SINGAPORE - The late Mrs Wee Kim Wee had a genuine love for people, and was kind and gentle to all those she met, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (July 9).
In a condolence letter, Mr Lee noted her deep care and concern for others, especially the less privileged. He added that she contributed to the prestige and respectability of the presidency.
"Like her husband, she took her public role seriously and discharged it with warmth, grace and cheerfulness," said Mr Lee.
Born Koh Sok Hiong, Mrs Wee died last Saturday, two days after turning 102 on Thursday.
She met Singapore's former president, Dr Wee, in 1936 and they married the same year. Dr Wee served as president from 1985 to 1993, and he died in 2005.
In a letter addressed to Mrs Wee's daughter and her family, the Prime Minister said he first met Mrs Wee in 1976, when Dr Wee was serving as High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur.
"I brought my mother up to KL to visit the parents of Ming Yang, my first wife, who lived in KL," recalled Mr Lee. "Your parents hosted us all to a magnificent Peranakan lunch at their home, making a happy occasion all the more memorable. I am sure she oversaw the preparations herself. It was a skill she put to good use, to entertain graciously and put friends and guests at ease."
Mr Lee added that he did not meet Mrs Wee as often in recent years - she had arthritis and needed a wheelchair to get around.
"But I deeply appreciated her making the effort to come to my parents' wakes when they passed away, and meet up with friends of her generation," he said.
In a condolence letter, President Halimah Yacob, too, recounted Mrs Wee's ability to be a gracious host, such as at diplomatic functions.
"She would make the guests and their spouses feel at ease, and add personal touches to the events which would otherwise have been stiff and formal," she said.
Mrs Wee was also a steadfast advocate of education, and providing opportunities for disadvantaged children and youth, said Madam Halimah.
Mrs Wee's family fondly remembers her for her kindness and love for cooking.
"Her love and care for us spoke volumes through her food," said Ms Natalie Wee Chu, Mrs Wee's eldest granddaughter, who lived with her grandparents as a child. "She would stand for hours on end tending to her mise en place and bubbling pots."
"When it was lunchtime, the table would be set full of food and my grandfather, father and numerous relatives would pop home for a 'quick' bite," she told The Straits Times. "Ayam buah keluak, poh piah... Nothing was too much trouble. It was always a feast. After lunch, the table was cleared and the whole process of preparing for dinner started."
As Ms Wee Chu does for her daughter now, Mrs Wee used to cook and freeze food for her, including rempah - or spice paste - for sambal prawns and mee siam.
"As her health declined and my frozen stash grew smaller, I couldn't and still can't bring myself to finish up the last bit," she said. "I smile when I open the freezer and see the small little package - with a handwritten label in my grandfather's beautiful hand."