, this was a much welcomed respite. Thanks, Ally!