Son of Lee Kuan Yew's former driver pays tribute to late father

Mr Rahmat Yusak, who was a bodybuilder, used to drive Mr Lee Kuan Yew on his constituency visits all over the island in his open-topped Land Rover. -- PHOTO: FAMILY OF RAHMAT YUSAK
Mr Rahmat Yusak, who was a bodybuilder, used to drive Mr Lee Kuan Yew on his constituency visits all over the island in his open-topped Land Rover. -- PHOTO: FAMILY OF RAHMAT YUSAK
Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew visiting constituencies in the fight against communism in Singapore, with Mr Rahmat in the driver's seat. In his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was the boy whose face was hidden by the windshield. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZULKIFLI RAHMAT
Mr Rahmat Yusak used to drive former PM Lee Kuan Yew to his constituency visits. PHOTO: FAMILY OF RAHMAT YUSAK
Berita Harian's night editor Mohamed Zulkifli Rahmat reacts when Prime Miniser Lee Hsien Loong spoke of his late father, Mr Rahmat Yusak, the former driver of Mr Lee Kuan Yew at National Day Rally on Aug 17. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - At the National Day Rally on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid tribute to Mr Rahmat Yusak, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's driver in the 1960s.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Lee wrote about Mr Rahmat on his Facebook, saying: "If you watched my Rally last night, you will remember my tribute to Mr Rahmat Yusak, who drove Mr Lee Kuan Yew around all the constituencies in a Land Rover in the 1960s. Mr Rahmat passed away two weeks ago. His son, Mr Zulkifli Rahmat, a senior journalist at Berita Harian, wrote a moving piece about his father in the paper today.

"Mr Rahmat made his own contribution to the Singapore story, driving Mr Lee on an exhausting campaign trail, often returning home late at night, with bits of firecrackers in the Land Rover. Like other Pioneers, he believed in Singapore, and worked hard to give his six children a better future. We will never forget him, nor his fellow Pioneers, who have done so much for Singapore."

Mr Mohd Zulkifli Rahmat, night editor of Berita Harian, had written an e-mail to Prime Minister Lee to say: "My father was only a driver, but I hope people like him will not be forgotten when Singapore honours its Pioneer Generation."

Mr Zulkifli said that he wrote to the Prime Minister on the spur of the moment, when his ailing father, 95, was into his fourth week in hospital for lung infection. "On the night I was alone with him, watching him sleep, I felt so sorry that we could not do much to help him recover. Doctors had given him only days to live."

Mr Zulkifli then picked up his mobile phone and wrote an e-mail to PM Lee about his father's condition on Aug 4. His father died the next day. The spontaneous e-mail got a response from the PM, who asked Mr Zulkifli's permission to mention his father in the National Day Rally speech.

PM Lee's moving tribute during the Sunday speech was "truly unexpected", said Mr Zulkifli, whose father died on Aug 5. Mr Zulkifli then wrote about his late father in an article published in Berita Harian a day after PM Lee's National Day Rally speech.

Here is a translation of the article.

By Mohd Zulkifli Rahmat

In Kampung Chantek Lama, which was also called Kampung Wayang Satu, in the early 1960s, a Land Rover was often parked along the road near my house.

I felt excited every time I saw it. As a child, I waited for a chance to go for a ride in the Land Rover, even for just a short trip. We could not afford to own the vehicle then.

The Land Rover which belonged to the Primary Production Department (PPD) was driven by my father, Mr Rahmat Yusak, to take PPD staff to crop and livestock farms.

He drove the vehicle home when he was able to return for lunch.

Sometimes, the Land Rover was driven home late at night or early in the morning. Inside, there were pieces of firecrackers and garlands.

I was too young, so I did not understand the circumstances then. My father seldom talked about his job.

When I got older, I knew that the Land Rover with firecrackers and garlands were used during the then-Prime Minister's general election campaign.

It turned out that my father was the driver of a very famous individual - Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

But my father never boasted about his job.

He also did not tell other people. He did not share private matters that I am sure he knew while he was in service.

Even if he did, it was just to express his gratitude that he was well-treated by Mr Lee and his wife, and how they were always concerned about his welfare.

Also fresh in my father's memory was when our current Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, as a child, also accompanied Mr Lee Kuan Yew during his general election campaign.

While his father made speeches to would-be voters, Mr Lee Hsien Loong usually sat still beside my father in the Land Rover.

Although he was not boastful, my father was proud of his job and diligent in carrying out his duties.

I could see his pride from the way he carefully kept old photographs and documents.

Among the materials I discovered my father had kept: an official employment letter from the PPD, an invitation card and a ceremony programme booklet when he was conferred a medal by Mr Yusof Ishak in 1964, several invitation cards to dinner events at Sri Temasek at the Istana, a letter of appreciation from the Defence Minister for his excellent service as a driver for dignitaries during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1971, and a Hari Raya card and a personal letter from Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1998.

With his job as a driver, my father, together with my mother, Madam Tafilah Said, brought up six children.

He did not have a formal education but still wanted his children to study at the highest level possible.

When I failed to get a scholarship and refused to go to the university to avoid burdening the family, my father, at 62, was willing to pay for my studies for the next four years.

He was firm in wanting his children to avoid negative influences. For example, when we just moved from the village to a public flat in Tanglin Halt in the late 1960s, he quickly warned us "not to mix with the drug addict kids at the void deck".

Throughout his career, his work ethic was recognised by his colleagues and supervisors. It was said he almost never took medical leave.

According to a former colleague, when Minister E.W. Barker needed a driver, he once looked for my father. When he was told that my father had retired, Mr Barker said: "How can Rahmat retire?"

How true - after he retired from public service at 60, my father became the driver of a surgeon for around 10 years.

In his old age, he was always active, preferring to be self-reliant and moving around without anyone's help.

"I don't want to burden my children," he said.

He died on Aug 5. He was 95.

As a member of the pioneer generation, my father's sacrifices and hard work in successfully raising a family, I think, also benefited the community.

He too had certainly contributed to the country's well-being.

Translated by Norzulriyah Haron

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