Singapore mourns for Mrs Lee Kuan Yew who passed away at age 89 on 2nd October. A confidante, intellectual partner and pillar of strength to her husband Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister and current Minister Mentor (MM), Mrs Lee was described as quiet, unassuming and brilliant.
Madam Kwa Geok Choo had a distinguished academic and professional career. She topped the whole of Malaya in the Senior Cambridge Examinations in 1936 and later went to join her husband Mr Lee doing law at the Cambridge University under the Queen’s scholarship. She achieved a First Class Honours in Law. Upon her return, she jointly set up a legal firm with Mr Lee and her brother-in-law. Mrs Lee was acknowledged as one of the best conveyancing legal minds in Malaya.
Personal insights on Mrs Lee
Accolades and tributes were heaped upon on Mrs Lee by those whom she had come into contact with. They came from all walks of life from heads of state, political figures as well as members of the public. While Mrs Lee was an intensely private person, the compilation of quotes below gives us more insight into her character.
Her role as a mother and wife:
When asked if she (Mrs Lee) ever had disagreements with MM Lee in email interviews, she replied:
” Would you believe me if I say we never disagree or quarrel? Fortunately, these are over little matters. Kuan Yew leaves household decisions to me. Family matters have not been a problem.”
MM Lee in his memoirs, recounted his wife as the disciplinarian of the house:
“She brought them up well-mannered and self-disciplined”.
Mrs Lee, on a visit to Kuala Lumpur in 1976:
“I walk two steps behind my husband like a good Asian wife.”
Her stance on politics:
During a radio broadcast of Mrs Lee’s first and only political speech, which highlighted the PAP’s position on women:
“Our society is stilll built on the assumption that women are the social, political and economic inferiors of men. This myth has been made the excuse for the exploitation of female labour. Many women do the same kind of work as men but do not get the same pay… Let us show them (the other parties) that Singapore women are tired of their pantomime and buffoonery. I appeal to women to vote for PAP. It is the only party with the idealism, the honesty and ability to carry out its election programme.”
- Mrs Lee’s beliefs about how women should be empowered to contribute to society
In an interview with authors of Men In White:
“I felt it was unfair that I should be dropped (from PAP party meetings). I thought I could have made a contribution. But I did not take a strong stand about it.”
- Mrs Lee was one of the first women to join the PAP
For old newspaper reports on Mrs Lee, you may wish to use our Newspaper SG page and put in the search term “Kwa Geok Choo”. There are some articles dated as far back as 1947.
Unfortunately there are no books published about or written by Mrs Lee, but here are some books that you may wish to read about MM Lee:
1) Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew: citizen Singapore: how to build a nation
Author: Tom Plate
Publisher: Singapore : Marshall Cavendish Editions, c2010.
Call No.: SING 959.570 PLA
2) Lee Kuan Yew in his own words. Book 1. 1959-1970
edited by S.J.Rodringuez
Publisher: Singapore : SJ & Gavin International, c2003.
Call No.: SING 959.570 LEE -[HIS]
3) From third world to first: the Singapore story, 1965-2000: memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew
Author: Lee Kuan Yew
Publisher: Singapore : Times Editions : Singapore Press Holdings, c2000.
Call No.: SING 959.570 LEE – [HIS]
You may also wish to read Highbrowse Online for their post on the late Mrs Lee.
(Photo credit: Channel NewsAsia. Source: CBS News. Quotations above taken from the online article “A Personal account of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew“ dated 5 October 2010).
Posted by Kweh Soon Huat, Librarian, Adult and Young People’s Services