WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO KEEP SINGAPORE SPECIAL

Mourning for Mr Lee 'defined S'pore spirit'

The audience at ITE College Central last night, where PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered his 12th National Day Rally speech.
The audience at ITE College Central last night, where PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered his 12th National Day Rally speech.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The Singapore spirit shone the brightest when founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew died in March, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking at the Golden Jubilee Rally, PM Lee recounted how the historic week of shared mourning and celebration of Mr Lee's life, after his death at age 91, "brought out so much in us".

As the screen behind him flashed scenes of half a million people queueing for up to 10 hours to file past Mr Lee's casket, PM Lee noted how patient and generous Singaporeans were during the long wait.

STRONGER THAN EVER

He is no longer here with us, we are on our own, but we are ready. Our resolve to defend ourselves is unquestioned. Our spirit and confidence is robust. Our unity and identity as a people has never been stronger.

PM LEE HSIEN LOONG, on the passing of his father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew

"People queued patiently and let children and seniors through. Businesses provided free chairs and refreshments to those queueing up. Volunteers helped out, distributing umbrellas, food, drinks."

"For all of us, this was a historic moment, shared as one Singapore family," he said. "We were mourning Mr Lee's passing, but also affirming what he stood for, and celebrating what he had achieved."

The week of mourning was a prime example of how the Singapore spirit, after 50 years, is no longer undefined and amorphous, but shines with a sense of faith, purpose and togetherness, said PM Lee. And nowhere was this clearer than on the day of Mr Lee's funeral.

"That day, something changed in us," said PM Lee, recalling the thousands of people lining the streets in the pouring rain to witness his cortege pass and how "teardrops and raindrops fell together".

"Our shared moment of sorrow bonded us," PM Lee said. "Now we don't have to struggle to find words to define the Singapore spirit or what being a Singaporean means. Now we know that we are Singaporean."

In the most sentimental moments of the Rally, he described how the Singapore spirit has ignited during times of celebration and sorrow, success and crisis.

It shone as local athletes made Singapore proud at this year's SEA Games, like when sprinter Shanti Pereira won Singapore's first 200m sprint gold in 42 years, or when marathon runner Ashley Liew slowed down to help his competitors find the correct route.

It shone when people came forward to distribute masks to the needy during severe haze in 2013; when people rushed forward to jointly lift a truck pinning a man down; when Singaporeans living in Bangkok contacted the embassy to offer help after a bomb went off last week.

Later in the speech, as PM Lee brought his Rally to a close, he returned again to Mr Lee.

At the National Day Parade (NDP) earlier this month, Mr Lee's chair stood empty, with a sprig of the orchid named for him placed on the seat.

At the parade and especially during the video segment that paid tribute to Mr Lee, "we could sense Mr Lee's spirit with us, and in us", said PM Lee, adding that Mr Lee would have been proud of what he had built, if he had seen the NDP.

"Now he is no longer here with us, we are on our own, but we are ready," said PM Lee.

"Our resolve to defend ourselves is unquestioned. Our spirit and confidence is robust. Our unity and identity as a people has never been stronger."

Two moments from this year's parade were especially memorable for him, PM Lee said.

One was singer Kit Chan's performance of the classic Home, during which the entire crowd sang together so loudly that "we could hear ourselves".

The second moment came after one of the performances, a segment titled "Onwards" featuring primary school pupils.

PM Lee said that he went down to the Padang afterwards to meet the young performers, whose faces "shone with excitement and hope". "I thought to myself, these are the faces of tomorrow's Singapore," he said.

He expressed the hope that at Singapore's centennial - SG100 - they would be back at the Padang, aged about 60 years old.

He hoped they would remember SG50, and congratulate one another on how much they had done, and how far they had come.

And they would be looking at the young, radiant faces of their children and grandchildren - shining with excitement and hope - and singing Majulah Singapura.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Mourning for Mr Lee 'defined S'pore spirit''. Print Edition | Subscribe