In April 2015, to mark the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore, Writing the City invited Singaporeans to pen a 300-word reflection on what this towering figure had meant to them. Mr Lee will be remembered as an intellectual, a visionary politician and a statesman who earned the respect of governments around the world. He will also be remembered as a formidable and pragmatic ruler who laid the foundations for the prosperity of Singapore today. But we asked: what did Mr Lee mean to you personally? How did his vision for the country affect your personal or cultural sense of identity – perhaps even the way that you think of yourself as Singaporean?
This is what you told us.
I have blurry memories where you were taller, your face rounder. In my twenty years, you were first Senior Minister, then Minister Mentor. And then you began to move further from the public’s gaze. Like a banyan tree, you continued to cast your shadow. Your words echoed in our collective consciousness. Still, I watched with uncertainty as you grew more gaunt with each passing National Day Parade.
When your passing was first announced, I wasn’t exactly shocked. Oddly, I felt numb. When you were alive, people around me had always had an opinion about you. Some adored you, others had asked why you continued to cast a shadow over our present leaders. Now, everyone seemed to flock to the Padang, forming snaking lines to see you one last time.
In the end, I went to a Tribute Centre to pay my final respects. As I bowed my head before a large photograph of you, framed by white flowers, I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss. In life, I feared and respected you deeply. It was common knowledge that you were a formidable man. But now I was struck by your humanity – you were not just our first Prime Minister, but also a husband, father and grandfather. You once said you regretted the equal opportunities you’d instituted for Singaporean women – yet your wife was clearly someone you regarded as an equal. I saw how you did not spare some of your political opponents, but also how your wish was that your beloved home be not spared after your death.
You have left us physically, but I hope your indomitable spirit will not. I hope we remember the things you have done for Singapore – that we will neither grow complacent, nor live in fear of failure, but continue the good work you started, and build a Singapore we can be even prouder of.
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