'Mr Lee's values not rooted in devotion to objects'

A guest at the preview of the We Built A Nation exhibition at the National Museum.
A guest at the preview of the We Built A Nation exhibition at the National Museum.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The gifting of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's possessions to the National Heritage Board is a sacrifice by his daughter Wei Ling, who continues to live in her family home at 38, Oxley Road.

The donated pieces hold considerable sentimental value for her as well as Mr Lee's younger son Hsien Yang, who made the point yesterday at the opening of an exhibition that included furniture in use from their family home.

But, he added, their father's values have always been anchored in pragmatism rather than any devotion to physical objects.

"His (Mr Lee's) love was for Singapore and Singaporeans, and his life's work was creating and building our nation, a land of peace and prosperity, a place of opportunity for his fellow Singaporeans," said Mr Lee Hsien Yang at the We Built A Nation exhibition at the National Museum.

The late Mr Lee had made it clear that he did not need and did not want any monument.

"Lee Kuan Yew did not see his legacy in bricks and mortar, but living on in the values and principles that make our nation work," said the younger Mr Lee. "His life's work lives on in you and me, in every Singaporean and in Singapore."

The elder Mr Lee, who died on March 23 at age 91, lived a simple life in the pre-war bungalow in Oxley Road. Among the items at the exhibition are pieces of furniture used for decades.

His son later told reporters: "My father's wishes are that the house he lived in should be torn down. We thought (this exhibition) was one way that people would have a chance to see some of the things which were in the house."

The late Mr Lee wanted the home demolished after his death, or after his daughter moves out.

When asked about the call by some Singaporeans to preserve it, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said: "I suppose the question is if we respect Mr Lee's wishes, and how do you express that we want to honour the man when we can't respect his wishes?

"Many people accept that the house is historic but, at the same time, they also accept that it's part of his values, and we should honour his values."

He added: "He did not ask many things of Singaporeans. This is the one thing that mattered to him. Surely, we can find it in our hearts."

The son of former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee also spoke fondly of his father last night and paid tribute to the country's founding fathers, who had the guts to steer the country through its turbulent early years.

They were "politically astute persons motivated by a set of values that has seen Singapore through 50 years'', said Mr Goh Kian Chee. "Without the motivation, without strong self-belief in our values, put into practice in all aspects of policy, in public and social life, I wonder where Singapore would be today."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2015, with the headline ''Mr Lee's values not rooted in devotion to objects''. Print Edition | Subscribe