SINGAPORE - Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew believed not just that Singapore would be around 50 years from now, but also that the Republic would be even better.
He told this to a group of friends over dinner in January this year, shortly before he was hospitalised, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed during his National Day Rally on Sunday.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew, his father, died on March 23 at the age of 91. Towards the end of the speech, PM Lee read from a letter sent to him by one of those friends after the death of the elder Mr Lee.
The letter noted that at each of their gatherings, it had become a tradition to ask Mr Lee 'Will there be a Singapore many years from now?'
Said the letter: "Once, Mr Lee said 'Maybe'. On another, Mr Lee said 'Yes, if there is no corruption'."
It went on: "Continuing with our tradition and in the spirit of SG50, that evening we asked him 'Will there be a Singapore 50 years from now?'
"Mr Lee's answer took us all by surprise. That evening, for the first time, Mr Lee said 'Of course there will be... even better!'"
Mr Lee did not make it to the National Day Parade at the Padang on Singapore's Golden Jubilee, but the three surviving ministers who signed the Separation Agreement - Mr Othman Wok, Mr Ong Pang Boon and Mr Jek Yeun Thong - did. They sat next to a chair kept empty in honour of Mr Lee, said PM Lee.
"When we watched the video tribute to Mr Lee, we were all moved. We could sense his spirit with us, and in us."
If Mr Lee had seen the parade, he would have been proud of what he had built, PM Lee said.
"Now he is no longer here, we are on our own, but we are ready. Our resolve to defend ourselves is unquestioned. Our spirit and confidence is robust. Our unity and identity as a people has never been stronger."
Earlier, PM Lee said that something had changed in all Singaporeans as they mourned Mr Lee's death together.
"Our spirits shone brightest when Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away," he said. Hundreds of thousands lined up day and night to pay respects at Parliament House and at community tribute sites. Businesses provided chairs and free refreshments to those queuing and volunteers helped out.
And when the gun carriage carried Mr Lee on his final journey from Parliament House to the funeral at University Cultural Centre, tens of thousands lined the street.
When it started to rain, everyone stayed put, PM Lee said. "It was like the 1968 NDP, when it poured on the parade after it had formed up."
The funeral procession started on time, into the rain. "I was deeply moved to see the crowds stand their ground, paying their last respects to Mr Lee," PM Lee said. "Teardrops and raindrops fell together."
"For all of us, this was a historic moment, shared as one Singapore family. We were mourning Mr Lee's passing, but also affirming what he stood for, and celebrating what he had achieved," he said.
"That day, something changed in us. Our shared moment of sorrow bonded us. Now we don't have to struggle to find words to define the Singapore spirit or to say what being Singaporean is," he said.
"Now we know that we are Singaporean."
LETTER FROM THE LATE MR LEE KUAN YEW'S FRIEND:
"As it was the start of 2015, we talked at length about the celebrations for SG50.
We took turns to encourage Mr Lee to attend as many SG50 events as possible. Actually, we hoped he would be there for the SG50 National Day Parade.
Mr Lee listened to our exhortations, but stopped short of saying yes to our suggestions.
At each of our gatherings, it had become a tradition to ask Mr Lee "Will there be a Singapore many years from now?"
Once, Mr Lee said "Maybe".
On another, Mr Lee said "Yes, if there is no corruption".
This was classic Mr Lee - ever-believing in Singapore, yet ever-cognisant that there was always work to be done, that we should never take things for granted.
Continuing with our tradition and in the spirit of SG50, that evening we asked him "Will there be a Singapore 50 years from now?"
Mr Lee's answer took us all by surprise.
That evening, for the first time, Mr Lee said
"Of course there will be… even better!"
This article was first published on August 23, 2015.
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