'He was the perfect gentleman'

'He was the perfect gentleman'
Mr Karuppiah Kandasamy, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's longest serving personal security officer from 1970 to 1990.
PHOTO: The New Paper

He was the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's longest-serving personal bodyguard, protecting him for two decades.

So it is no wonder that when it comes to life hacks, Mr Karuppiah Kandasamy, 76, got a larger-than-life education from Singapore's first Prime Minister.

Mr Kandasamy, or Kanda, as he is popularly known, said: "I learnt a lot just observing Mr Lee for 20 of the best years of my life. "He was very firm, never an authoritarian but he set the highest standards - both in the office and at home. He never pushed his weight around. To me, he was a perfect gentleman."


"When I was on duty, almost every night, I saw him working in his room till past midnight.

"Yet, he was up by 7.30am every morning to start working from home before he went into the office," said Mr Kanda, who was Mr Lee's personal security officer from 1970 to 1990.


Despite his busy schedule, Mr Lee did not let up on his fitness regimen.

"He never missed a day of exercise unless there was severe lightning and thunder. He made sure he did his exercises around the Istana grounds every day, even on holidays... He did not miss his 5.45 to 7.15pm workouts at Sri Temasek.

"I remember vividly at midnight once, he had returned from an overseas trip. He went through all seven routines - golf, jogging, swimming, running, cycling, push-ups and step-ups," said Mr Kanda.


Then there was his diet. Despite the fact that Mr Lee loved eating, and had a soft spot for fried chicken, he kept his meals modest.

"I noticed Mr Lee ate only beef, fish and chicken. There was no pork, crab or squid at all. And the size of the meats he ate were 2/3 the size of my iPhone 4," said Mr Kanda.

"With the meat, he would have vegetables and clear soup. I remembered Mr Lee took a lot of fruits - bananas, apples, oranges and pomelo. Only once in four to six months would he send one of us to buy murtabak (a stuffed pancake or pan-fried bread) from the now defunct Singapura Restaurant."


Mr Lee made sure he was dressed appropriately for every occasion.

"He was very careful with the type of shoes, even socks he wore at formal functions.

"He made sure his formal shirts are nicely kept and not mixed up with daily and informal wear.

"I tried my best to follow his style and did the same with my own wardrobe to ensure I would be able to find the outfit I wanted without rummaging," said Mr Kanda.


Mr Kanda said Mr Lee was taught as a boy in school that not being punctual was an act of discourtesy. So Mr Lee was careful about being on time throughout his life.

"I remembered once when he was travelling to Hong Kong. The plane was to have taken off at 5pm but because his entourage was late, Mr Lee reached the airport at 5.10pm.

"That meant the plane would have taken off even later. He was troubled because he was concerned for others on the plane, who might have a connecting flight in Hong Kong or an important meeting there, than for himself.

"I remembered him not kicking up a fuss, but merely asking what time the plane was to have left and what time it was when he and the entourage arrived.

"We knew he was displeased.

"The personal security officer that day did not lose his job but was transferred to another division," Mr Kanda recalled.


"His heart was with Singapore and Singaporeans all the time. Whatever Mr Lee did, he did it for his people and for his country. But Mr Lee was never too busy for his family. He always made time for the family," Mr Kanda said.

"Every evening without fail, Mr Lee made sure he had dinner with his wife and children at 38 Oxley Road.

"There was no excuse for either one of them not to be there, unless when duty called. Like when (Prime Minister) Lee Hsien Loong was in-camp or when Wei Ling had houseman duties at the hospital," Mr Kanda recalled.

Then there was his daily routine of returning to the Istana grounds with Mrs Lee after dinner.

"They would spend 45 minutes just walking, hand in hand or shoulder to shoulder, and merely talking.

"They talked constantly throughout the 45 minutes. I do not know about what. I never eavesdrop. They were so loving," Mr Kanda said.

"It was from Mr Lee that I picked up a lot, especially on how to love and appreciate my wife and my family.

"I now take my wife everywhere I go. Even today, I made sure three grandsons spend dinner at home at about 7.30 or 8pm," he said.

This article was first published on March 23, 2016.
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