SINGAPORE - His firm belief that one could build a multi-racial and multi-religious society, based on justice and equality, helped keep the dream alive during Singapore's turbulent years in the 1960s, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said of the late former minister Othman Wok.
Mr Othman died this afternoon (April 17) at the age of 92, leaving behind his wife, four daughters, seven grandchildren, two great-grandsons, a step-daughter and three step-grandchildren.
In a condolence letter to Mr Othman's wife, PM Lee highlighted how the founding member of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) stood resolutely by his convictions, which eventually made all the difference for Singapore.
"If he had faltered, history might have taken a different course," PM Lee wrote.
At the time of Singapore's separation from Malaysia, Mr Othman had faced great pressure and even received death threats for joining the PAP to champion a multi-racial country.
"After Separation, Encik Othman's conviction gave heart to Malay Singaporeans, and made it possible for us to remain a multi-racial society," PM Lee added.
"The Singapore we know today could not have existed without Encik Othman and others of our founding generation."
As Minister for Social Affairs and Director of the Malay Affairs Bureau from 1963 to 1981, Mr Othman put in place systems and policies that continue to serve the Malay community today, PM Lee pointed out.
Examples include the Singapore Pilgrimage Office and a system of registration for sheikh hajis and pilgrim brokers in Singapore. This system still remains largely in place, with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) acting as a regulator for hajj activities.
PM Lee also lauded Mr Othman's role in developing Singapore's sports scene - Mr Othman played a key role in the building of the National Stadium and promoted motor racing in Singapore years before Formula One came to the Republic, overseeing the first Singapore Grand Prix held post-independence in 1973.
"Singapore will always remember Encik Othman as one of our founding fathers, whose courage and passion helped set Singapore on a path of peace and progress," PM Lee wrote.
"My thoughts are with you and your family during this time of sorrow," he ended the letter by saying.