Obituary : Comrade Phua Bah Lee (1932 – 2021) – A man of principles and action, whose heart was with people and Party


Comrade Phua Bah Lee passed on peacefully on 26th December 2021, at the age of 89.

Comrade Phua was a man of deep principles and of action, whose heart was with the people, and with the Party where he left his lasting imprint with the generations of leaders and activists he had helped guide and mentor over the decades.

Comrade Phua first joined the Party in 1968 as a newly-wed and contested in the general election that year and won. It was no easy feat as the Tampines constituency was traditionally a Barisan stronghold, having been held by fellow Nantah alumni Mr Poh Ber Liak since 1963.

With his win, Comrade Phua served as Member of Parliament for the Tampines Constituency for the next two decades.

Upon being elected, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Communications for two years and was transferred to Ministry of Defence in 1970. Comrade Phua quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted Senior Parliamentary Secretary in 1972.

One of his most significant contributions was his leadership of SAFRA as its Founding President – a position he held from 1972 to 1989.  As Founding President of SAFRA, Comrade Phua led the way and created an association, famous for its iconic club houses – a first of its kind back in the day – at Toa Payoh, Bukit Merah and Tampines.

He also fought for new ways to recognise the contributions made by our NSmen. He envisaged new schemes and initiatives to show appreciation to our NSmen and their families. Most importantly, he created a place where NSmen can continue to bond for life.

Outside of his official work, he was also active in sports and the arts, serving as Basketball Association of Singapore President from 1973 till 1991 and also Chairman of the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre Management Committee from 1977.

After his retirement in 1988, Comrade Phua, a respected Teochew clansman, was appointed General Manager of Ngee Ann Development and also served as Council Advisor to Singapore Teochew Federation, Director of the Singapore Teochew Foundation Ltd and Chairman of the Ngee Ann Traditional Chinese Medicine Center.

Even in retirement, Comrade Phua worked tirelessly for the community and continued to participate in Party events. He also served as a mentor for the next generation of MPs by imparting his experience and wisdom.

Comrade Alex Yam said in his tribute: “As a former Deputy Organizing Secretary of the Party, he was generous in sharing his guidance with me. He always hand wrote his greeting cards that he sent to me during the festive season, cards which I will keep and treasure.”

Comrade Phua is survived by his wife Mdm Tan Cheok Tin, who he married in 1968, and three children, Roger, Robert and Tin Tin. We’d like to offer our deepest condolences to his family.

As we remember him for his warmth and his smiles, may we also remember him as being an inspiration to us all. 

Farewell, Comrade Phua.

Read PM Lee’s tribute here.

Cover photo credit: Alex Yam’s Facebook page.