Othman Wok: 1924-2017

A dedicated politician and devoted family man

Among those at Mr Othman's wake yesterday were his daughter Lily Othman (far left), former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Puan Noor Aishah.
Among those at Mr Othman's wake yesterday were his daughter Lily Othman (far left), former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Puan Noor Aishah.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

On Sunday night, pioneer Cabinet minister Othman Wok's daughter Lily was persuading him to turn off the television and go to sleep.

It was 11.30pm and they were at Singapore General Hospital, where Mr Othman had been warded since April 6 for a chest infection and stomach complications.

Madam Lily, 60, said she usually performs the night duty in caring for her father.

"I will read some prayers for him and pat him to sleep before I go off," she said, as she recounted his final hours to reporters yesterday.

She said her father finally went to sleep at 11.45pm, and seemed fine at midnight, although his breathing was laboured.

In the morning, doctors called the family at around 8.40am and said Mr Othman might not survive much longer.

He was placed on a ventilator and breathed his last at 12.21pm.

"We tried our best to take care of him to the best of our ability, but I think God knows better and, you know, we are quite happy to let him go. He passed away... peacefully, so we are happy with that," Madam Lily told reporters outside the family home where the wake is being held. The home is in Kew Avenue in Bedok.

Madam Lily, a housewife and Mr Othman's youngest daughter with his late first wife Daliah "Cik Dah" Mohamad Noor, described him as a kind and loving father who was also devoted to his work as MP for Pasir Panjang constituency from 1963 to 1981.

"We know that we are more or less like his second family compared to his political work. We totally got it and we appreciated that as well," she said with a laugh.

But he always made time for the family, especially when he returned from his overseas trips as Singapore's first minister for social affairs, a post he held from 1963 to 1977.

"Whenever he (came) back from his travels, he (spent) at least one night with us, sharing his overseas stories, souvenirs," she said.

One lesson he often drummed into them was the importance of racial harmony as he lived through the 1964 race riots. He also emphasised humility, she said.

"You could be the president's daughter or the king's daughter, but humility should be your middle name," she recalled him saying.

In his later years, he watched movies regularly with Diana, 36, his only child with his second wife Lina Abdullah.

Ms Diana, who works at the Esplanade, posted on her Facebook page last year: "My dad used to travel a lot for work. We have always been very close so I got so mad at him for frequently setting off and when he's home, he always seemed too busy for me."

But looking through old family photo albums, she found that he had taken many photos of her and her mother.

"I realise that in spite of his mad schedule, he was and always is in fact completely present."

Mr Othman had been in and out of hospital since last November, and his last message to his children was to live peacefully with each other and maintain good relationships with one another, said Madam Lily.

Her husband Munir Shah, 64, a management consultant who described his father-in-law as kind and compassionate, said: "He had a good run... All of us were well prepared for this eventuality."

Yesterday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Mufti Fatris Bakaram and the widow of Singapore's first President Yusof Ishak, Puan Noor Aishah, were among many who paid their last respects.

Politicians past and present also went to the wake, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife, deputy prime ministers Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim.

The public can pay their respects at Mr Othman's home at 46, Kew Avenue today from 6.30am till 11am. The family would like to grieve in private for the last hour before the cortege leaves for the mosque at noon.

•Additional reporting by Cheong Suk-Wai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline 'A dedicated politician and devoted family man'. Subscribe