SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday shared personal insights about what it was like to be the son of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a great leader but also a father figure who cared about him deeply.
“Growing up with my father, living through those years with him, made me what I am,” he said, in the first of 10 eulogies at the state funeral service for Singapore’s first Prime Minister.
“He wasn't demonstrative, much less was he touch-feely. So not new-age but he loved us deeply,” he said, speaking at the University Cultural Centre state funeral service attended by some 2,200 people, including family members, politicians and world leaders.
PM Lee revealed that after his first wife Ming Yang died, his parents had suggested that he try meditation. He gave it a go but did not make much progress. After the last general elections in 2011 - when the People’s Action Party won by the smallest margin of popular votes since independence - Mr Lee Kuan Yew again suggested meditation.
“I was, by then, nearing 60, and he was, by then, nearly 90. But to him I was still his son to be worried over, and to me he was still a father to love and appreciate, just like when I was small,” PM Lee said, fighting to keep his emotions in check.
“So this morning, before the ceremonies began at Parliament House, we had a few minutes. I sat by him and meditated.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew died on Monday aged 91. Sunday marks the end of a seven-day period of mourning, marked by a funeral procession from Parliament House to the cultural centre at the National University of Singapore.
Being Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s son also meant a political education right from his early days.
PM Lee recounted how he had accompanied his father on constituency visits, when Singapore was preparing to join Malaysia in the early 1960s, and as the elder Mr Lee was rallying the people’s support for a supremely important decision about Singapore’s future.
On election night in 1963, the crucial general election when the PAP defeated the pro-communist Barisan Sosialis, his mother had sent him to bed early, but the young Lee Hsien Loong lay awake to listen to the election results until the PAP had won enough seats to form the Government again, he recalled.
Then there was the momentous day day of Aug 7, 1965, two days before separation from Malaysia, when he and his siblings slept on the floor of his parents’ bedroom at Temasek House in Kuala Lumpur, because it was full of ministers who had come up from Singapore.
“And every so often my father would get up from the bed to make a note about something, before lying down to rest again. But obviously he wasn't asleep,” PM Lee said.
Responsibility to family was also paramount.
Recalling another incident, PM Lee said: “I remember the day he told me, while we were playing golf at the Istana, that should anything happen to him, he wanted me to look after my mother and my younger brother and sister."
But above everything, he cared for the people of Singapore whom he served, both in broad strokes, and down to each individual.
PM Lee recounted how his father had called him, one evening, asking him to help a woman security officer of his mother - who was having difficulty conceiving a child. He asked PM Lee if he knew how to help her to adopt.
“Mr Lee cared for the people whom he served, the people of Singapore... he was concerned for people not just in the abstract, but personally and individually.”
PM Lee also described how Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s own character had left his mark on Singapore.
“He built Singapore to be clean and corruption-free. His home was spartan. His habits were frugal. He wore the same jacket for years, and patched up the worn bits instead of buying new ones,” he said.
“He imparted these values to the Government. And even when old and frail, on his 90th birthday when he came to Parliament and MPs celebrated his birthday in Parliament, he reminded them that Singapore must remain clean and incorruptible, and that MPs and Ministers had to set the example.”
On the issue of Singapore's water security, a “lifelong obsession”, PM Lee said that his father had personally managed all aspects of Singapore's water talks with Malaysia. The result today is a cleaned-up Singapore River and Kallang Basin, the Marina Barrage, and Singapore moving towards self-sufficiency in water.
“Perhaps it's appropriate that today for his state funeral, the heavens opened and cried for him,” he said.
PM Lee cited St Paul’s Cathedral in London built by Sir Christopher Wren, a famous architect. As its architect, Sir Christopher Wren is buried in the cathedral, his masterpiece.
“Mr Lee Kuan Yew built Singapore. To those who seek Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s monument, Singaporeans can reply proudly: ‘look around you’.”
PM Lee called on Singaporeans to take the country forward.
“Let us shape this island nation into one of the great cities in the world, reflecting the ideals he stood for, realising the dreams he inspired and worthy of the people who have made Singapore our home and nation.”