leekuanyew

SPH holds service to honour nation's 'architect and founding father'

More than 700 employees of media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) observed a minute of silence yesterday at its memorial service for Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The one-hour service at the SPH News Centre auditorium started with the showing of a video by SPH Razor on the life of Mr Lee and ended with staff singing the National Anthem.

SPH chief executive officer Alan Chan and staff from four SPH daily newspapers who had interacted with Mr Lee in the course of their work also paid tribute to Singapore's first Prime Minister.

As a young conscript in 1971, Mr Chan said he saw "two old uncle corporals" having rice and curry sauce for lunch at a makeshift stall. When asked, one said he had to support three children on a $220 salary, and every cent counted.

"When I now see our well-fed, well-housed and well-travelled Singaporeans, I am most grateful for what Mr Lee and his first- generation leaders have done for us. We have come a long way," said Mr Chan, who worked as Mr Lee's principal private secretary from 1994 to 1997.

SPH chairman Lee Boon Yang, a former Cabinet minister under Mr Lee, also attended the service.

He said in a statement: "I have always thought of Mr Lee as the architect and founding father of Singapore... Mr Lee was always very focused and serious. He seldom engaged in small talk. He would drill deeply into every issue, whether it was a policy revision or something new."

The Straits Times editor at large Han Fook Kwang shared what he learnt about Mr Lee from working with him on his books.

"First, we all know how meticulous he was and how much attention to detail he gave to those issues he considered important. In the case of his books, it meant writing and rewriting the drafts many, many times," he said.

"My second impression is over how intense he was as a person, and how in his every waking moment, he was consumed with the lifelong project which is Singapore.

"He had no time for any other business. This was most evident when we were doing the book Hard Truths, where we interviewed him for more than 30 hours."

Mr Azhagiyapandiyan Duraiswamy, deputy editor of Tamil Murasu, spoke of how Mr Lee made sure that "the Indians, along with the Malays, had a place in the Singapore sun".

Mr Lee ensured that Tamil, spoken by less than 5 per cent of the population, not only survived but also had opportunities to flourish.

He said: "Nowhere else in the world is Tamil language an official language of the nation today."

Ms Yew Lun Tian, a correspondent at Lianhe Zaobao, recounted how a Saudi prince once offered his private plane to Mr Lee so he could travel back to Singapore in comfort.

"The Singapore that Mr Lee and his team built is already 50 years old. It's time we can tell him, 'We've got this, please rest assured and get on with your journey,'" she said in Mandarin.

Mr Chairul Fahmy Hussaini, deputy digital editor of Berita Harian, recalled how he was once with Mr Lee in Malaysia and had asked him why he did not meet then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Without mincing his words, Mr Lee had replied in Malay: "He is a big man, I am a small man."

Mr Robin Chan, SPH manager of media strategy and analytics, interviewed Mr Lee for the book Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going while he was at The Straits Times, and said he felt privileged to have spent that time with him.

"Even at the age of 86, with his health fluctuating, his passion for Singapore was unwavering, his appetite for a fight no less voracious," said Mr Chan.

kxinghui@sph.com.sg