Former Senior Minister S Jayakumar launches memoir: His e-mail exchange with Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Professor Jayakumar autographing a copy of his book for Mr Haruhisa Takeuchi, Japan Ambassador to Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Professor Jayakumar autographing a copy of his book for Mr Haruhisa Takeuchi, Japan Ambassador to Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - Former Senior Minister S Jayakumar on Wednesday launched a memoir, Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu: A Singapore Memoir, covering his 31 years in politics.

He dedicated his book to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, "who made possible the Singapore Story", he wrote. The memoir ends with a moving exchange of e-mails between Professor Jayakumar and Mr Lee in 2011, after they both retired from Cabinet.

The following is the e-mail exchange:

Dear MM,

My friends tell me that I come across as a rather cold, unemotional chap. That may be the perception but like everyone else I have emotions and sentiments.

The closing part of today's Cabinet meeting was an emotional one for me. There was much I wanted to say to thank you not only as a Cabinet colleague but as a Singaporean for all that you have done for our country and people.

But I could not bring myself to say that as I was close to tears.

So I am using the rather impersonal medium of the e-mail to say it. My life, and outlook to life and Singapore completely changed when I joined politics and had the opportunity to work closely with you first as an MOS (minister of state) and then as a minister.

The way with which you approached difficult issues with the national interest uppermost in mind had a profound impact on me. In later years when I headed various ministries I have tried hard to imbue younger Cabinet colleagues who worked with me, as well as senior civil servants, with the same approach that I had learnt from you.

When you stepped down but still attended Cabinet meetings as MM (Minister Mentor), I could see that the younger, newer office holders benefited from your analysis and reflections of current events in the "post-Cab" discussions. It is a pity that the new ministers in the next Cabinet will not have the same advantage.

But, as you have said, Loong has to move on with a new team.

Thank you for what you have done for Singapore and, on a personal note, thank you for your patience with me when I worked as your minister in MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and Min FA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).


Dear Jaya,

Your e-mail moved me deeply. We have fought many a battle together and depended on each other's trust and judgment for over 30 years. You have been a staunch and persevering comrade and contributed much to the stability and well-being of today's Singapore. You were fit enough to have gone on for another term but chose to make way for fresh blood.

My work is done. Now I must make sure that we will (serve) TPGRC (Tanjong Pagar GRC) with a younger and more vigorous team. We are in a more complex environment than before.

Yours ever, Kuan Yew

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