leekuanyew

Tribute events held on eve of state funeral

Grassroots groups and business communities hold ceremonies to remember Mr Lee

On the eve of the state funeral of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, groups gathered at ceremonies across the island for a common purpose: to pay tribute to Singapore's first Prime Minister.

Ministers eulogised him and Singaporeans placed flowers at his portraits as the country continued to mourn Mr Lee, who died on Monday at the age of 91.

At the Tanjong Pagar Community Club, Mr Chan Chun Sing, an MP in the Tanjong Pagar GRC, where Mr Lee served for 60 years, said that building on the solid foundation that Mr Lee laid would be a good way to honour him.

Fighting back tears, Mr Chan, who is Minister for Social and Family Development, said the last time he cried was some years ago, in 2013, at a National Day dinner, which Mr Lee attended despite falling ill.

"He was very frail. But not only did he keep his promise to turn up, he delivered a speech - not just from where he was seated, but up on the stage... (where he) ran up the stairs, stood there unaided and delivered a speech. And not just in English, but also in Chinese."

Fellow Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah recounted how she made matching batik shirts for Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs to wear on Tree Planting Day in 2004.

But Mr Lee had forgotten and arrived in a white shirt. Upon seeing his fellow MPs all dressed in the pre-arranged attire, he immediately sent a security officer on motorcycle to fetch his shirt from his home.

She said she was touched by his move to not disappoint a young MP. She had been elected in 2001.

After eulogies, including from People's Action Party Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru branch secretary Freddy Ang, those present observed a minute of silence. They also took turns to bow before his portrait and wrote condolence messages.

"I am very sad I could not see Mr Lee in person, so I've tried to make it up by paying my respects to him here every day," said long-time resident Wong Ah Mui, 79.

At Tampines Community Plaza, where about 9,000 residents gathered for a memorial, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat spoke of his personal dealings with Mr Lee.

He recounted his days as Mr Lee's principal private secretary from 1997 to 2000, and his interactions with him after becoming Education Minister in 2011.

Mr Heng said that a few months ago, he showed Mr Lee the ministry's work on bilingualism, and Mr Lee asked many questions about the materials and whether they were effective for students and teachers.

"At the end of it, I was about to take the materials back, and he said 'Leave it there. I will read it again.'"

Mr Heng, who could not hold back tears when he spoke, said Mr Lee's death was "especially painful" for him as the chairman of the SG50 Steering Committee.

"I wanted Mr Lee to see for himself how we are able to come together after all his hard work," he said.

"I think many Singaporeans wanted to see Mr Lee at the National Day Parade this year."

At Hong Lim Park, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said that Mr Lee's illness and death had "drawn us together in a way that nobody, alive or dead, can ever do".

He lauded the patience, graciousness and care that Singaporeans had shown to one another over the past few days as they stood in line for hours to pay their final respects to Mr Lee, whose body has been lying in state at Parliament House since Wednesday.

"I hope that what we have seen in these past days will continue to linger, will continue to deepen, because that is the best way to honour Mr Lee," he said.

Whampoa MP Heng Chee How sang verses from the Mandarin love duet Xuan Ze, which means "choice", as he had earlier spoken about how Mr Lee chose a life in politics to serve Singapore and never gave up despite setbacks such as the separation from Malaysia.

At the end of the event, many of the 1,000 who were present went on stage to lay flowers at Mr Lee's portrait while a lone bagpiper played Auld Lang Syne.

Not all the tributes yesterday were at grassroots events.

Some 1,500 members of the business community paid tribute to Mr Lee at a memorial event at the Raffles City Convention Centre, which was attended by Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang and leaders of different chambers of commerce.

Mr Lim reminded the audience that Mr Lee often said that no one owed Singapore a living, and that he was confident the Republic would survive "on our resourcefulness and hard work of our people".

Mr Lee also had faith in smaller groups such as the Malay business community, noted Mr Zahidi Abdul Rahman, president of the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"As an example, Mr Lee said we are the chilli padi of the business world - small but super spicy," Mr Zahidi said.

ziliang@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Rachel Au Yong, Amelia Teng and Rachael Boon