'Rare leader who lived by his convictions'

Lee Kuan Yew at 90: He blazes with intellect and sometimes warmth

Mr Robin Chan, 30, is a political correspondent at The Straits Times.

Mr Chan on Mr Lee's legacy: As a journalist just beginning to cut my teeth in the profession, I had the rare opportunity to interview Mr Lee Kuan Yew for the book Hard Truths.

I remember the feeling of dread when I first met him, a man with a reputation for ripping into people who opposed him.

As an idealistic and naive fresh graduate, I knew I was highly vulnerable.

But I survived the first few encounters.

And as the interviews progressed, I gained more courage to ask him questions, sometimes taking views that I knew he opposed, sometimes asking deeply personal questions I hoped would shed more light into his personality and character.

One moment that is still etched in my mind was when I asked if he had ever felt like giving up.

It must have been tiring and frustrating dealing with the criticisms to what he believed in constantly, I thought, and to have challenges placed in front of him time and time again.

The room fell silent, as he clenched his fists, his eyes locked upon me.

"The more we're being tested, the more I have to be around to make sure we pass the test. This is a life-long commitment," he said.

His voice was quiet but firm, his fist pounded the table and a fire burned deep in his eyes. He was 86 then.

I felt a shiver as he spoke. It was not in fear, but because his words had such force and purpose behind them.

I could feel at that moment just a little slice of how hundreds and thousands must have felt when he spoke to them at the rallies in his prime, telling them to believe in a better future.

It became clear to me, too, that what made Mr Lee the rarest of leaders of his time was his deep convictions.

I learnt that to be a transformational leader, one must have convictions and be prepared to live and die by them, which requires courage and determination.

To be a transformational leader, one has to work for a greater purpose and not for one's own personal gain, and that requires vision and discipline.

For Mr Lee, that conviction, that larger purpose, was to keep Singapore going, to keep it exceptional.

He has Singapore flowing, no, coursing, through his veins.

He has had remarkable achievements and also more controversial beliefs.

But Singapore is fortunate to have had a transformational leader in Lee Kuan Yew.

Happy birthday, Mr Lee.

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