Unionists, bank staff say goodbyes

Mr Lee's role in workers' rights and economic development remembered

With their families in tow, about 1,000 unionists lined the street outside the labour movement's headquarters in One Marina Boulevard yesterday, to pay homage one last time to the man whose career began by representing labour unions.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's final journey through Singapore's financial district was remarkable as young and old put aside their umbrellas and, in pouring rain, bowed as the cortege passed by.

"Thank you, Mr Lee, for looking after workers," a lone shout rang out from the crowd.

The members of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and their families began streaming in as early as 9am for the best spots at the junction of Collyer Quay and Marina Boulevard.

NTUC's secretary-general Lim Swee Say arrived around 10am, stayed over an hour before heading to the University Cultural Centre for the state funeral service.

"We organised the event so that union members and their families can say farewell to Mr Lee," Mr Lim told The Straits Times.

Mr Lee began his political career in the 1950s, fighting for workers' rights in his role as legal adviser to more than 50 unions.

He was pivotal in nurturing tripartism, which strengthened the three-way partnership of unions, employers and the Government.

For his contributions, the NTUC gave him its highest award in 1991: Distinguished Comrade of Labour.

Unionist Raymond Chin, 32, cradling his six-month-old daughter Melanie, said: "She is too young to know what is going on, but when she grows up, we will tell her about Mr Lee."

Mr Chin is with the Union of Security Employees.

After the cortege passed, the NTUC played an a cappella version of the National Anthem, to which the unionists sang along, many tearfully.

Further down the road towards Shenton Way, about 550 staff and management of DBS Bank and their families gathered outside OUE Downtown 1 building, which previously housed its headquarters.

"We came a few hours early to reserve a place on the steps," said Ms Karen Ngui, head of group strategic marketing and communications at the bank.

"Shenton Way was the original financial centre and it symbolises the economic development that Mr Lee brought to Singapore."

Next door, safety coordinator Ismail Johari, 34, had waited with facade cleaner Mohamad Fairuz, 27. They had been cleaning the windows of OUE Downtown 2.

Said Mr Ismail: "I wanted to go to Parliament House after work on Friday but they closed the queue, no luck to see Mr Lee.

"But we got called back to work overtime today and heard he is passing by, so it's just nice, we can also pay our respects. He is our founding father after all."

Railings along the pavements were lined with the national flag.

Residents from estates in Pasir Ris, Bedok and Paya Lebar, as well as civil servants from the Ministry of National Development and Urban Redevelopment Authority flanked the roads.

Housewife May Liang, 46, could not hold back her tears as the cortege passed. She was with her sisters, children and nieces. They laid yellow and orange flowers on the road where they stood.

She said: "Since last week, I've been tearing every time I see the news and read people's tributes.

"We just wanted to bring something for him. He did so much for us."



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"At first, I thought he was just a very famous figure everyone is talking about. But after listening to his speeches, I now know he made what seemed impossible, possible. I really feel he is a great man."

- Secondary 1 student Kai Peh, 12 (top, with friend Thaddeus Chua, 7), who was at Shenton Way with his mother. He has been watching clips of Mr Lee's speeches and rallies on television since last Monday

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"I wanted to do something special to remember and honour Mr Lee."

- DBS staff union executive committee member Jonathan James Wong, 45, on why he printed his own "Remembering Mr Lee Kuan Yew" T-shirts for his family and wore them yesterday with his seven-year-old daughter, Jovinne

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"My husband and I want all our four children to learn about Mr Lee's contributions to Singapore. That is why we have taken them to Parliament and the Tanjong Pagar CC to pay our respects, and now we are here to say goodbye to Mr Lee as he passes by Shenton Way."

- Customer service staff Jasline Ang, 45, with her husband Albert Ang, 48, who is self-employed, and their children (from left) Zevid, seven, Jayden, five, Enilla, nine, and Alline, 12

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"Mr Lee is a great man. Being here is our way of paying our respects to him as a family."

- SIA pilot Captain Michael Goh, 41, who was with his wife Eunice, 36, son Jonathan, 10 and daughter Joyce, seven

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"We are doing it out of respect for Mr Lee. He's done so much for the country I want to be able to pray for him without holding anything in my hands."

- Mr Tan Chor Kiat, chief executive of Vital, a central government department that handles human resource and finance matters, who was there with about 50 of his staff

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"At the age of five or six, I was already hearing Mr Lee speak on the radio. I may not have understood the words fully, but even as a young child, I could feel the passion in his speeches. He was a very fiery speaker during his time as Prime Minister. But his tone changed and mellowed when he became Senior Minister. He began sounding more like someone who was trying to educate and persuade. It was almost like we were brought up by him because he inculcated values in us through his speeches. We learnt about hard work and the need to be self-reliant as a nation."

- Mr Edmund Pang, 54, insurance broker who came from Pasir Ris and was standing outside the Police Cantonment Complex.


"Mr Lee would rather people misunderstand him while he did his best for Singapore, than be popular. Without his foresight in his bilingualism policy, many of us will be struggling today. Instead, today many Singaporeans can go overseas and be effectively bilingual, giving us an edge. When I was in school, maybe I didn't really understand the need for it, and was frustrated by having to learn two languages. But he saw how the world would change before most people did."

- Ms Sandy Ng, 36, office manager who cried as the cortege passed Cantonment Road


"Mr Lee never had any airs. My father was a Hakka like him, and whenever he had any difficulties or need advice, he would go to Mr Lee. Mr Lee would readily give him his time. There was no 'I am better than you, you are just a fisherman' attitude; if you went to him, he would help you."

- Ms Oh Geik Sin, 57


"I wanted to be Singaporean because life here is peaceful, the environment is good to raise children, and the salary is good. Most importantly, people respect each other, and we are all equal.

Sometimes when I look at India, Sri Lanka, so many other countries, if they had followed the Singapore-style, they could be as successful as Singapore. But they didn't have a leader like Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Lee always had the long view, that is why Singapore has reached this stage."

- Mr Chinnu Raju, 45, maintenance engineer and Pinnacle resident. He came from Chennai, India in 1995 for work, and became a citizen in 1999.


"I still remember I was 15 when the 1963 riots happened. I was at my father's tailor shop in Arab Street, and I saw a lorry load of parang-wielding men get down looking for trouble. We quickly shuttered the stall.

Mr Lee took immediate action, putting a curfew in place. I remember we only had two hours a day to go to the market. But it worked, the troublemakers could not incite violence anymore. People could see that he was a decisive leader, that could lead Singapore well."

- Retiree Pauline Poon, 70


"I remember when I was staying in Chinatown in my 20s, there were a lot of gangsters in the neighbourhood. They had different gang names they would chant, and from my window, I could see them carrying sticks and glass bottles. They would clash and overturn tables, scaring me. I was a seamstress based at home then.

When Mr Lee came to office, he immediately started rounding them up. He caught them until they were no longer a problem. He made Chinatown safe for me."

- Retiree Toh Kwee Hoe, 78

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