Remembering Othman Wok (1924-2017): He tells his life story through biography

Mr Othman holds up a copy of his biography, Never In My Wildest Dreams, in 2000.
Mr Othman holds up a copy of his biography, Never In My Wildest Dreams, in 2000. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

The PAP stalwart's biography, which offers insights into his experiences in journalism and politics, is now on sale.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 19, 2001

As a young man, Mr Othman Wok thought he would live an ordinary life, working as a radio technician and keeping the same job till his retirement.

But he became a journalist with the Malay-language paper Utusan Melayu, and that changed his life because it led him into politics.

When Singapore became self-governing in 1959, Mr Othman became one of its first political leaders. He was a Cabinet minister from 1963 to 1977.

Then he was Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia until he retired in 1980. These days, he spends most of his time with his nine grandchildren and his wife, Lina.

The cover of Mr Othman's biography, Never In My Wildest Dreams. PHOTO: OTHMAN WOK 

The People's Action Party stalwart recently had his biography published. The 233-page book offers insights into his growing-up years in the kampung, his experience during the Japanese Occupation, his life as a journalist and politician, and his family.

Written with former Straits Times journalist Yohanna Abdullah, the book, Never In My Wildest Dreams, retails for $22.90.

Mr Othman, who turns 77 this year, told The Straits Times: "I was a simple man and I never had any objectives.

"But these opportunities just came and changed my life altogether. I never went out to seek them - they just came unexpectedly."

A heart attack last year made it necessary for him to have a five-hour heart bypass operation, and this held up work on the book.

He said: "Completing this book was difficult, but my family and friends gave me the strength to go on. I am glad I did it."
He has since recovered, but his short-term memory is not good, he said.

"It's easier to remember things which happened 40 years ago, than an event which happened yesterday," he said candidly.

He said he would always remember being sent by Utusan Melayu to cover the British army's raid on a communist hideout in Pahang, Malaysia.

"Bullets were flying everywhere, and some of the soldiers died in front of my eyes. I, too, almost died," he said. He admits he feared for his life.

But it was Mr Othman's courage during Singapore's early troubled years that prompted Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew to pay him a moving tribute at his birthday dinner three years ago.

Mr Lee recalled how Mr Othman never wavered in upholding multi-racialism, despite a racially-charged campaign waged by Umno extremists during the Separation from Malaysia.

Mr Othman downplays suggestions of heroism. "They were just unhappy that I joined the PAP," he said of the Umno camp at the time.

He said he wrote the book for his children and for future generations. "I want them to know their roots, and I want to leave something for them to remember me by."