“Mr Lee is no more.

I am tearing as I write this.

What is there to say about Mr Lee Kuan Yew that has not already been said?

On the broad canvas that Mr Lee made, millions of good life stories were written in Singapore.

Mr Lee made these life stories possible: People who started out with almost nothing and moved up to better lives, better jobs, better flats.

In this small city, with peace, harmony and security.

My life story is in many ways the life story of many Singaporeans.

I was born in March 1959. Mr Lee and the PAP first won elections in May 1959, two months after I was born.

Like most Singaporeans, I was a direct beneficiary of Mr Lee’s policies. These policies created a society based on meritocracy, equal opportunities, clean and efficient government, good education for all.

My family had no social capital and very little economic capital.

Mr Lee and his policies ensured that neither my background nor the colour of my skin, nor my religion, were hurdles in getting opportunities. I got a good education in a neighbourhood primary school, got into RI, got into law school and had no difficulty getting a job.

My family moved to a 3-room flat in 1975 – our first property. And we upgraded after that.

My brother and I graduated. We were able to give a good upbringing to our children.

This story, in broad terms is the story of Singapore, and the story of most Singaporeans – in that many of us started with very little, but all of us were all offered good educational opportunities, decent jobs and better housing.

The vast majority of Singaporeans benefitted. How well we did, and where we ended up, depended on individual effort and some luck.

Singapore is almost unique in the post-World War II world in having started so poor and succeeding so well.

Mr Lee and his team made that possible.

His intellect, fervour and passion for Singapore and Singaporeans won him the respect of global leaders like Richard Nixon, Deng Xiaoping, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and other world leaders.

Mr Lee has been described by global leaders as “the preeminent elder statesman of our generation,” a strategic thinker, a political mastermind, an individual with “a steadfast voice of reason, clarity and hope.”

He put Singapore on the world map.

I first met Mr Lee when I was 28. He was amongst those who interviewed me before deciding to field me as a candidate for elections. He questioned me on a variety of topics for 45 minutes. It was an unforgettable experience.

Over the years, I have dealt with him on different issues.

The Mr Lee I dealt with was a practical, no-nonsense man. His sharp intellect meant going straight to the heart of any issue. There was no small talk or superficiality. Every breathing moment for him was spent thinking about Singapore and Singaporeans. There was an unwavering tenacity to ensure that Singapore succeeded.

I had never imagined a Singapore without Mr Lee.

But as he lay in hospital, on life support, I began to think of what I had never wanted to accept: that we are likely to lose Mr Lee.

Each time I think about him now, I tear. Each time I read a tribute to him, I choke. It is difficult to describe in words, the grief I feel.

Mr Lee himself was matter-of-fact about death: He said: “I am not given to making sense out of life – or coming up with some grand narrative on it – other than to measure it by what you think you want to do in life. As for me, I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.”

Everywhere you turn: from the housing estates, the clean and efficient roads, the corruption-free system, the schools, the world-class universities, the leading financial centre that we are today, the good jobs and good quality of life our people have, the hospitals, the clean green environment, the vibrancy of this metropolis, the fact that it is now one of the great cities of the world with a GDP almost equal to that of Malaysia, a much bigger country, with a bigger population and a huge amount of resources. Mr Lee was the chief architect of the system that produced all of this. Mr Lee oversaw the transformation of Singapore.

Very few have made so much difference to so many in so little time.

No one else has built a country out of almost nothing, and in the face of so much adversity.

Singapore without Mr Lee Kuan Yew will never be the same.

Mr Lee’s speeches are full of passion and very inspiring. I included clips that feature such speeches by Mr Lee.

May God bless his soul.”


K. Shanmugam

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