Ahmad Ibrahim was an alumnus

Mr Ahmad (left) graduated from PFS in 1947. He went on to become a unionist and political leader.
Mr Ahmad (above) graduated from PFS in 1947. He went on to become a unionist and political leader.

Self -governing Singapore's first Malay minister hailed from Penang Free School (PFS).

Mr Ahmad Ibrahim, who graduated from the school in 1947, came to Singapore and started off as a telephone operator at the then Singapore Naval Base in Sembawang.

From humble beginnings, he went on to become a pioneer unionist and political leader co-opted into the central executive committee of the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1956. Three years later in 1959, he successfully contested the Sembawang seat for the Legislative Assembly and was made Health Minister when the PAP formed its first Cabinet under Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Ahmad was also made assistant secretary-general of the PAP's central executive committee. He became Labour Minister in 1961 but died after a prolonged illness at age 35 on Aug 21, 1962.

As a measure of the high regard for him, he was given a state funeral attended by Singapore's head of state Yusof Ishak, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Cabinet ministers and members of the public.

Said Mr Lee in a radio tribute: "He made friends easily, and there are many in Singapore who cannot help liking him as a man, his modesty and straight-forwardness."

He was "dedicated to the cause of his fellow workers regardless of race or religion", Mr Lee added.

Mr Ibrahim is remembered by a road in Jurong - Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim. Two schools, Ahmad Ibrahim Primary and Secondary schools, and a mosque, Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim in Yishun, are also named after him.

K. C. Vijayan

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline Ahmad Ibrahim was an alumnus. Subscribe