“The Prime Minister is deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore. Mr Lee passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital today at 3.18am. He was 91.”
23rd March 2015. 5am. I woke up to read this announcement on the Prime Minister’s facebook page. The news should have come as no surprise. Mr Lee’s condition had taken a turn for the worse in the recent days. Yet, the feeling of shock was unmistakeable. Somehow, deep inside, I had expected this giant of a man to make a miraculous recovery to celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday, like he always did.
The shock was eventually replaced by a wave of great sadness. Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away. This time, it was not a hoax. It was real.
A week of national mourning was declared for our founding Prime Minister. Tributes poured in on the media. His speeches were aired on national TV. Documentaries on his achievements were broadcasted.
I am born and bred in Singapore, but I had never fully appreciated the magnitude of his contributions and sacrifices. Sure, I knew that he played a leading role in the period of separation between Malaya and Singapore, that he initiated various policies that brought Singapore to what we are today. But to me, he was just a Prime Minister, doing what he should do.
As the stories continued rolling in, I felt new-found respect and awe for him. I saw him in a new light, and understood why the pioneer generation held him in the highest regards. He had brought Singapore from a third-world country to a first-world country within a short span of 50 years. My mum recalls the early days of Singapore, when riots were common, when they had to queue at the public taps for water, when it was common for a family of 11 to squeeze into a tiny room. Not everyone had the option of attending school then.
Without Mr Lee’s remarkable foresight and leadership, many of the things that I take for granted today would probably not exist. Clean drinking water straight from the tap. Being able to walk alone in the streets at night without fear. Bilingual education for all. Affordable public housing. The list goes on.
There is no doubt that he was a great leader and a great politician. Above all that, he was also a loving husband, father and grandfather. The love story of Mr Lee and his wife brought tears to my eyes. I saw photos of his home for the first time. Suddenly, he was so human.
Little snippets of recollections by people close to him revealed a man who dedicated his life to Singapore. A man who continued to work till his recent hospitalization, who breathed and lived Singapore. Indeed, Singapore is what she is today because of him.
I’m sure that I wasn’t one of the minority that felt this way, because I joined hundreds of thousands of people queuing to pay our last respects to Mr Lee at the Parliament House. Singaporeans, young and old, queued for up to 10 hours for the few seconds to see him, to express our gratitude. For once, I felt the solidarity of Singaporeans, united in our grief.
Today is the final day of the week of national mourning. The day that we say our final farewells to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It’s hard to describe my feelings as I watch the funeral cortège passing through the streets of Singapore, showing Mr Lee the successful little red dot that he spent his life building.
Good bye sir. Thank you for all that you’ve done for Singapore. 一路好走.