Veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong entered politics, not for selfish reasons or because he thought the ruling People's Action Party was not doing a good job, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
It was because Mr Chiam believed Singapore should have a two-party system like other liberal democracies, Mr Goh said at the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner last night.
Mr Goh, on the other hand, believes a small, vulnerable country like Singapore needs a strong, durable government to protect and advance the people's interests.
Despite their differences in views, Mr Chiam practised constructive politics and helped set the tone for civil parliamentary debate, Mr Goh said.
He added that his respect for Mr Chiam as a "well-meaning, decent and honest politician and Member of Parliament" was why he accepted the invitation to be the guest of honour at the dinner.
The Chiam See Tong Sports Fund was set up in March 2017 to help underprivileged children and athletes in their sporting journey.
Mr Chiam made a surprise appearance midway through the dinner, to loud cheers and applause. He was originally set to skip the event due to health reasons.
Dressed in a black suit, pink shirt and red tie, Mr Chiam was wheeled in by his wife Lina.
Mr Goh and Senior Minister of State for Health and Law Edwin Tong greeted him halfway down the ballroom aisle. While Mr Chiam was unable to talk, he managed to shake hands with them.
He stayed on for about 45 minutes before leaving. Many attendees took photos with him and wished him well.
Mrs Chiam told reporters: "He knows what is important and what is going on, but he just can't articulate (his thoughts). It is all a natural part of ageing." She said her husband rarely attends public events.
"I am glad that he made it. His meeting with ESM Goh was very eventful. Although he couldn't speak, there was a connection. Sometimes, words are not needed."
She added that the two politicians have deep respect for each other.
Mr Chiam, who was elected MP for Potong Pasir in 1984, was Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP until 2011, when he and his Singapore People's Party team lost the contest for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
The Chiam See Tong Sports Fund has helped more than 30 athletes to date, including modern pentathlete Kok Kiat Xuan and national powerlifter Matthew Yap.
More than $160,000 was raised from the event held at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel last night. Mr Goh had donated one of his golf clubs, which was auctioned for $5,000.
In his speech, Mr Goh recalled how Mr Chiam championed local athletes. He said sports has a unifying power and can also help build character, discipline and resilience.
"The Chiam See Tong Sports Fund is doing precisely that by helping children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds reach their sporting dreams," Mr Goh said.