REMEMBERING LEE KUAN YEW

In this final hour, Papa is with family: PM Lee Hsien Loong at private farewell

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife, Ho Ching, pay their final respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the Mandai Crematorium on March 29, 2015. PM Lee gave the first eulogy at the service in Mandai, where he spoke about his father as head of the fami
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife, Ho Ching, pay their final respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the Mandai Crematorium on March 29, 2015. PM Lee gave the first eulogy at the service in Mandai, where he spoke about his father as head of the family and as a loving grandfather. ST PHOTO

Private farewell for about 300 held at Mandai Crematorium for Mr Lee

First, the Singapore flag draping the coffin was removed, folded ceremoniously, and handed over to the elder son.

Then the coffin lid was lifted, revealing an open casket.

Inside, the body of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister who died last Monday aged 91, lay in repose.

With that, the public mourning of Mr Lee the public figure became the private mourning of Papa and Ye Ye by family members.

Earlier, at the University Cultural Centre, the state funeral had been a sober affair of more than two hours attended by state dignitaries and about 2,000 others. Now, at Mandai Crematorium as the sun set, a private farewell was held for about 300.

As the casket arrived at about 6.30pm at Hall 1, daughter Wei Ling, 60, placed the memorial portrait in front of the coffin.

Then, as he had led the nation in its mourning as Prime Minister, Hsien Loong, 63, the eldest of Mr Lee's three children, stood to lead the family to mourn its patriarch.

He said: "We are gathered here to say our final farewells to Papa - Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

"After the formalities of the lying in state and the state funeral service, in this final hour, Papa is with his family, his friends of a lifetime, his immediate staff who served him loyally and well, his security team who kept him safe and sound, and his medical team who took such good care of him."

Mr Lee's three children and two grandsons delivered eulogies.

Daughter Wei Ling delivered a hearty, heartfelt eulogy on her "stubborn, determined" father she admitted she so resembled.

She lived with her father in Oxley Road, and as a doctor too, was often the first line of defence when he was ill, she said. She thanked his medical team for their care of her father.

Dr Lee has shunned the media spotlight all week, even as 1.2 million people in Singapore paid their last respects to Mr Lee at Parliament House or at tribute centres across the island. Clad in a black dress yesterday, she looked composed, although she admitted it had been a difficult week for her.

In the morning, she said, the maid put Mr Lee's chair away from the dining table and lined it against the wall. "It was a poignant moment because it came home to me that this farewell is forever. And I nearly broke down - but I can't break down, I am a Hakka woman."

Younger son Hsien Yang, 57, said: "Papa, thank you for a lifetime of service to the people of Singapore. You made this little red dot into the nation all of us are proud to call home."

For Li Hongyi, 28, second son of Hsien Loong, Ye Ye was more than a grandfather; he was an inspiration. "Ye Ye showed me that you could make a difference in this world. Not just that you could make a difference, but that you could do it with your head held high. You didn't have to lie, cheat or steal," he said, and paused as he fought back tears.

That proved a losing battle and his mother, Ms Ho Ching, went up to the podium to give him a handkerchief and a steadying pat.

Regaining his composure, he continued: "You didn't have to charm, flatter or cajole. You didn't have to care about frivolous things or play silly games. You could do something good with your life, and the best way to do so was to have good principles and conduct yourself honourably."

Hsien Yang's eldest son Li Shengwu, 30, recalled Sunday lunches at Ye Ye's house, where the white walls, old furniture and even the food would remain the same through the years.

He added: "As I grew up, sometimes I would talk to Ye Ye about politics and the state. Always he spoke with the courage of his convictions, with a certainty born of long consideration. As you might guess, we didn't always agree."

After the eulogies, family members filed past the casket for one last look at Mr Lee, laying a single red rose each in the open casket.

His sister Monica Lee was the first; then members of the extended family. Next, the grandchildren; then Mr Lee's three children and their spouses.

Hsien Loong, as eldest child, was last. He placed his rose in the casket, then beckoned to his wife Ho Ching and put his arm round her.

They stood, side by side, beside the casket. Then they bowed, once, twice and thrice, in their final farewell to Papa.

It was time for Singapore's founding father, and the Lee family patriarch, to go to his final rest. As so many have noted in tributes all week, he had done so much for Singapore; and it was time for another generation to take over.

Earlier, in his eulogy, PM Lee had described how his father helped him on his first bike ride: "Once when I was just getting the hang of balancing on two wheels, he pushed me off... I pedalled off across the field, thinking that he was still supporting and pushing me.

"Then I looked back and found that actually he had let go, and I was cycling on my own, launched, and he had let go! He was so pleased. So was I."

muihoong@sph.com.sg