Remembering Othman Wok: Neighbours and friends remember a warm, smiling 'man on the ground'

Mr Adanan Bakron, and his wife Madam Norsiah Suja'i, both in their 70s, were Mr Othman Wok's neighbours.
Mr Adanan Bakron, and his wife Madam Norsiah Suja'i, both in their 70s, were Mr Othman Wok's neighbours.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
ST VIDEO: KEVIN LIM
Former senior minister of state Ch'ng Jit Koon writes in the condolence book.
Former senior minister of state Ch'ng Jit Koon writes in the condolence book.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong offers sympathies to Mr Othman's widow, Lina.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong offers sympathies to Mr Othman's widow, Lina.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Just after 7am on Tuesday (April 18), two old friends of Mr Othman Wok's turned up at his home at Kew Avenue to pay their respects.

Told that they could not enter yet, Mr Adanan Bakron, and his wife Madam Norsiah Suja'i waited patiently until about 8am to bid farewell to their former neighbour who was one of Singapore's first Cabinet ministers.

The retired education officers lived near Mr Othman's family at Opera Estate.

"We lived like kampong people," said Mr Adanan, 79.

They had National Day road parties every year, organised potluck parties and would visit each other every Hari Raya, he said.

"He was one of the judges in my debate competition in secondary school. He was very encouraging and gave advice to us on how to speak better," said Madam Norsiah, 73, who described Mr Othman as "always smiling".

"We last visited him last year and had a long talk. But we didn't visit him after that as he was very sick and we didn't want to disturb him," said Mr Adanan.

Other visitors came in the morning to pay their respects, a day after Mr Othman died, including Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, Law Minister K Shanmugam and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Old guard politicians such as former Senior Parliamentary Secretary Chan Chee Seng and former Senior Minister of State Ch'ng Jit Koon, now in their 80s, also came to say goodbye.

Another old friend, Osman Merican, 78, said that Mr Othman was "very inspiring".

The retired police officer and the former national hurdles champion said: "I was just a kid learning how to take up sports, but he saw that I had ability and asked me carry on.

"He was one of those who goes on the ground, meets people and would always have a good word. He told me that if I had any problem, I could look for him."

Mr Richard Lim, 57, came to pay his respects although he did not know Mr Othman personally.

He sometimes greeted Mr Othman while exercising in the neighbourhood.

"I remember listening to his election speeches when I was a teenager," said Mr Lim, a businessman. "When he spoke it was very fiery, very different from his usual character."

"He was one of those behind the scenes you don't hear much about, but he was there, thinking about what is good for the man on the street, promoting equal rights for everyone," added Mr Lim.

Madam Jumiah Nawee, 56, another neighbour, said she saw Mr Othman reading newspapers in his garden every morning until late last year.

"It's a great loss because he was a very devoted man," she said.

Ms Sharon Yeap, a former colleague, recalled Mr Othman as a "wonderful boss".

Ms Yeap, 53, worked as Mr Othman's secretary for about five years some 30 years ago at an investment firm.

"He was a wonderful boss. He never raised his voice, Never acted as if he was a former minister," she said. "I really enjoyed going to work."

Mr Othman will be laid to rest at the Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon.

A gun carriage carrying his State-Flag draped casket will wind its way through North Bridge Road, North Boat Quay and River Valley Road, through Alexandra Road, Commonwealth Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue West and Clementi Avenue 6 before the burial.

A Memorial Service for Mr Othman, organised by OnePeople.sg for invited guests, will be held at the Victoria Concert Hall on Wednesday (April 19) at 6.30pm.

 

Related Stories: