By Carlton Tan
A special session was called yesterday, 26 March 26, for Members of Parliament (MPs) to pay tribute to the late Lee Kuan Yew.
After 12 MPs made their speeches, a minute of silence was observed. Here are some of the personal stories that were shared.
Lee Kuan Yew’s frailty towards his last years (Dr Ng Eng Hen)
“Mr Lee had indeed become frail as he approached his 90th birthday in 2013. He had problems in swallowing and food would go down the wrong way into his windpipe, infecting his lungs repeatedly. As eating could cause aspiration pneumonia, he needed intravenous nutrition as supplement but became progressively thinner. Parliament was sitting on that year, Sept 16th, his birthday and we wanted to acknowledge his 90th birthday, an auspicious birthday. I called on Mr Lee at the Istana and told him about our plans. He said he would be in Parliament that day on Sept 16th.
“Unfortunately, when that day came, a dehydrated and weakened Mr Lee had to go to hospital and be put on a drip. His doctors advised him not to attend Parliament. We were informed and called off our plans. But just before Parliament adjourned, we were surprised when Mr Lee entered this Chamber. I found out later that he over-ruled his doctors, saying that he must attend Parliament because he had given his commitment. He wanted to walk but thankfully his doctors persuaded him that it would be acceptable for a 90 year old on intravenous nutrition to be wheeled into the chamber. That September 16th, this House had the last privilege to wish him happy birthday together. After Parliament adjourned, he stayed on as we cut his birthday cake and sang him a birthday song. At age 90, frail and dehydrated, Mr Lee kept his word to be here.”
Lee Kuan Yew, not interested in bootlickers (Low Thia Khiang)
“From my meetings with Mr Lee in Parliament, I don’t think he was an autocrat who didn’t listen. If you have strong reasons and arguments that are better than the policies that he had given a lot of thought for, I think he will consider your views. I also know he was someone who hates empty talking, because he thought time was precious and there were too many things to do.”
Lee Kuan Yew, a caring superior (Wong Kan Seng)
“At the personal level, Mr Lee was a caring man. Some years ago, a doctor diagnosed me to have a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Mr Lee learned about it and called me up on the phone. On hearing that I was attending a dinner, he nagged me to go home, as he believed that my heart was like a ticking bomb, I might suffer a stroke if I did not go back to rest. He insisted that I seek a cardiologist’s advice… it turned out that I had no TIA. I was relieved and I believe he was very relieved too…”
Lee Kuan Yew, a loving husband (Dr Ng Eng Hen)
“In 2009, Mr Lee led a delegation on an official trip to many states of Malaysia. DPM Tharman and I were part of it. The delegation was having dinner together, when Mr Lee asked to excuse himself so that he could speak on the phone to Mrs Lee. Due to previous strokes, Mrs Lee could not speak but remained conscious and aware. Mr Lee had made it a routine to speak and read to her each night. He did not want to break this routine, even though he was in Malaysia on a long trip. He asked the nurse to put the phone to Mrs Lee and spoke to her. He did this every night while we were in Malaysia. We stood aside to respect their privacy, but that image of Mr Lee, hunched over the phone speaking to Mrs Lee who could not speak back, will stay with me for a very long time as a simple but pure picture of true devotion. Mrs Lee passed away in 2010 and the impact on him was visible physically. Many people noticed this.”
Lee Kuan Yew’s view on Parliament (Mdm Halimah Yacob)
“In 1999, when we moved to this Chamber from the old Parliament House, Mr Lee said, “The importance of this Chamber did not, and does not, depend on its size and its grandeur, but upon the quality of men and women who occupy it as representatives of the people. By the standards of other public and private buildings in Singapore, it is modest by comparison. But that is a virtue. Behind the understatement lie great strengths of character, integrity and determination. That is what will see Singapore through not the grand statements and monuments in brick and mortar or steel and concrete, with which so many other new nations try to impress themselves and their followers”. Mr Lee could very well have described himself and his own life when he made that statement.”
Lee Kuan Yew, the man I never met (Chia Yong Yong)
“I speak in honour of a man whom I had never met. Yet, I knew him, from my earliest memories, and for a long time, as my Prime Minister. I never met him, never spoke with him, not even when he came to Parliamentary sittings. I never met him, but he did much for me, my family and for my country. He was an icon to me during my growing-up years. Even as a child, I respected him greatly. But, when I grew into a young adult, I became critical of some of his views and policies. Who was this man? I will never know.”