Mr Lee: 'I am lucky to reach 90'

Mr Lee: 'I am lucky to reach 90'
Mr Lee at the Istana on Sept 8, 2011.

SINGAPORE - AHEAD of marking a significant milestone in his life on Monday, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew told The Straits Times: "I am lucky to reach 90."

Asked in an e-mailed interview what gave him the greatest satisfaction when he looked back on an illustrious life, he replied that it was "to see Singapore's progress".

He would be celebrating his birthday with his family at a private dinner.

Several world leaders sent birthday greetings to Mr Lee, including Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and China's former vice-premier Li Lanqing.

Mr Lee was born on this day in 1923 in a house in Kampong Java Road. He was the eldest son of a Shell employee and a housewife.

In nine decades, he has lived through the Great Depression, the Japanese Occupation, the Malayan Emergency, merger and separation, and Singapore's journey from Third World to First World.

He played a key role in the major events of his day from 1959, when he became Singapore's first prime minister, and came to be well-respected around the world as a perceptive statesman. He stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990 and from Cabinet in 2011.

Speaking to The Straits Times ahead of Mr Lee's birthday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said his father's greatest achievement was building a nation "nobody believed possible".

"Nation building is never complete, but Singapore would not be here today but for Mr Lee."

What did he think was the most important lesson to be learnt from his father's life?

"You must know what you want to do, and not just follow what other people suggest or what the crowd says," he said. "He was also very good at persuading others to follow him, so that in the end we achieved together more than we imagined that we could."

A series of public events have been held to mark Mr Lee's birthday. Earlier this month, the Chinese community paid tribute to him for his contributions to bilingualism and Singapore-China relations. A fund-raising drive saw $200 million donated to the National University of Singapore and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

On Monday, a one-day conference was organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at Shangri-La Hotel. The school's dean, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, said the conference would discuss Mr Lee's ideas - such as the rule of law and building a first-rate civil service - which had "touched the lives of Singaporeans in many dimensions".

Mr Lee himself, in his book published last month, One Man's View Of The World, summed things up this way: "As for me, I have done what I had wanted to do, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied."

elgintoh@sph.com.sg


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