My father once told me an anecdote about SM Lee Kuan Yew. My father had no direct connection with Singapore, but had a friend of his working as a newspaper reporter here in the seventies. This friend, Majeed, was a small-time reporter, not at all famous in any way. He happened to be at a press conference given by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew once. Majeed asked Mr. Lee a question, who at that moment got distracted by some other reporter asking something else. Mr. Lee held up his hand to Majeed and said, “I will be with you in a minute, Majeed” and proceeded to field the other question. This might have seemed like an unremarkable exchange to anybody, but to Majeed, it was an astonishing revelation.
You see, he had never spoken to Mr. Lee before, never even met the great man. But Mr. Lee had taken the time to know the names of the reporters at the press conference, and to put faces to the names. Such was the level of preparedness that Mr. Lee brought to bear on anything that he did.
I have no way of knowing if this story is true, or a figment of Majeed’s or my father’s imagination, but looking at what SM Lee Kuan Yew achieved in Singapore, and for Singaporeans, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. What Singaporeans feel now at the wake of Mr. Lee’s demise is more than grief, I think. It is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Rightfully so. No other statesmen could have taken Singapore to where she is now in the short span of a generation. When we bid goodbye to Lee Kuan Yew, we also celebrate his life well-lived, and we honor his achievements, because he achieved them more for us than anybody else.
Photo by chinnian