Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Tearful residents pay respects to their MP, Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Young and old, people in Mr Lee's Tanjong Pagar GRC mourn his death

As a young man, Mr Seow Cheong Choon had little faith in Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

"When we were kicked out of Malaysia, he said he would give us all a house. Not just one or two people, but the thousands living in attap houses.

"I was angry with his promises of false hope. Who could believe him? Singapore was chaotic, muddy, full of gangsters," recounted Mr Seow. Now 80, he has lived almost all his life in the Tiong Bahru ward, in Tanjong Pagar GRC, that Mr Lee represented for 60 years.

Yesterday, the retired calligrapher wept as he described how his faith in Singapore's first Prime Minister grew over the years.

It began in 1968 when he and his wife, Madam Lee Geok Hwa, now 70, moved from the ramshackle attap house they shared with about 15 people to a three-room HDB flat in Tiong Bahru's Kim Tian Road.

His faith grew as more homes and schools were built, jobs were created with increasing foreign investments, and Singapore's armed forces advanced.

Yesterday, he and his wife were among about 5,000 Tanjong Pagar residents who turned up at their community club to bid goodbye, many tearfully, to their MP.

They arrived with flowers and waited in quiet grief for their turn to write messages of condolences.

Mr Seow was in tears as he bowed before a black-and-white portrait of Mr Lee and, in a final show of respect, saluted.

A tearful Mr Mohan Ramakrish, 47, recalled his father's gratitude as he lay sick in Singapore General Hospital.

"My father said he was proud to see a C-class ward with clean bedsheets and a fan that kept the room well-ventilated. I couldn't understand it at first, but he told me that I didn't know what Singapore was like before Mr Lee," the financial adviser said.

"My father kept Mr Lee's photo in his shirt's breastpocket till the day he died. I'm grateful Mr Lee was my MP, too."

Younger Singaporeans like regional account manager Linn Lee were just as overwhelmed.

Said the 29-year-old: "It has been non-stop tears since I found out he had passed away. I know some in my generation disagree with his policies, but without him, where would we be today?

"I'm worried about how his legacy will continue beyond Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong."

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, an MP in Tanjong Pagar GRC who had been helping the late Mr Lee with his Meet-the-People sessions, said in her tribute that he was a man who "did not forget the common man".

During the 2003 Sars crisis, while many were pre-occupied with safety measures like temperature-taking, Mr Lee wanted to know about the plight of taxi drivers as he had heard people were avoiding taking cabs.

"That struck me deeply, because in the midst of all the big-picture planning, he did not forget the common man," she told reporters at the Tanjong Pagar Community Club.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, another MP in the GRC, and Minister of State Sam Tan, MP of neighbouring Radin Mas, were also at the club to pay their respects and comfort residents.

Former MP Koo Tsai Kee, who is second adviser to grassroots organisations in Mr Lee's ward, said the late leader never stopped being a mentor.

"He told me it was important to get grassroots work done. 'Let government policies do good in the medium and long term. But in the short term, that's where MPs come in. They must ensure the people get their day-to-day problems solved.' "

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