Singapore PM Lee: Growing up with my father, made me what I am

Singapore‘s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is comforted by his wife Ho Ching after delivering his eulogy for his father and former leader Lee Kuan Yew at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore March 29, 2015. — Reuters pic
Singapore‘s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is comforted by his wife Ho Ching after delivering his eulogy for his father and former leader Lee Kuan Yew at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore March 29, 2015. — Reuters pic

SINGAPORE, March 30 — There were no “posh or exotic” family holidays for the children of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister — Lee Kuan Yew did not want them growing up feeling entitled.

Instead, the family took their holidays at government rest houses in Fraser’s Hill and Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, and after independence in 1965, at Changi Cottage, said Lee Hsien Yang, the youngest child of the elder Lee.

Delivering his eulogy at the state funeral service at the University Cultural Centre yesterday (March 29), Lee Hsien Yang painted a picture of Lee Kuan Yew as a family man. “Many know how privileged Singaporeans are to have benefited from my father’s contributions to building our nation. I know that growing up as his son, I have also been privileged to have witnessed what it means to be a good man, a good husband and a good father and grandfather,” he said.

For his three children, Lee Kuan Yew wanted to ensure they had a “normal childhood”. Lee Hsien Yang recounted how as a teenager, he would, seeking to asset his independence, take the public bus. “Papa did not object, and my poor security officer had to follow me around on buses,” he said. “When I was in junior college and keen on outdoor activities, my security officer shadowed me as I trekked around Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong and canoed around Singapore. Papa’s principles ensured that I had as normal a childhood as possible, although I think I put out the security detail often!”

Lee Hsien Yang, son of former leader Lee Kuan Yew, delivers his eulogy during the funeral service at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore March 29, 2015. — Reuters pic
Lee Hsien Yang, son of former leader Lee Kuan Yew, delivers his eulogy during the funeral service at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore March 29, 2015. — Reuters pic

Noting that Lee Kuan Yew was immersed in his work for much of his childhood, Lee Hsien Yang revealed that in September 1998, when he and his wife received a copy of Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs The Singapore Story, it contained a note with “a tinge of regret”: “To Yang + Fern, You grew up while I was running around as I describe in this book.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his eulogy, also recalled the days he spent with his father visiting the constituencies when he was a child as an “early political education”.

“I remember election night in 1963, the crucial General Election when the PAP defeated the pro-communist Barisan Sosialis,” he said. “I was sent to bed early, but lay awake to listen to the election results until the PAP had won enough seats to form the government again.”

Lee Kuan Yew, he said, was not a “touchy feely” father, but he loved his children deeply. When his first wife died, Lee Hsien Loong tried meditation, at the advice of his parents, and did so again when he fell ill with lymphoma, in 1992. When Lee Kuan Yew's wife died in 2010, Lee Kuan Yew began meditating again. Once more, he urged Lee Hsien Loong to give it a try.

“He probably felt I needed to resume meditation too, and to give you some context, this was the few months after the 2011 General Election,” said Lee Hsien Loong, drawing laughs.

He continued: “I was by then nearly 60 and he was by then nearly 90. But to him I was still his son to be worried over, and to me he was still a father to love and appreciate, just like when I was small.”

“So this morning before the ceremonies began at Parliament House, we had a few minutes. I sat by him and meditated,” he added, and paused to hold back his tears.

Lee Hsien Loong also grew emotional when he recounted a game of golf with his father at the Istana. “I remember the day he told me...that should anything happen to him, he wanted me to look after my mother and my younger brother and sister,” he said.

He added: “Growing up with my father, living through those years with him, made me what I am.” — TODAY