One man symbolises in many ways modern Singapore's past and present success: Mr Lee Kuan Yew. What the past 12 months have reaffirmed is that his ideas and values will undergird the nation's future achievements as well, going by the broad-based responses to his death and legacy.
After he had handed over the reins, as planned meticulously in advance, there were moments when bouts of ill health afflicting him would spark talk of market jitters and political uncertainty. Would investors take flight and would his political foes be emboldened? On the contrary, the nation stood firm despite the enormity of its sense of loss a year ago today, which was also felt in places like New Zealand and India where flags flew at half-mast at government and public buildings to mark his passing. Investment commitments last year met the Economic Development Board's forecast; and the Republic was tested by a general election which saw the People's Action Party, which he co-founded, gaining a popular vote share of 69.9 per cent - almost 10 percentage points more than what it got in the 2011 election.
Progressively over half a century, the edifice that is modern Singapore has become larger than the man who had embodied it since its creation. This is as it should be and Mr Lee, of all people, would take the greatest pleasure from it, as Singapore was his obsession. That is a hallmark of inspirational leaders who sit at the apex of a leadership pyramid that gurus, like Good To Great author Jim Collins, frame to distinguish them from just effective leaders. Ideals and their realisation mattered more to Mr Lee than recognition. He decried the cult of personality; not for him the self-aggrandising monuments that one sees elsewhere. Singaporeans will doubtless bear this in mind as they decide on the scale and design of the Founders' Memorial to honour him and his colleagues.
What had to stand the test of time, in Mr Lee's eyes, were the principles and institutions - many of which he had helped to shape - that would hold the nation in good stead whatever the vicissitudes of fortune. Contemplating the future through Mr Lee's lenses, Singaporeans would accept that while his legacy ought to be preserved, today's and tomorrow's leaders will have to adapt to the ever-changing contours of politics, society, economics and technology. They will have to view these with a twin perspective - bifocal, if you will - at once global and local, long-term and immediate. While striving to emulate Mr Lee's visionary approach, theirs is an important ministry of mediating change or transformation across diverse fields in perhaps quite different ways from his. Mr Lee was pragmatic enough to adapt with the times. He would surely want Singaporeans not just to cast his ideas in stone, but to keep adapting them to face the realities of the world.