Honouring the pioneers


Mr Rahmat Yusak, who died two weeks ago aged 95, helped in his own way to drive Singapore forward. In the 1960s, he was assigned to drive an open-topped Land Rover carrying none other than former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in the back seat. Mr Lee was visiting constituencies to rally supporters against the communists.

Mr Lee paid tribute to Mr Rahmat in 1980, writing in the People's Association (PA) 20th anniversary magazine about how the cheerful man had sacrificed many weekends for his work. "I cannot adequately express my abiding gratitude... he drove that exposed Land Rover with full confidence, bringing me to all 51 constituencies. (He) understood what was at stake."

For his services, Mr Rahmat was awarded a Public Service Medal (Bronze) by late former president Yusof Ishak. A widower who left behind six children when he died on Aug 5 from pneumonia, he shared Mr Lee's belief in a good education. One of his sons, Mr Afdoli Rahmat, 61, who works in advertising, recalled: "My father's income was not fantastic, but he raised us all well and gave us a proper education... He always said: 'Education is key.'"


Madam Wong Ah Woon, 87, knows what hardship means. A Samsui woman for 44 years, she helped build staircases in HDB blocks and other buildings including the Singapore General Hospital.

The back-breaking work required her to carry pails of cement and sand, for which she was paid $5.50 a day.

Born in China's Guangdong province, she came to Singapore in 1948 aged 21. She married a clothes-maker but was widowed when she was 26, leaving her with two sons. Three days later, her newborn younger son died suddenly.

She lives in a one-room rental flat in Geylang Bahru. Her son and grandchildren support her financially.


Dr Uma Rajan, 74, has played a key role in the health of every child here. In the early 1980s, the then director of the School Health Service came up with the idea to issue every child a health booklet, which kept parents updated on their children's medical conditions. She also developed the health education curriculum and planned immunisations and screenings in schools. On being honoured, she said: "I can't describe how it feels to be recognised for something you did as part of routine work. What we thought was important remains so today, and that is encouraging."

This article was first published on August 18, 2014.
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