My father was born when Singapore was part of the British Empire, the Straits Settlements flag fluttered over Government House, and the people of Singapore sang "God Save the King". Papa was given the name Harry at birth. He grew up to feel that that did not fit in and reflect who he was as a son of Singapore.
When Papa was 10, his youngest brother Suan Yew was born. Papa persuaded his father and his mother that it was not a good thing to give Suan Yew a Western name. And so at 10 years old, he had prevailed in the household. Decades later, when Papa entered politics, he found the name Harry to be a political liability. It was from politics that he found it, but in truth two decades before that, he had felt that this was not right for him.
When Loong, Ling and I were born, Papa gave us only Chinese names. As Papa did not have a good command of Chinese and came from a Peranakan household, he sought the help of the court interpreter, Mr Wong Chong Min, in the choice of names. For their eldest son, Papa and Mama chose the name Hsien Loong. It meant "illustrious dragon". It was an appropriate and auspicious choice for a boy, especially one born in the Year of the Dragon.
For my sister, they chose the name Wei Ling, which means "the beautiful sound of tinkling jade". I suppose Mama thought that that was an appropriate and feminine name for a daughter, though I don't think it circumscribed Ling's development!
For me, they chose the name Hsien Yang. The name Yang has more literary origin. It was taken from a quote from the Three Letter Classics which can mean "to show off". So my mother used to tease me before I knew this and said: "Your name means you're an illustrious show-off". Actually, the phrase meant "to bring honour and value to your parents".
I am sure many Singaporeans travelling abroad have often received compliments on Singapore and its transformation over the last 50 years. Usually the conversation would quickly acknowledge the contributions of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I would nod in agreement but I would not acknowledge my relationship, and I just kept quiet. I'd say: "Yes, it's been a remarkable journey."
Unsolicited compliments like this are the most authentic and heartfelt. Keeping private my family connection only served to enhance the pleasure for me, and sadly, as I developed a more visible public profile, it became harder not to be recognised as Lee Hsien Yang and my father's son.
I taught my children not to mention or flaunt their relationship with their grandfather, that they needed to make their own way in the world, on their own merit and industry. I suggested to them that should they be asked whether they are related to Mr Lee Kuan Yew that a good answer was to say: "My name is spelt 'Li', Mr Lee Kuan Yew's name is spelt 'Lee'. 'Li' is one of the most common Chinese surnames in the world..." This response, which I suggested, was not meant to mislead or to obfuscate, it's born out of a desire to be recognised for who we are as individuals and not for who we are related to.
We are immensely proud of Papa and his achievements, and yet perhaps it is part of our DNA to seek our own way in life. I am sure that Papa would not have wanted it otherwise.
Papa, thank you for a lifetime of service to the people of Singapore. You made this little red dot a nation all of us are proud to call home.
Papa, thank you for being a wonderful husband and companion to Mama, for loving her completely, for caring for her during her illness and during your lives together.
Papa, thank you for being my own special father. Always there to guide, counsel and advise me every step of the way, but also prepared to step back and let me find my own wings and make my own way.
Papa, thank you for loving my wife, and my children, Shengwu, Huanwu and Shaowu. You have been a loving grandfather to each of them, sharing small pleasures, enjoying their companionship.
Papa, it is hard to say goodbye. Your work is done and your rest is richly deserved. In our own different and diverse ways, my family and I will continue to honour you and your memory in all that we do.