The Golden Thread in the life of Othman Wok

A day after Former Cabinet Minister Othman Wok was laid to rest, moving tributes were paid specially to a man who was a part of Singapore’s founding leaders at a memorial service held at the Victoria Concert Hall.

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6 moving and fitting eulogies including that of Prime Minister Lee Hsien and Labour Member of Parliament Patrick Tay were delivered.

Across all the moving tributes, there was a golden thread that weaved the 6 eulogies: his commitment and dedication to the cause of Singapore. 

Each spoke of a different aspect to which he was committed: Multi-racialism, Labour Movement and his Family.

Here are a couple of insightful highlights from the eulogies:

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

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“Some years ago I visited a national education exhibition in a secondary school. A student explained to me the exhibits, then asked me earnestly whether I too had celebrated Racial Harmony Day when I was in school. I was taken aback. I said “No. When I was in school, there was a race riot on 21st July 1964. That is why we now celebrate Racial Harmony Day every 21st July!” That was the legacy that Othman and his comrades left us.”

“My wife and I were happy and honoured to be invited to celebrate his 91st birthday with his family and friends at his home. What could I bring such a respected elder, who had lived such a full life? I decided to bring an album of photos of memorable moments in his life journey, including a dashing picture of him as an officer cadet in SAF uniform. I hope it gave him pleasure and satisfaction.”

Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim

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“For me personally, as a member of the Malay/Muslim community and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, one endearing legacy is his contributions to our community… The introduction of the Administration of Muslim Law Act reflected his foresight and sincerity in safeguarding the Malay/Muslim community, to this day.”

Labour Member of Parliament and NTUC Assistant Secretary General Patrick Tay

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“Encik Othman firmly believed in the power of unions – The fact that workers should have the right to determine their own working conditions. His fellow unionists felt that he would fight for them as their representative and leader. They elected him as Honorary Secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees’ Union (SPEU) in 1951… In 1953, he represented Malaya Publishing House (MPH) workers in a wage dispute. He fought hard, and won them better terms.”

“Where my contribution to Singapore is concerned, I leave it for others to judge me. I think I’ve done the best that I could do.” – Encik Othman Wok

Tonight, we held a memorial service to remember one of Singapore’s greatest sons, Encik Othman Wok. Encik Othman was staunchly committed to the ideal of a multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore. Had he been less steadfast, Singapore might have turned out very differently. From 1963-1965, Singapore was part of Malaysia. Malay PAP leaders came under intense pressure to abandon multiracialism and choose race over nation. They were abused, threatened, and denounced. UMNO leaders held rallies in Singapore, and made fiery speeches personally targeting Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Encik Othman. In 1964, racial riots broke out during a procession to mark Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Encik Othman was there, and witnessed the violence first-hand. But he and his Malay PAP comrades stood firm. They kept the dream of a multi-racial society alive. That is why today we can say with pride, “We, the citizens of Singapore… regardless of race, language or religion.” During Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s 75th birthday dinner in 1998, he paid tribute to his old comrade and friend, Encik Othman:“Othman, I remember your staunch support and loyalty during those troubled days when we were inMalaysia and the tensions were most severe immediately before and following the bloody riots in July 1964. At that time, the greatest pressures were mounted by UMNO Malay extremists who denounced you and Malay PAP leaders, especially you, as infidels (kafirs) and traitors (khianats) not to Singapore but to the Malay race. I heard it, the crowd said it, bunches of them, they were designed to intimidate you and the other Malay leaders in PAP. Because of the courage and leadership you showed, not one PAP Malay leader wavered (in 1965) … That made the difference to Singapore.”Encik Othman’s determination and courage did indeed make all the difference to Singapore. You can view my full eulogy here:– LHL#RememberingOthmanWok (Video by Channel NewsAsia) ——- Malam ini, kita memperingati seorang anak watan Singapura yang hebat, Encik Othman Wok. Encik Othman sangat percaya dan komited terhadap dasar berbilang bangsa dan agama di Singapura. Kalaulah dia kurang tegas, nasib Singapura mungkin sangat berbeza. Dari 1963-1965, Singapura adalah sebahagian daripada Malaysia. Pemimpin Melayu PAP berdepan dengan tekanan hebat untuk menyingkirkan dasar berbilang bangsa dan mengutamakan bangsa daripada negara. Mereka diugut dan dikutuk. Pemimpin UMNO mengadakan rapat-rapat umum di Singapura dan membuat ucapan berapi-api yang menyasarkan Encik Lee Kuan Yew dan Encik Othman. Pada 1964, rusuhan kaum tercetus semasa perarakan sempena Maulidur Rasul. Encik Othman berada di situ dan menyaksikan sendiri keganasan secara langsung. Tetapi beliau dan pemimpin Melayu PAP lain tetap berdiri teguh. Mereka gigih berusaha membentuk sebuah Negara berbilang bangsa yang diimpi-impikan. Itulah sebabnya hari ini kita mampu berkata dengan bangganya, "Kami, warganegara Singapura … tidak kira apa bangsa, bahasa atau agama." Pada 1998, semasa jamuan ulang tahun ke 75 Encik Lee Kuan Yew, beliau memberi penghormatan kepada rakan seperjuangannya, Encik Othman: "Othman, saya masih ingat, sokongan padu dan kesetiaan anda semasa waktu-waktu sukar Singapura ketika kita bersama Malaysia dan ketegangan yang amat mencabar sebelum dan sesudah rusuhan berdarah pada Julai 1964. Pada masa itu, golongan pelampau UMNO mengutuk pasukan Melayu PAP sebagai kafir dan pengkhianat, bukan terhadap Singapura tetapi terhadap orang Melayu. Saya dengar kata-kata itu, disuarakan kumpulan-kumpulan yang sengaja mahu menakut-nakutkan anda dan pemimpin Melayu PAP. Kerana keberanian dan kepimpinan anda, tidak seorangpun pemimpin Melayu PAP yang patah semangat… Itulah yang telah menentukan hala tuju Singapura. " Jelas, kesungguhan dan keberanian Encik Othman menyumbang kepada untung nasib Singapura. Video ucapan saya ada di sini:– LHL

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday, 19 April 2017

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