Silent farewell, broken by sobs

Members of the public queue for hours to pay their last respects

People queued for as long as five hours yesterday morning to pay their last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at Parliament House.

But inside the hall where his casket lay, they had just minutes to say their goodbyes.

An unexpected surge close to lunchtime meant that organisers had to keep a tighter rein on time.

This later prompted a change in the hours people could go to Parliament to pay their respects. They can now do so any time, day or night, until Saturday, when the gates will close at 8pm.

Yesterday's early birds, some of whom started queueing before daybreak, entered the hall in groups to pay homage to Singapore's first Prime Minister, who died on Monday at age 91.

Ordinary Singaporeans, contingents of schoolchildren and representatives of ministries, self-help organisations and uniformed groups were able to stand about 4m from the casket and bow. Although they could not see Mr Lee's body, many were overcome with emotion and tears rolled down their cheeks.

The older folk were particularly overwhelmed, as quiet sobbing filled the hall.

Some dignitaries had more time and could walk right up to the casket.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife, Ms Ho Ching, emerged from an adjacent room on occasion to receive some of the guests and later even went outside to greet those who were waiting in the queue.

As the crowd built up outside, those in the line who entered the hall from around 1.30pm were asked to pick up the pace when they filed past the casket.

By this time, the queues stretched around Clarke Quay and the surrounding areas, including Raffles Place and Fort Canning.

Among those in the queue wereMalaysian Au Kean Hoe, 61, who flew in yesterday morning from Kuala Lumpur specially to pay his respects, and legal executive Vivi Erina, 31, who started queueing from UOB Building at about 10.30am and waited four hours. The firm she works at, Clifford Law, gave its staff time off to go to Parliament House.


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"No one complained or grumbled. It was not a problem (that I couldn't see Mr Lee's face). I can understand because of the crowd. You cannot take your time. We need to give others a chance.

I came alone. I love Mr Lee dearly and I believe in him. Children being able to wander around after school - it was all his doing, making Singapore into a safe place. They are able to wander around after school. In the United States, parents have to drive their children here and there."

- Ms Clara Miles, 60, a former hotel guest relations officer, started queueing just before 2pm and made it inside Parliament House at 3.55pm

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"I waited for an hour and a half. I was fortunate enough to ask a guy in the queue who guided me to the senior citizens' line - I had almost wanted to give up when I heard I had to start queueing at Hong Lim.

(Mr Lee) was such a wise person and he was a very strong leader and he has really done so much for us. When I left school in 1964, jobs were scarce but finally I joined the civil service.

It was Mr Lee and his team who brought in a lot of establishments to Singapore, multinational companies, for example. After I spent three years in the civil service, I was fortunate enough to join a multinational company which produces semiconductors. I was there for 34 years. At this company, I was sent to Penang to set up a branch and it was there that I met my wife."

- Mr David Lim, 67, a retiree

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"I was lucky today because someone saw me limping (I have stiff knee joints) and told a security guard, who let me go to the Pioneers queue. But if not for my health problem, I would wait two days if I needed to. I already made it all the way here, taking a bus from my home in Redhill, so why not wait? It is my last chance to say farewell, after all.

Mr Lee made sure everyone had a home and that we must be multiracial. I live in a rental apartment with my mother now, but used to live in a kampung and people had to share a common toilet. Now look at all our flats. And we can drink our tap water.

As a minority, I also never felt disadvantaged... I watch the news about the conflicts overseas and I am relieved I was born here."

- Former healthcare support officer Nalaayini Thambiah, 65, who queued from 1.30pm to 4.30pm


"Most of us are where we are because of him. Even if we queue for eight or 12 hours, it's nothing compared to him spending his whole life to serve us. (When I met him), he showed a lot of concern about the welfare of workers. He would ask about our staff welfare benefits and whether we had sufficient rest."

- Mr Richard Tan, 50, general secretary of the United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries, who joined the queue at 2pm with colleagues. He met Mr Lee at an NTUC event 10 years ago


"We brought food, water and good company to wait out the queue. It's an expression of gratitude to Mr Lee for his contributions to the nation."

- Dr Wong Meng Ee, 45, assistant professor for special education at the National Institute of Education, who is now almost totally visually-impaired. He queued with six NIE colleagues who were helping him

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