Devoted husband and caring father

Devoted husband and caring father

LEE Kuan Yew was a man with few close friends. Those who knew him best and saw his tender, caring side came mainly from his tight family circle.

But others who interacted with him caught glimpses of the private man away from his public persona as Singapore's hard-driving, straight-talking first prime minister.

At home, he was ever the devoted son who cared deeply for his mother, Chua Jim Neo, even if he upset her once by cancelling her driving licence when he decided she had become too old to drive.

She was an English-speaking Straits Chinese matriarch famed for her Peranakan culinary skills who died in 1980, aged 75. He greatly admired her for standing up to her temperamental, more carefree husband in order to keep the family finances healthy and raise her children properly.

He was less close to his father, Lee Chin Koon, who worked at the Shell oil company first as a storekeeper, then later in charge of various depots in Malaysia, and had a love for card games. He was 94 when he died in 1997.

Mr Lee had three younger brothers and a sister who looked up to him and had regarded him as the man of the house during long periods when their father was away. "He was a wonderful big brother because he was responsible, caring, and when we were young, he'd give us good advice," said his youngest sibling, Dr Lee Suan Yew.

Mr Lee had two sons and a daughter, whose achievements he was proud of. "He was not a demonstrative person, which was common with many of his generation," said younger son Hsien Yang.

Most of all, though, he was a devoted husband in a long, happy marriage. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010 at 89, was the bedrock of his life.

She was a partner of the law firm Lee & Lee, and he had been prime minister, but their home at 38 Oxley Road was a rambling pre-war bungalow filled with furniture from an earlier era.

They had no shower for the longest time, preferring to scoop water from a large earthenware jar at bath-time. It was only after Mrs Lee had a stroke in London in 2003 that their children installed a shower before she returned home.

"It's a very humble house. The furniture has probably never been changed. Some of the pictures are yellow already," said Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee, an MP for 20 years in Mr Lee's Tanjong Pagar GRC, who visited in 2002.

The house had been Mr Lee's home since 1945, and his wife moved in after they were married in 1950. They did not move to the official Sri Temasek residence in the Istana compound after he became prime minister, because they did not want to give their children "a false sense of life".

Their two sons left home when they got married. Daughter Wei Ling still lives there today.

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