Lee Kuan Yew, (born Harry Lee Kuan Yew, 16 September 1923 – 23 March 2015) was a Singaporean politician. He was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, governing for three decades. He is recognised as the founding father of modern Singapore, and the only leader known to bring an entire country from third-world to first-world status in a single generation.
Lee was prime minister from 1959, when colonial ruler Britain granted Singapore self-rule, to 1990. He led Singapore to independence in 1965 after a brief and stormy union with Malaysia.
Lee and his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, were married on 30 September 1950. Both Lee and Choo spoke English as their mother tongue. Lee started learning Chinese in 1955 at age 32, before which he was illiterate in Chinese.
It was no love at first sight. When studying at Raffles College in Singapore, Mr. Lee crossed paths with Mdm. Kwa, the only female student in the prestigious school. They started out as competitors – Mdm. Kwa’s Economic Science and English results topped the cohort, with Mr. Lee’s coming in second. From an exchange of blows, a friendship grew; no discord, no concord. From competitors, they gradually became lovers.
In September 1946, Mr. Lee made the decision to leave for England to study law. Mdm. Kwa would return to Raffles College to try to attain one of the two Queen’s Scholarships awarded annually. Only one Singaporean would be the recipient of the scholarship – this meant that if Mdm. Kwa did not win it, a three-year wait for Mr. Lee’s return would ensue.
Mr Lee wrote in his memoirs: “We were young and in love, anxious to record this moment of our lives … We both hoped she would go back to Raffles College, win the Queen’s Scholarship to read law and join me wherever I might be.
Mdm. Kwa eventually won the scholarship in June the next year, 1947 and joined Mr. Lee at Cambridge.
In December 1947, the couple secretly got married at Stratford-upon-Avon. When in London, en-route to Stratford-upon-Avon, Mr. Lee bought Mdm. Kwa a platinum wedding ring from a jeweller in Regent Street, which she wore on a necklace back at Cambridge. Upon arrival at Stratford-upon-Avon, they notified the local Registrar of Marriages of their intention to get married. Two weeks of residence later, they were officially married.
However, this secret marriage was kept a secret even after their parents’ death and only revealed when Mr. Lee penned his memoirs.
Upon the couple’s return to Singapore, they joined a law firm, Laycock & Ong, as legal assistants. While Mdm. Kwa did draftsmanship and conveyancing, Mr. Lee practised litigation. In September 1950, they got married a second time in a bid to placate their parents and friends. A reception was held at Raffles Hotel later that afternoon.
In February 1952, their first son, Lee Hsien Loong was born. Afterwards they were blessed with one more son and a daughter. Lee Hsien Loong continues to be Prime Minister of Singapore; his brother, Lee Hsien Yang, is chairman of the civil aviation authority; and their sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, is director of the national neuroscience institute.
It was a love story spanning decades, and through it all, Singapore’s first Prime Minister found a soul-mate in Madam Kwa Geok Choo who stood with him through life’s challenges.
Madam Kwa Geok Choo and Mr Lee Kuan Yew were often seen as inseparable. But the Singapore public found out just how much she meant to him only when he published his memoirs in 1999.
October 2010 was evident for Mr Lee’s pain at his wife’s death in the words of his eulogy:
“Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children. She was always there when I needed her.”
She passed away in her sleep after 62 years of marriage, proud of her children, deeply in love with her husband, and making a difference to many others in her quiet unassuming ways
“She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning. I should find solace in her 89 years of life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.” Concluded Mr. Lee
After the death of his beloved wife, on February 2014, Mr. Lee, who led Singapore for 31 years as its founding prime minister, was admitted to the Singapore General Hospital, with severe pneumonia after suffering an infection that caused fever and a cough, following a brief spell in hospital almost a year prior due to a stroke-like condition. He had also been impaired by a neurological disease that made his movements unsteady.
But Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, who led the city-state for more than three decades, died at the age of 91, on March 23 2015.
Lee Hsien Loong, third and current Prime Minister of Singapore, said that his father would lie in state from 25-28 March at Parliament House so the public could pay their respects, with the funeral on 29 March, 2015 declaring a period of national mourning from 23-29 March, with flags on government buildings at half mast until Sunday, 29 March, 2015.
President of USA, Barack Obama, in a statement from the White House, said he was saddened to learn of the elder Mr. Lee’s death, calling the late leader a visionary and “a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one the great strategists of Asian affairs.”