Tanjong Pagar residents relive fond memories of their late MP

Three Tanjong Pagar residents, now in their 60s, got to know one another and became fast friends after taking part in activities at their local community club.

From exercising in Duxton Plain Park to attending enrichment classes, such community spirit was fostered over the decades in no small part due to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who represented Tanjong Pagar from 1955 until his death on March 23 last year at age 91.

And these friends were among his many old constituents who paid tribute to his legacy in recent days.

Said housewife L.S. Sung, 69: "You still feel that he's with us."

Part-time administrative executive Chris Yap, 65, who was at a remembrance event at Tanjong Pagar Plaza last Saturday, said Mr Lee urged residents to lead active lifestyles and upgrade themselves.

His presence can still be felt in policies big and small, whether in housing, healthcare or the Central Provident Fund retirement scheme, said housewife Jane Liew, 60, who completes the trio.

Mr Lee had said he chose Tanjong Pagar as he wanted to represent the common man and worker living in squalid conditions back then.

Now, the Pinnacle@Duxton's seven blocks of 1,848 HDB flats soar 50 storeys over the heart of the city, a showcase of the nation's housing achievements.

Today, Tanjong Pagar Community Club, situated next to the development, will be awash with lighted candles to mark the first anniversary of Mr Lee's death. Retired calligrapher Seow Cheong Choon, 80, hopes to be there. Mr Seow was photographed in The Straits Times last year, saluting Mr Lee with tears running down his face. Time has helped him cope with his grief, he said. What he misses most about his former MP is his exacting standards. "When 'Lao Li' was around, grassroots events were more punctual and orderly," he said, using an affectionate Mandarin term for Mr Lee. "He had very high standards, even for the smallest things."

Other residents, like Mr Matthias Koh, 44, chief executive of a preschool education group, hope their children will remember Mr Lee too.

"The first year he passed away, everyone thought about his contributions a lot. But as time passes, whether his legacy endures depends on how people remember him each year," he said.

He is taking his three children - aged six, eight and 10 - to one of the remembrance sites. He said: "Seldom do you see people who accomplish a lot and yet live simply. I want my children to learn these values."

Business analyst Savarath Chandran, 45, has no plans to visit a remembrance site just yet, but said that Mr Lee is often on his mind.

A family conversation about his contributions takes place each time he and his two boys walk past the spot where they stood in the rain for Mr Lee's final journey, he added.

"You can remember the man in your own way. My family will have a moment of silence for him today."

Mr Lee began his political career in Tanjong Pagar, winning the seat in the Legislative Assembly election in 1955 - months after the People's Action Party was formed - and continued to hold on to it over successive elections.

But residents remember him for fulfilling his promises each time - clearing slums, building new blocks of flats and upgrading them as they age. Parks and public facilities have also been spruced up.

His enduring legacy saw many who live elsewhere attend events to remember him in Tanjong Pagar.

Toa Payoh resident Steven Wong, 41, said he was very grateful to Mr Lee for ensuring the poor do not get left behind. He recalled how his parents could not afford his university education, but he secured a scholarship. "As long as you work hard, you will not be left behind," he said. Madam Lee Swee Har, 75, lives in Kembangan but volunteers at the Cairnhill Community Club as its Women's Executive Committee chairman and took her six-year-old grandson, Wu Xing Hong, along.

"I want him to know how Mr Lee built the country up, that our prosperity today does not come naturally," she said.

This rubbed off on Xing Hong, who joined others in penning notes on pebbles at Duxton Plain Park over the weekend. His message read simply: "I love Lee Kuan Yew!"



This article was first published on March 23, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.