The man we know too well

Lee Kuan Yew

Stop what you’re doing and take a look around you.

Do you see HDB apartments?

Are you perhaps working in the CBD?

Or riding on the SMRT?

Are you having a drink of water?

Or playing in the parks with your children?

Every single thing that surrounds you, fellow Singaporean, is the living work of a group of leaders. A group of leaders whom had sacrificed personal ambition to nurture Singapore into today’s well manicured, well cared and well designed country, put together from the tattered fabrics left behind by the British, the Malayans and the Japanese.

We know the names of these leaders. We’ve heard the stories. We are perhaps, too familiar.

There was one name that stands out.

We know his name.

We’ve heard his famous rallies.

We know his battle hardened, stubborn, tough and strong demeanour.

This man guided Singapore under a faithful vision, and… what a vision: “In 10 years, this will be a metropolis… never fear”.

His was a baptism by fire. 1950s Singapore: once a scrawny excuse of an island, with a bank account of only several million dollars left behind by the British. The money barely enough to build Bedok New Town, let alone build a metropolis. It was a fool’s dream.


This country needed homes, it needed jobs and it needed capital. And it had none of this. The man with his team solved this problem with the Economic Development Board. Soon, we leaped-frogged our sleepy neighbours and traded with distant countries. With new capital prudently invested, we had the ability to set up the GIC and Temasek through the years.

The man and his team built houses through a rapid home development program via the Housing Development Board. But homes didn’t look decent if there was no greenery or playgrounds to play in, the vision of a “Garden City” was then directed.


We had no water, we had a pathetic military, violent political activity had left this nation in social ruin. He directed the setting up of Community Centers to foster social cohesion, he directed conscription and with his team, negotiated for water security with Malaysia.

His work started with the unions, successfully negotiating for the Postal Workers Union and thereafter the Naval Base Labour Union. His legacy began with the unionists and the workers of Singapore. The National Trades Union Congress was the fruit of difficult work in calming down a very turbulent labour environment.


The man drove the construction of the SMRT, Changi Airport, built new roads, reclaimed new land. Nothing was haphazard, everything was determined and planned.

There was a commitment to happiness, peace, prosperity and progress for our nation. These were the foundational bricks of Singapore and he never went off track with it.

He was the iron fist, the hatchet man, the one who administered with cold logic and stubbornness. But it was never for personal gain.

He was a successful lawyer, a shrewd businessman. Yet up until his elder years, he still showered from a tub with unheated water. His home was just simple furniture and he had no interest in material luxuries. He was frugal to a fault, and this showed in his management of this nation.

Stop what you’re doing and take a look around you. Take a look at Singapore.

This is the Singapore built by the man and his team.

The man whom needs no introduction, is in want of no praises and needs no obituary. He has no wishes, save for having his ashes sit next to his wife.

The man whom this and many generations of Singaporeans will be thankful for.


(Lee Kuan Yew, 1923 – 2015 . Kwa Geok Choo, 1920 –2010)


  1. Thank you, Benjamin. My thoughts exactly. Every single blessed thing around me in this city state, from the rows of neatly planted trees to the HDB flats to the English I speak and the very water I have in my water bottle on the table, I have thanks to him and to his team. There are really no words that can express the debt of gratitude we owe them.

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