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Mon, Oct 04, 2010
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A personal account of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew

While Mrs Lee Kuan Yew was an intensely private person, much could be gleaned from the snippets of observation made of her by the media, heads of state and other political figures, as well as members of the public and even the remarks that she made to her husband as she accompanied him during his travels and public functions during their 63 years of marriage.

Here is a compilation of quotes that gives us more insight into her character.

President SR Nathan:
"To know Mrs Lee's greatness, one has to listen to what has not been said of her until now. Mrs Lee was great in many ways - as a legal luminary, as a mother of an illustrious family, and more than that for her stoic presence next to Mr Lee Kuan Yew during times of turbulence and tension in the many years of his political struggle.
"There was not a single important event or development that she was not an intimate witness of. Indeed she lived a life that had its fair share of pain and uncertainty, which was not evident in public."

Mr Lee Kuan Yew, on how he was a "kept man" during Parliament in 1985:

"Over the years, I've been a kept man. My wife keeps the family."

Mr Lee on her character:
"She's a very caring person, very staid, very caring; she's not frivolous and does not like to socialise, which saves a lot of time".

When asked if she (Mrs Lee) ever had disagreements with Mr Lee in email interviews, she replied:

" Would you believe me if I say we never disagree or quarrel? Fortunately, these are over little matters. Kuan Yew leaves household decisions to me. Family matters have not been a problem."

When asked by an interviewer about the changes in her relationship with Mr Lee over the years in an interview with Radio Telveision Hong Kong in 2002:
Mrs Lee: "The only change is that we've grown older."
Interviewer: "Black hair to white hair."
Mrs Lee: "Black hair to no hair."

Then United States President Richard Nixon's compliment to her devotion and loyalty to her husband in 1973:
President Nixon: "Mrs Lee, tell me, is it true that you were No. 1 in the class at Cambridge Law School and your husband was No. 2?
Mrs Lee: "Mr President, do you think he would have married me if that were the case?"

Mrs Lee, on a visit to Kuala Lumpur in 1976:
"I walk two steps behind my husband like a good Asian wife."

Manila Times, observed in 1971 that Mrs Lee was "almost like an invisible entity, unlike other first ladies.

During a radio broadcast of Mrs Lee's first and only political speech, which highlighted the PAP's position on women:
"Our society is stilll built on the assumption that women are the social, political and economic inferiors of men. This myth has been made the excuse for the exploitation of female labour. Many women do the same kind of work as men but do not get the same pay... Let us show them (the other parties) that Singapore women are tired of their pantomime and buffoonery. I appeal to women to vote for PAP. It is the only party with the idealism, the honesty and ability to carry out its election programme."
- Mrs Lee's beliefs about how women should be empowered to contribute to society

In an interview with authors of Men In White:
"I felt it was unfair that I should be dropped (from PAP party meetings). I thought I could have made a contribution. But I did not take a strong stand about it."
- Mrs Lee was one of the first women to join the PAP

Ms Deborah Barker, daughter of former law minister Eddie Barker on Mrs Lee:
"My father felt that she had very good judgement, and he would go to her for advice on important personal matters".

Wife of former Old Guard minister Jek Yeun Thong:
"To me, Mrs Lee was a humble and courteous person, straightforward with no airs or pretences".

Mrs Elisa Chew, tailor on Mrs Lee:

"She would always greet me when she came into the store, and was even willing to take a photograph with me".

Mr Lee in his memoirs, recounted his wife as the disciplinarian of the house:
"She brought them up well-mannered and self-disciplined".

Dr Lee Wei Ling, on her mother knowing intuitively the needs of her children, wrote of how Mrs Lee once replaced her daughter's worn toothbrush. Dr Lee had written to her when that toothbrush needed replacing:
Mrs Lee: "I am telepathic. I just got a toothbrush for you.
"But one day, the commissariat will not be around."

In a documentary screened in 2001, the late Mr Dennis Lee Kim Yew, brother of Mr Lee Kuan Yew who died in 2003 at the age of 77, recalled how his sister-in-law would not use her initials on her law firm's letterhead because she "doesn't want the civil servants to even have a chance to practise favouritism." She , together with Mr Lee and his brother, built the law firm, Lee & Lee, from scratch, beginning with a small office in Malacca Street in 1955. She and Mr Dennis Lee took over the reins when Mr Lee left the firm in 1959 to become prime minister of Singapore.

Mrs Lau Biau Chin, former student of Mrs Lee in Methodist Girls' School from the class of 1946:
" We had a very good relief teacher by the name of Miss Kwa Geok Choo. Most of us cried bitterly when she left after a term. The next relief teacher loved to make us write lines..."
-written in a 1998 book, Treasured Memories, which gathers the recollections of former MGS students.

Mrs Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, whose father James Fu was a former press secretary to Minister Mentor Lee:
"MM Lee loves to have a conversation and sometimes when we have a dinner or discussion that gets on too late into the night, she'll be the one that says, 'You know, Harry, let them go and take a rest.'
"She always had our interests at heart; we appreciate her for that."

Finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam:
"Mrs Lee's courtship and getting married to MM Lee was a beautiful love story, and how different Singapore is because of it."

President SR Nathan:
"To her family and close friends she left a treasure trove of memories, experiences, knowledge and personal bonds. There can be no substitute for the place she had in their life, nor consolation for her family."

Ex-client Madam Lam Tsen Fui:
"She (Mrs Lee) was an aggressive and stern lady. She hardly smiled when she talked. but when she talked about her family, her face would be lit up by a very sweet and beautiful smile, very attractive. It was a glorious smile."

Former diplomat Maurice Baker, 90, who got to know Mr and Mrs Lee at Raffles College:
"It was good for the country that the two of them met and loved each other."

Mr Chng Jit Koon, 76, former senior minister of state (community development):
"MM Lee is a person who wants everything to be perfect. If there is something not right, he will be angry, especially during his younger days. Of course, those who got scolding would feel very bad, but Mrs Lee would quietly go to the side and tell them, 'Never mind; he is like that' don't take it to heart'."

readers' comments

To blackhole111, i hope that u r not blind. Here is a picture of our current president who are carrying japanese sword with uniform during the japanese occupation in singapore. of senior government
Posted by leejiapore1965 on Sat, 16 Oct 2010 at 14:24 PM

What bot u smickno lucem ferre ? ah men !
Posted by leejiapore1965 on Fri, 8 Oct 2010 at 19:06 PM

Your greatest enemy is Lucifer. Will you bless him if he dies?
Posted by on Fri, 8 Oct 2010 at 16:05 PM

To smickno, sorry im not conflicted. Even if my grestest enemy die they still get my blessing, anyway mrs lee is not my enemy and i admitted that she is a great women behind singapore leader. But those elite who works under mm lee and mrs lee is doing a lots of monkey job that some has been covered up from the public. Talking about ball rolling, do you know since the casino exist many family got balls roll to their front door with loanshark chasing dept, money laundering, prostitution ect...... Please tell me in singapore what is really cheap that i can tell my friend in oversea to come and spend with ? And please dont tell me about british people coz we are asian. Can anyone prevent our young singaporean to avoid the habit og gambling when 2 casino is in the heart of .....
Posted by leejiapore1965 on Fri, 8 Oct 2010 at 15:05 PM
I do wish that mm lee can take good care of himself, if possible he can lives another 100 years to serve and pay back to those that ever supported him since the year 1965. Singapore is progressing too fast that i think majority of the people just cant follow up the phase. If the elite gov. really think that we those who born grew up and had served singapore well until today is just rubbish to be forgotten then thank you i should say and hope that you will improve with everything you do. EVERY GOD AND SPIRIT IN THIS WOLD WILL BLESS U
Posted by leejiapore1965 on Fri, 8 Oct 2010 at 12:26 PM

Ya ya blackhole111, were you there during the japanese occupation ? In politics and lifes in singapore who betray who, mm lee and the elite gov. knows well. cases like NKF and the recent case TID, you will know some of the elite team are not doing good job but still get paid high for nothing. Please see the life of senior that had been left behind by the elite gov. We are living life today, because we follow mm lee rules to have less kid, and now some of the senior dont even have kid to look after them and dont have enough money to buy thier own shelter because the HDB price is sky high. And the elite gov. just act that they dont even know this people exist and sleeping at the void deck. I hope that from today mm lee can do .....
Posted by leejiapore1965 on Fri, 8 Oct 2010 at 12:09 PM
People like leejiapore only know to blame the Government for his misfortune. He is a typical incompetent person of Singapore. He most likely would hug Japanese or betray his people during the Japanese occupation because by doing that way, he could earn a better life.
Posted by blackhole111 on Thu, 7 Oct 2010 at 21:58 PM

You seem conflicted. Here you wish the late Mrs Lee RIP, and offered your condolence to MM Lee and their family, while in earlier posts, you did not hide your unhappiness with MM Lee, that some of the older members of Singaporean society are not living well.

Suppose we start the ball rolling by giving older Singaporeans cheap this, cheap that, will we encourage younger Singaporeans to develop a crutch mentality thinking that when they are old, they will also be "entitled" to the same things?

In the end, Singapore becomes a welfare state, something which Britain realised is wrong and trying unsucessfully to change, when a lot of British people are just loafing about at the expense of those who are working hard.
Posted by on Wed, 6 Oct 2010 at 14:56 PM

I'll accord the title as Mother of S'porean if she can make all of us being best paid in the world too lor..

Otherwise, yes, we should all learn to remember our own mothers firstly, who are just as noble in their sacrifices to us directly.

The media is doing such a good job in eulogising her. If there's any good, we should try to figure out what is the Spirit behind her greatness that the country can help maintain. What I see today is the fact that women are being made a joke more than ever
Posted by RedDotter1 on Wed, 6 Oct 2010 at 14:40 PM

Such a beautiful poem ..... thank you for sharing it
Posted by Julianna Tan on Wed, 6 Oct 2010 at 14:36 PM

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