Man of steel's tender love story

Man of steel's tender love story
EARLY DAYS:Mr Lee and Madam Kwa at MacRitchie Reservoir in September 1946, when he was 23 and she was 25. Singaporeans have been sharing the many anecdotes and video clips of the couple's marriage that lasted 63 years.

On Saturday night, a change was made to the now-familiar image of a black ribbon that framed Lee Kuan Yew's profile.

This time, the ubiquitous black ribbon turned into a heart with a facing profile of Kwa Geok Choo, who died in October 2010.

It is a fitting image, one that encapsulated the couple's abiding love story.

Out of all of the tributes, the one that captured the popular imagination is the love story between him and his wife.

Singaporeans, used to seeing Mr Lee as a man of steel, have been sharing the many anecdotes and video clips of the marriage that lasted 63 years.

One of those who have come to see Mr Lee in a new light is 27-year-old music teacher Renee Seow.

She said: "I've heard of their love story, but I had not really paid attention until this week. And it was really sad to watch the re-runs of some clips."

One was of the heartrending scene at Madam Kwa's funeral service, when Mr Lee walked to her casket and placed a stalk of red rose.

Then, gripping the sides of the casket for support, he reached for his beloved Choo's face with his right hand.

He brought his hand back, kissed his fingers and placed them on her forehead twice.

In that one simple gesture, his stern facade vanished for 33-year-old accountant Monica Tan.

Housewife Anizah Aishah, 50, said she "laughed and cried at the same time" when she watched the clip in which Mrs Lee described her husband in his "jaunty youth" and called him a "handsome young man".

"His eyes lit up when he heard that, and oh, that hearty laughter," she said.

Then there was the scene where his wife gently brushed his forehead ahead of a TV recording.

"What's that? There's paper? Oh, it doesn't matter..." Mr Lee's voice trailed off as Madam Kwa continued, oblivious to the rolling cameras and the media presence.

Financial planner Leonard Soon, 30, said: "When you watch those scenes, you realise that Mr Lee was like any one of us. He had a heart filled with love for the woman of his life."

Mr Soon, who is getting married to his secondary-school sweetheart in August, added: "My fiancee asked me, will you promise to love me the same way?

"I can't promise that I will read to her every night, but I can promise to love her until death do us part."

Former president S R Nathan told The New Paper in an interview before Mr Lee's death: "They seemed to have a lot to talk about, even after so many years of marriage, after so many children.

"It was an unusual relationship even for an observer like me. I often wondered why they had so much to talk about."

At Parliament House on Friday night, Lim Guangcheng and his wife paid their respects.

They have been married for 57 years and had twice, in their younger days, "almost separated and filed for divorce".

Mr Lim, 82, a retiree, said in Mandarin: "There's a Chinese phrase - 'Marriage is the tomb of love' - but clearly, our founding father has proven it's not the case.

"Marriages in our generation were mostly matchmade, it wasn't about marrying the woman you love. So, Mr Lee's love story is very fascinating."

He has shared that aspect of Mr Lee with his six grandchildren, aged between 17 and 24.

"I think the younger generation, my grandchildren included, have the impression that Mr Lee was a hard man. He seemed so formidable and unapproachable," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Lee had his wish - in a note he addressed to his three children - fulfilled: "For reasons of sentiment, I would like part of my ashes to be mixed up with Mama's, and both her ashes and mine put side by side in the columbarium. We were joined in life and I would like our ashes to be joined after this life."

This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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