Mr Othman Wok, a pioneer generation minister who helped lay the foundation for a multiracial Singapore, died peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital at 12.21pm yesterday. He was 92.
Mr Othman was one of the 10 Singapore signatories of the 1965 Separation Agreement and a key member of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's Cabinet.
"He supported Mr Lee in the fight for a multiracial and multi-religious Singapore, and became one of Mr Lee's closest comrades," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement. "The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr Othman Wok and wish to convey their deepest condolences to his family."
Yesterday, Singapore's political leaders lauded Mr Othman as a champion for multiracialism, and a patron of sport and social services. He was Singapore's first minister for social affairs from 1963 to 1977, and concurrently held the culture portfolio from 1965 to 1968. He was ambassador to Indonesia from 1977 till 1981. He returned to Singapore and retired from politics that year.
In a Facebook post yesterday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Mr Othman made many significant contributions to Singapore. "His passion and commitment in helping others, and his impartiality and integrity in serving one and all, are traits that we remember and admire in him," Dr Tan said, adding that he and his wife Mary have lost a dear friend.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hailed him as a "a courageous champion of a multiracial, multi-religious, and meritocratic Singapore".
"During Singapore's turbulent years in Malaysia, Encik Othman came under great pressure, and even threats on his life, for his convictions. But he stood firm, and that made all the difference to Singapore," he said in a Facebook post.
Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim added that while Mr Othman made great contributions to the Malay-Muslim community, he had also urged Singaporeans to "make the effort to strengthen cross-cultural understanding, practise mutual respect, and come together as one united people".
Mr Othman was "keenly aware that race and religion could become major fault lines and conflicts could arise out of suspicion, misunderstanding and prejudice", Dr Yaacob said in a Facebook post.
A state-assisted funeral will be held for Mr Othman today, after a prayer session for him at the Sultan Mosque. In the highest honour accorded to a deceased Singaporean, a state flag will be draped over the casket, with the crescent and stars lying over the head and close to the heart of Mr Othman.
A ceremonial gun carriage will then carry his body to Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery where he will be buried. A memorial service will be held tomorrow at the Victoria Concert Hall for invited guests.
Family members said that Mr Othman had been in ill health for some time. He was hospitalised for a lung infection on April 6.
His daughter Lily Othman, 60, said the family remembers him as a "kind, compassionate and loving father... He always told us that no matter what you must always be humble. It doesn't matter if you are the president's daughter or the king's daughter, humility should be your middle name".
Mr Othman leaves behind his wife Lina, four daughters, a step-daughter, seven grandchildren, three stepgrandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
•Additional reporting by Toh Yong Chuan and Zhaki Abdullah
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