Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Tanjong Pagar keeps faith with its MP Lee Kuan Yew till the end

In 1959, an 11-year-old Peter Gan peered out of the second-floor window of his house in Neil Road at jubilant crowds below.

They were carrying a man named Lee Kuan Yew on their shoulders in electoral victory back to the People's Action Party headquarters at 140 Neil Road.

On that heady Election Day of 1959, Lee Kuan Yew had not just been returned as MP for Tanjong Pagar, but had also become Prime Minister of Singapore.

Yesterday, 67-year-old Peter Gan, now slightly stooped, stood in the crowd as Mr Lee was carried once more through the streets.

This time, raindrops mixed with tears, and it was grief rather than triumph that broke through the shouts of "Lee Kuan Yew! Lee Kuan Yew!"

"We respect him very much," said the retired Singapore Armed Forces officer, just before Mr Lee's cortege passed through his political stronghold. "We supported him all the way."

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was just weeks shy of his 60th anniversary as Tanjong Pagar's political representative when he died on March 23.

From the day he came to Tanjong Pagar in 1955 - chosen because he wanted to represent the common man and the worker, not the landlords or merchants over at Tanglin - he had their hearts.

They gave him landslide electoral victories from Day 1. And while they did not see their MP as much as other constituencies saw theirs, they knew, and he knew they knew, that it was an unbreakable bond.

In 1989, Mr Lee penned the foreword for a coffee-table book on the area's history.

Thanking the people of Tanjong Pagar for their "simple and abiding loyalties", he said: "They never changed their mind about supporting me because I never broke faith with them."

Many of those lining the Tanjong Pagar streets yesterday in the torrential rain to witness the passing of Mr Lee's cortege were residents of The Pinnacle@Duxton, including Mr Gan.

Some stood by the road while others watched from its 50th-floor Sky Garden - just one of the features that have made the estate the most enviable HDB address in town.

It was a fitting congregation, for the Pinnacle is the realisation of a promise Mr Lee made first to Tanjong Pagar residents - and then to the nation as a whole.

In the 1963 elections, he stood on stage at the very site, next to two half-finished blocks - the first Housing Board blocks in Tanjong Pagar - and promised that if he was re-elected, they would be completed.

He was, and they were.

Forty years later, the old blocks were torn down and in their place rose the Pinnacle, a grand monument to a vision that was delivered many times over.

Office manager and Pinnacle resident Sandy Ng, 36, wept as Mr Lee's cortege passed by yesterday.

"My biggest regret is never meeting him personally," she said. "I'm glad I stay in his constituency and managed to pay my last tribute to him."

After Mr Lee's cortege passed through Tanjong Pagar, many among the crowd retreated to the Community Club steps away to watch his funeral service.

The hall is not air-conditioned, a growing rarity among CCs. The grassroots leaders are proud that their CC has remained modest over the years. Its frugality fitting their MP.

The filled hall watched on big screens as the cortege wound its way west and reached the University Cultural Centre.

As the military guard began removing the coffin from its glass case to be transported into the hall, all were silent.

Then a small, white-haired 84-year-old woman named Chua Ah Poh soundlessly and slowly rose to her feet.

One by one, the rest of the crowd followed suit.

In death as in life, the people of Tanjong Pagar rose in respect for their forever-MP.

rchang@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Lim Yan Liang