Singapore—Prime Minister Lee wrote a touching tribute to his mother, Kwa Geok Choo, which was posted on Facebook in the early morning hours of Dec 21, 2020 (Monday).
This date would have been Madam Kwa’s 100th birthday.
The Prime Minister, who is currently on leave until the end of the year, mused on what his mother “would have thought of this extraordinary year.”
He noted the many historical occurrences that Mdm Kwa had experienced in her lifetime. “She grew up in pre-war colonial Singapore, and lived through much – the Japanese Occupation, the struggle for independence, Merger and Separation, and nearly half a century of nation-building and steady progress.”
PM Lee added, “I think she would have taken 2020 in her stride.”
He then brought back a quote from his eulogy at her funeral service a decade ago, “ As she told me: “The older I get, the longer ago the things I remember”.
The Prime Minister ended his post by writing “Ten years on, the grief has faded, and Mama is remembered with warm and happy memories by all her loved ones.”
Madam Kwa’s life and legacy
Mdm Kwa, the wife of one Prime Minister and the mother of another, as well as a lawyer in her own right, was born on Dec. 21, 1920, in Singapore.
She and founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew were the top students in the late 1930s at the prestigious Raffles College, where Mdm Kwa was said to be the only female student. But the academic rivals soon became friends, and eventually fell in love.
In 1946 Mr Lee left for further studies in the United Kingdom. After a year, Mdm Kwa joined him there. They married in London in 1947, and again in Singapore in 1950.
In 1955, she founded the law firm Lee & Lee with Lee Kuan Yew and Dennis Lee Kim Yew.
Mdm Kwa was a true partner to Mr Lee, in the sense that she was responsible for editing his writing, making sure his communication was crisp and clear, all the while bearing and raising their three children.
And although she famously said in 1976, “I walk two steps behind my husband like a good Asian wife,” in actuality she provided invaluable help to him, such as with drafting the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) constitution in 1954, checking and editing his speeches, and reviewing the water agreement with Malaysia together with him.
In his 2010 eulogy, the current PM Lee spoke gratefully about how Mdm Kwa and Mr Lee Kuan Yew had stepped in to help him after his first wife’s passing.
“When grandchildren arrived, she helped to look after them, especially my two elder children – Xiuqi and Yipeng – after their mother Ming Yang died. She and the Popo supervised the maids, took the very little ones for walks every evening, and more than made up for what I could not do as a single father.”
At the end of his eulogy, he said, “All of our lives, Mama has been there for us. We have rejoiced together, grieved together, and shared critical moments together. Now we will all have to learn to live without her. But she lives on in her children and grandchildren, in our cherished memories of her, and in the persons she has nurtured us into.” —/TISG