Othman Wok channelled 'courage and passion' into creating better life for fellow citizens: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) shaking hands with former cabinet minister Othman Wok at the Pioneer Generation Tribute ceremony in 2014.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) shaking hands with former cabinet minister Othman Wok at the Pioneer Generation Tribute ceremony in 2014. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The late Mr Othman Wok, one of Singapore's founding fathers, was steadfast and unwavering in believing in a multiracial, multi-religious Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a condolence letter to the late Mr Othman's wife.

The passing of Mr Othman, who died aged 92 on Monday (April 17), is a deep loss to the nation, he said.

"Please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your husband," wrote Mr Lee in his letter to Madam Lina Abdullah on Monday (April 17).

"He channelled his courage and passion into creating a better life for his fellow citizens," he added. "Persuaded by Mr Lee Kuan Yew to enter politics, he stood for elections in 1959 in Kampong Kembangan constituency, but lost. Undeterred, he ran again in Pasir Panjang in 1963. This time he was elected, and became Minister for Social Affairs."

Mr Lee said that Mr Othman's dedication and courage was most clearly shown during Singapore's turbulent years in the 1960s, when Singapore was part of Malaysia and later separated from it to become an independent republic.

He said that Mr Othman faced "great pressure and threats on his life for joining the People's Action Party" during the "vicious fight against the communalists".

If he had faltered, history might have taken a different course. However, Mr Othman stood resolutely by his convictions, said Mr Lee.

Mr Othman's firm belief that one could build a multiracial, multi-religious society based on justice and equality helped keep the dream alive through those dark days when Singapore was not the master of her destiny, Mr Lee wrote.

He lauded Mr Othman for giving heart to Malay Singaporeans after separation from Malaysia.

He added that his father, the late founding prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, remembered the staunch support that Mr Othman had shown, and owed a great debt to Mr Othman for his loyalty and service to Singapore.

 

Mr Lee then referred to Mr Othman's numerous contributions to the country, as Minister for Social Affairs and Director of the Malay Affairs Bureau from 1963 to 1981.

He set up the Singapore Pilgrimage Office and a system of registration for sheikh hajis and pilgrim brokers in Singapore.

Mr Lee also remembered Mr Othman for helping develop the sports scene in Singapore, taking an active interest in the building of the National Stadium and promoting motor racing years before F1 came to Singapore.

Mr Othman was conferred the Order of Nila Utama (2nd Class) in 1983 for his political, economic and social contributions to Singapore and its nation-building efforts.

Mr Lee concluded: "Singaporeans will always remember Mr Othman as one of our founding fathers, whose courage and passion helped set Singapore on a path of peace and progress."

Mr Lee visited Mr Othman's home at 9.05pm on Monday to pay his respects.