88 honoured for $8.67m contributions to heritage

Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew's watches reunited, thanks to NTUC's loan to National Museum

A pair of Rolex watches that had belonged to the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew on display at the National Museum of Singapore. Lawyer Paul Supramaniam with items he lent to the Indian Heritage Centre in the hope of inspiring Singapore's small populati
Lawyer Paul Supramaniam with items he lent to the Indian Heritage Centre in the hope of inspiring Singapore's small population of Sri Lankan Tamils. The items include medals awarded to his late father, Dr James Mark Jeyasebasingam Supramaniam, for his World War II gallantry. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A pair of Rolex watches that had belonged to the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew on display at the National Museum of Singapore. Lawyer Paul Supramaniam with items he lent to the Indian Heritage Centre in the hope of inspiring Singapore's small populati
A pair of Rolex watches that had belonged to the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew on display at the National Museum of Singapore. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

After 16 years, a pair of watches that once belonged to the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew were reunited in the National Museum of Singapore's (NMS) Singapore History Gallery last year.

Mrs Lee's watch is on loan to the museum from the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for display in a section that showcases the founding father's legacy as a lawyer. The showcase includes his watch and other personal items.

The pair of Rolex watches was given by the Singapore Union of Postal and Telecommunications Workers (SUPTW) to the couple in 1953, in appreciation of Mr Lee's successful representation of 1,000 clerks in a wage dispute arbitration.

Loans and donations of items have enabled the National Heritage Board (NHB) to "make heritage relevant to Singaporeans and help shape the future for tomorrow's generations", said Ms Chang Hwee Nee, NHB's chief executive.

She was speaking at a 2019 Patron of Heritage Awards virtual ceremony held yesterday to honour heritage supporters.

Eighty-eight donors were recognised for their contributions, totalling $8.67 million, to various heritage causes last year. The value of in-kind support, cash donations as well as artefact gifts and loans was about one-third higher than in 2018, said the NHB.

The watches had been separated since 2003, when the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees (AUPE) made a successful bid of $100,000 for Mrs Lee's watch at the Sotheby's-Lee Kuan Yew Family Auction. AUPE then donated the watch to NTUC.

AUPE was formed in September 1959 and included the SUPTW and the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union.

Speaking on behalf of NTUC - among the patrons honoured by NHB - Mr Steve Tan, director of NTUC's Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, said the watches represented the symbiotic relationship between NTUC and the People's Action Party (PAP), which has lasted to this day.

"Besides Mr Lee representing the workers and helping them to be back-paid 28 months' salary each, the watches also symbolise how his involvement with the unions seeded the roots of the PAP," said Mr Tan.

NHB chairman Yeoh Chee Yan called last year a "celebratory year" that marked Singapore's bicentennial, and highlighted the support of patrons for the slew of exhibitions, festivals and initiatives through donations, in-kind contributions, loans of artefacts, and services.

She said the contributions were "vital to our continued efforts to maintain our cultural heritage, ensuring that what we have inherited from the past will continue to become a lasting legacy for future generations".

Mr Paul Supramaniam, who was given a Supporter of Heritage award for lending family heirlooms to the Indian Heritage Centre, said that he made the loans in the hope that the stories told of his relatives and ancestors would help to inspire Singapore's small Sri Lankan Tamil population.

"Everybody is a descendant of someone. We all have a history that is subliminally imprinted to make us who we are today. It is important that we harness the good aspects and lessons learnt from our history to enrich society and our multiculturalism," said the lawyer, whose contributions to the heritage centre included medals awarded to his late father, Dr James Mark Jeyasebasingam Supramaniam, for his World War II gallantry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2020, with the headline '88 honoured for $8.67m contributions to heritage'. Print Edition | Subscribe