Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

That 1972 speech Mr Lee Kuan Yew made about growing old and dying

SINGAPORE - In his eulogy for his father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at a private family farewell at Mandai Crematorium on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the late Mr Lee's philosphy of growing old and dying.

PM Lee recalled a speech his father made in 1972 at a congress of cardiologists. The speech had left such an impression on PM Lee that he could still remember it 43 years later, he said.

"When preparing what to say today, I remembered that once upon a time he had made a speech about growing old and dying, to a gathering of doctors," PM Lee said in his eulogy.

"I re-read the speech with delight. It was vintage Lee Kuan Yew - thoughtful, erudite, elegant, witty, but with a deeper point. Sadly, nobody makes such after-dinner speeches like that anymore."

PM Lee cited a quote from that speech: "Life is better short, healthy and full than long, unhealthy and dismal. We all have to die. I hope mine will be painless. As de Gaulle said: 'Never fear, even de Gaulle must die', and he did."

The speech was titled 'Life is better when it is short, healthy and full' and it was delivered at the fifth Asian-Pacific congress of cardiology delegates at the Shangri-la Hotel on Oct 13, 1972, by Mr Lee, then Prime Minister.

Mr Lee spoke about his health-conscious way of life - he cut out saturated fat, had only lean meat, and avoided coconut oil and he lamented how he had all the while laboured under "a grave misconception" that the heart should never be strained.

"So violent exercises like badminton and squash are to be eschewed. More leisurely ones unlikely to induce cardiac failure like golf or swimming are for me," Mr Lee said in that speech.

He added: "Then one day I was playing golf with a surgeon friend... He said the heart should be pushed to its uttermost limits to dilate all the arteries throughout the body and in the heart itself, and to increase the pulse rate to its maximum, for as long as possible. It will improve heart muscle tone, and after a few weeks the lethargic feeling will go."

Mr Lee said he decided to try it out himself one day.

"I walked on the spot. Nothing happened. So I began to run, but gently, on the spot. Still no ill-effects. So I increased it day by day. Then one day after a round of golf, I ran for five minutes. Before that I got my surgeon to take my pulse rate. So he said it was normal, 70 plus. After 5 minutes, 'Marvellous, 140'. After 3 to 4 minutes, back to 70 plus. Marvellous! Young man's heart was his verdict."

"If only I had known earlier I would have been younger at heart all these past years!" Mr Lee exclaimed.

On prolonging life with the help of advanced medical science, Mr Lee quipped to his doctor audience: "Can I say that the kindest thing you can do for me - if ever I have a partial cardiac failure or a stroke, is to let me die as painlessly as possible. Nothing is more pitiful than to have stroke after stroke after stroke, with each one, both physical movement and intellectual capacity reduced until one becomes a vegetable."

Mr Lee ended his speech with a contemplative note.

"There will never be a final solution to the problem of life and death, other than death itself. And whether it is philosophy or logic or medicine or morality or law, we are all human beings with human imperfections, both as individuals and as societies. And Singapore is an imperfect society. But I hope, despite all the imperfections you have found some pleasure in having come here."

Here is a full transcript of the speech

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