SINGAPORE, July 12 — Despite rising tensions from a relentless assault by the invading Japanese military, Wee Kim Wee insisted on cooking a duck for reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year in 1942.
A bomb fell near her home that evening, further rattling nerves and sending household items flying.
“But she still managed to cook that duck,” recalled Lim Hui Min, one of Wee’s 13 grandchildren, in one of several eulogies for the former First Lady yesterday morning.
The World War II anecdote was one of several stories that family members and friends shared about Wee’s “strength of character” in the kitchen.
For her, cooking was not just a lifelong passion. It was a way to connect with, and show her love for people, said those who spoke at the Mandai Crematorium.
“What she loved was to see people eat, it was not possible to be at her table, especially as an outside guest, without taking a second, third or even fourth helping of each dish,” added Lim, a lawyer.
Mrs Wee died on Saturday, days after her 102th birthday. She is survived by six daughters aged between 70 and 79, 13 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren.
The former First Lady’s fourth daughter, 75-year-old Wee Eng Hwa, said her mother’s legacy will live on through a cookbook that she wrote and co-published in 2011, Cooking For The President: Reflections & Recipes of Wee Kim Wee.
It contains some 227 Nyonya recipes, including those for Sa Po Fan (claypot rice), Ikan Tempera (Nyonya sweet and sour fish) and Nasi Goreng Rempah (belachan fried rice).
A family friend, May Oh, told TODAY that Wee would remember even “little details” when preparing dishes for her guests.
“I dislike mushrooms and she would always make sure not to put mushrooms in the dishes and even told her helpers whenever I came over for dinner. Even such little details, she remembers,” said the lawyer, who is in her 70s.
Wee, whose birth name is Koh Sok Hiong, met the late Dr Wee in 1936 before marrying him the same year.
Dr Wee served as president of Singapore from 1985 to 1993. He died in 2005.
Yesterday morning, more than 150 family members and friends, as well as 24 Girl Guides and five Scouts, showed up at Wee’s wake at 25 Siglap Plain to pay their last respects.
Her favourite song, Indonesian folk classic Bengawan Solo, was played as the hearse carrying her body left the family’s Siglap home around 9:20am and made its way to Mandai Crematorium.
Mrs Wee was a patron of the Girl Guides Singapore from 1985 to 1994.
On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Wee had a “genuine love for people and was kind and gentle to all she met”.
In a condolence letter, Lee noted her deep care and concern for others, especially the less privileged. He added that she contributed to the prestige and respectability of the presidency.
“Like her husband, she took her public role seriously and discharged it with warmth, grace and cheerfulness,” said Lee.
In a Facebook post, President Halimah Yacob also paid tribute to Wee, calling her an “unsung heroine” in Singapore’s history.
Halimah said Wee served the people with grace and was a steadfast advocate of education and providing opportunities for disadvantaged children and youth.
“Among her various contributions, Singaporeans will perhaps most of all remember Wee for her selfless dedication to the late Dr Wee,” Halimah added.
Both Lee and Halimah were among numerous guests — including former president Tony Tan — who attended Wee’s wake. — TODAY
* An earlier version of this story was wrongly headlined. Malay Mail apologises for the confusion and inconvenience.