Khoon Choy's children pay musical tribute to 'leader of the band'

The cortege leaving Mount Vernon Sanctuary for Mandai Crematorium, after the funeral service for the late Mr Lee Khoon Choy yesterday. Mr Lee leaves behind his wife, seven children and 11 grandchildren.
The cortege leaving Mount Vernon Sanctuary for Mandai Crematorium, after the funeral service for the late Mr Lee Khoon Choy yesterday. Mr Lee leaves behind his wife, seven children and 11 grandchildren.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Even as he lay in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask over his face, former senior minister of state Lee Khoon Choy was looking ahead as he planned for his next art exhibition, his oldest child Chuen Neng said yesterday.

"Giving up was not in his vocabulary," the 64-year-old deputy director of the National University Heart Centre said in a heartfelt eulogy at his father's funeral.

Mr Lee died last Saturday at age 92, after battling pneumonia for two weeks while warded at the National University Hospital.

He had "pursued life with an unrelenting zeal", said his son as he described a life well-lived.

A Chinese newspaper journalist before he entered politics, the late Mr Lee was an office-holder in several ministries, including culture, education and foreign affairs.

Later, he became Singapore's ambassador to eight countries and, often, would paint the sights of countries he visited.

He was also "truly gifted", added the younger Mr Lee, referring to his father's musical and linguistic talents and his ability to connect with people. He played the piano, violin, harmonica, erhu, guzheng and guitar, and spoke Arabic, Japanese, English, Mandarin, Malay, Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese and a smattering of Tamil.

He could "talk to crowds and walk with kings", Chuen Neng said.

Called KC by his friends, he was described by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loongas "a man who 'had it', a man of courage who did not melt under pressure".

Tough as he was, the late Mr Lee imparted values to his seven children not through scoldings and lectures, but through actions and how he lived his life, his oldest daughter Chuen Ting, 53, said.

Chuen Neng added that he and his siblings were given the freedom to make their own decisions as "our father trusted we will all be well at the end".

Quoting the lyrics of Dan Fogelberg's Leader Of The Band, Chuen Neng said his life is but a poor attempt to imitate his father.

Towards the end of the funeral service, the late Mr Lee's two sons and four daughters sang and played the song on the guitar in a final farewell to their father.

A daughter who lives in New Zealand was not at the service held at Tranquility Hall in Mount Vernon Sanctuary.

They also sang the 1930s classic It's A Sin To Tell A Lie, which Chuen Ting said was a favourite of her father, who often sang it as he played the guitar.

Among the 100 mourners yesterday was Mr Vincent Wong, a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs communications officer who had worked under Mr Lee in the 1970s and 1980s in Indonesia and Japan.

Said the 80-year-old: "He was a tough boss but very caring, too.

"He loved to paint, and would ask me to take any painting I liked. So I have two - one of the pyramids in Egypt, and another of Mount Fuji in Japan."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Khoon Choy's children pay musical tribute to 'leader of the band''. Print Edition | Subscribe