PM Lee pays tribute to late MP and diplomat Joseph Conceicao in condolence letter

Mr Joseph Conceicao, a former Member of Parliament and pioneering diplomat, died of a heart attack at the age of 95 on Aug 13, 2019.
Mr Joseph Conceicao, a former Member of Parliament and pioneering diplomat, died of a heart attack at the age of 95 on Aug 13, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Former MP Joseph Conceicao was an eminent member of the Pioneer Generation who served Singapore with distinction as a parliamentarian, diplomat and educator, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Aug 15).

In a condolence letter to Mr Conceicao's wife Anita released to the media on Friday (Aug 16), Mr Lee paid tribute to the late diplomat.

Mr Conceicao died from a heart attack at the age of 95 on Tuesday night.

Mr Lee noted that Mr Conceicao was a member of the People's Action Party Old Guard, and had served as MP for Katong for 16 years from 1968 to 1984.

He recounted how founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew praised Mr Conceicao in Parliament in 1977, saying he took him seriously when he spoke "because Joe had 'done his homework'".

Mr Conceicao, who learned Mandarin to better connect with his constituents, was "completely dedicated to his duties", Mr Lee added.

"In the 1980 General Election, Joe had a heart attack just before Nomination Day, and was hospitalised. But he still turned up at the Nomination Centre to file his papers, and was returned unopposed. Such was his fighting spirit."

Mr Conceicao was curious, charismatic and always engaging - qualities that came to the fore in his diplomatic service, Mr Lee said.

During his diplomatic career, Mr Conceicao was Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia from 1981 to 1986 and high commissioner to Australia from 1986 to 1990. He also served two tours as ambassador to the Soviet Union.

In Indonesia, he forged close ties with the military and served as a bridge between Singapore and President Suharto's New Order, Mr Lee said.

And in Australia, he strengthened bilateral trade and defence relations, and also oversaw the start of the Singapore Armed Forces' training at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area which continues today, Mr Lee added.

Mr Lee said he was newly married to his first wife, the late Madam Wong Ming Yang, when the couple got to know Mr Conceicao in 1977 during his first tour in Moscow.

"On our way to the United States to attend staff college, we spent a week in Russia, visiting Moscow and Leningrad on a mini honeymoon. I remember Joe's warm hospitality and generosity of spirit fondly from that trip. Those traits stayed with him all his life," Mr Lee said.

When Mr Conceicao returned to the Soviet Union for a second tour in 1990, he had a "front row seat" to its unravelling, said Mr Lee.

"Amidst the turmoil, he secured Mr Lee (Kuan Yew)'s historic visit to Moscow in the autumn of 1990, and laid the basis for our friendly ties with Russia today."

Mr Lee said Mr Conceicao was also involved with the People's Association, the National Museum Board and the Adult Education Board - the predecessor of the Institute of Technical Education.

Mr Conceicao was also one of the finest members of the Eurasian community, Mr Lee said.

He was a trustee of the Eurasian Association, and affectionately known as Uncle Joe.

"I missed his presence at the Eurasian Association's 100th anniversary celebrations last month, and was deeply saddened to hear of his passing on Tuesday," Mr Lee said.

"But I take comfort in the memory of his warmth and friendship, and in knowing that he leaves behind a distinguished legacy after living a long and full life."