Lee Kuan Yew's legacy: Singaporeans' lives

Lee Kuan Yew's legacy: Singaporeans' lives
EARLY YEARS: Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew shaking hands with residents during a tour of Punggol constituency in 1965.

If his life could be captured in a succinct tweet, it would be that Mr Lee lived his truths. If his truths were at times harsh, tough. It is safe to assume that he would make no apology.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's take on death was typically Harryesque: "Life is better than death," he once said.

"But death comes eventually to everyone."

His eventuality arrived on Monday, at 3.18am. He was 91.

How you reacted depends on what the man meant to you.

Throughout his life, he brushed off all talk of legacy. Yet that legacy is clear.

His legacy is your life.

Each man touches lives in the manner of a brush against canvas. The bigger the man, the broader the brush.

That Mr Lee was behind every stroke of the brush, whether broadly or briefly, is beyond doubt.

So there is no need in this space to recap or appraise his life.

To do so would require a tome. Indeed others, more fortunate to have been politically intimate and privy to Mr Lee's personal life, would claim greater legitimacy for such a task.

I write, if I may, on your behalf.

I do not mourn for him; I mourn for us, in our hour of darkness, for the passing of greatness.


Like you, I have had few personal encounters with Mr Lee.

One was pleasant. Another was memorable for having felt a measure of his infamous impatience.

Another Ken Jalleh from another era was the editor of a newspaper in Hong Kong.

A report on Mr Lee's visit to the then British colony was written by him.

It was headlined, somewhat sensationally, "Singapore's benign dictator".

Mr Lee was reportedly furious. Many years later, when I joined The Straits Times, I realised the extent of Mr Lee's famous powers of recall.

Would he bear a grudge? Would the son somehow be penalised for the sins of the father? No.

A more pleasant encounter occurred when I was chilling with a cold beer in the late afternoon along the newly cleaned-up Singapore River.

A bodyguard, who was an old schoolmate, walked up.

The bodyguard stopped to chat when, walking briskly behind him, in white tennis shorts, white T-shirt and track shoes, was Mr Lee.

I rose and stiffened, as any Singaporean NS-trained son is wont to do, hairs on end, agog, fighting the instinct to salute.

He stopped for what seemed like eternity, smiled, nodded, and moved on. It was enough to feel the power of his aura. And bask in the warmth of a benign smile.

I have met many of Singapore's most powerful. No one could draw the same awe.

To Mr Ordinary You and Me, Mr Lee was a distant, impersonal icon. Yet, that distance was somehow bridged by the sheer influence and impact he has had on our lives, both physical and emotional.

More about

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.