Tribolum.com Making Light of Things

For Friends

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you so much for your show of support.

It has been a very emotional week for me and many other Singaporeans. The passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, was one of those events you knew would eventually happen but nothing ever prepares you for it.

We observed a moment of silence at work today, but I would like to share what this moment in history means to me, and I think it rings true with many of my fellow Singaporeans.

I have never met Mr. Lee, but his presence has always been there in my growing up years. His strident voice was frequently heard in our homes as our parents watched the nightly 9 o’clock news. It always carried a sense of gravitas, drawing our attention to serious national issues; not seeking consensus, but providing clear direction and the reassurance that we would come out the other end all the stronger.

During my time in the public service, his imprint was unmistakable: the demand for excellence and uncompromising integrity.

In this time of national mourning and recollection, it might seem to the outsider that our collective grieving borders on deification. After all, surely all of Singapore could not possibly have been the work of a single individual — this one man!

We celebrate his life’s work not because he single-handedly built the country. He had a most amazing team that laid the foundations upon which Singapore was built, and a steadfast wife who supported him on the long journey before him. We celebrate his life and mourn his passing because he was Singapore’s staunchest believer and fiercest defender. In 1965 when Singapore became perhaps the only country to receive independence against her will, it was Lee Kuan Yew who gathered the pieces of his broken dreams for a merger with Malaysia, and devoted his life towards the singular belief that we would not only overcome the odds that were stacked against us, but we would thrive.

The Singapore we see today is a result of that belief and Mr. Lee’s unrelenting conviction that simply refused to allow our nation to wallow in self-pity, or crumble under racial tension. That his death is mentioned in the halls of New Zealand’s Parliament, and allotted a day of mourning in India is testament that our little island nation has exceeded all expectation and come into our own.

Just like many of you, this week has been a time of voracious reading of the many personal accounts of Mr. Lee’s life, both personal and in public service. I am inspired to take a bit of Lee Kuan Yew with me in work, service and in life: his fearless conviction; his unyielding diligence; his uncanny attention to detail; and his utter devotion to the people of Singapore.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to articulate fully what he means to us, but the hundreds and thousands who have waited day and night to bid farewell to him offer a glimpse as to the measure of our nation’s gratitude to the one who first believed this was all possible.