Othman Wok: 1924-2017

Remembering Othman Wok: Friends, ordinary Singaporeans bid farewell

They brave heavy rain to pay their respects as cortege travels along procession route

A state-assisted funeral was held for pioneer Cabinet minister Othman Wok, who died on Monday after a long battle with cancer. The casket made its final journey through Singapore to Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery where Mr Othman was buried.
The State Flag-draped casket being carried to the gun carriage.
The State Flag-draped casket being carried to the gun carriage.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Mourners, including Mr Lee Hsien Loong, watching as Mr Othman Wok's coffin was loaded onto the gun carriage at Sultan Mosque yesterday.
Mourners, including Mr Lee Hsien Loong, watching as Mr Othman Wok's coffin was loaded onto the gun carriage at Sultan Mosque yesterday.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The State Flag was draped over the casket in the presence of Mr Othman Wok's family.
The State Flag was draped over the casket in the presence of Mr Othman Wok's family.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The gun carriage carrying the casket.
The gun carriage carrying the casket.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Mr Muhammad Haziq was born more than 10 years after Mr Othman Wok stepped down from political office, and he had never met the late pioneer minister.

But the 20-year-old, who is waiting to enlist for national service, braved the rain yesterday to get a glimpse of Mr Othman's cortege as it travelled along River Valley Road.

"I felt a personal and moral duty to pay my respects to someone who had done so much for me," said Mr Haziq, a history buff who read about Mr Othman in newspaper clippings.

He stood on an overhead bridge in River Valley Road that was part of the funeral procession route from Sultan Mosque to the Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery.

As Mr Haziq waited for the cortege, people at the cemetery were making sure Mr Othman's final send-off would go as smoothly as possible.

Under a makeshift white tent that shielded the burial plot from the rain, several workers used masking tape to remove dirt and debris from a black platform.

Former senior parliamentary secretary Yatiman Yusof bent down to remove a leaf blown in by a gust of wind.

Mr Yatiman was among those who gathered at the cemetery as well as Sultan Mosque to bid a final farewell to Mr Othman, who died on Monday at the age of 92.

Prayers were recited at the mosque after 1pm yesterday for Mr Othman, who was minister for social affairs in independent Singapore's first Cabinet and a champion of multiracialism.

Pallbearers later placed his coffin on a ceremonial gun carriage and it was taken to the cemetery. After the cortege arrived, eight pallbearers from the army, navy, air force and police moved the coffin onto a platform.

The state flag was removed from the coffin, and handed to his daughters Lily and Diana together with the Order of Nila Utama (Second Class), an award Mr Othman received in 1983.

Past and present Malay-Muslim leaders - including Mr Yatiman, former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim and Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman - helped members of Mr Othman's family as they transferred the body from the coffin into the grave.

After the grave was covered, Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram read the talqin, or last prayers, for Mr Othman.

Political leaders who bade Mr Othman a final farewell yesterday included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and members of the Cabinet.

Some members of the public who paid their last respects to Mr Othman remembered him as a strong leader of the Malay community - one who was open and friendly, and with a sense of humour.

Retiree Said Mohamed, 54, travelled for more than an hour from Woodlands to Sultan Mosque to pay his last respects to a man he described as a "a significant leader" for the Malay community.

Housewife Aini Osman, 58, a long-time friend of Mr Othman's widow Lina Abdullah, said that Mr Othman was a leader who made significant contributions to Singapore and her community.

Others spoke of his lighter side.

One of his former golfing buddies, Mr Billy Lee, 69, said Mr Othman was jovial and humorous.

He recounted a golfing trip in Indonesia in the 1990s, when their group of about 20 were in a cramped minivan travelling from Jakarta to Bandung.

Said Mr Lee: "He kept cracking jokes and made the three-hour journey so much more enjoyable."

The rain yesterday afternoon, which began falling after the prayer session at the mosque, continued to pour during the burial ceremony.

Before they left, Mr Othman's family poured flowers and perfumed water over his grave, leaving a sweet scent wafting over the final resting place of one of Singapore's founding fathers.

•Additional reporting by Abigail Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Friends, ordinary S'poreans bid farewell'. Subscribe