It is hard to imagine Singapore without Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Serving as Prime Minister (PM), Mr Lee was a titan who guided Singapore out of colonial rule peacefully and navigated the nation through the uncertainty of the post-World War era. Remarkably, he was also the architect who steered our tiny island state from third world to first within a generation.
As we mark the 100th anniversary of Mr Lee’s birth this Saturday (Sept 16), here is a look at the life of the man who laid the foundation for modern Singapore.
1952: Before entering politics, Mr Lee had already garnered a reputation as a feisty lawyer on the side of the ordinary man. Here, he is presented with a garland by the Singapore Post and Telegraph Uniformed Staff Union in appreciation for his help in a wage dispute, which saw the clerks receiving 28 months of back pay.
1955: Mr Lee speaking at the Merdeka Rally in Farrer Park. A charismatic leader and skilled orator, Mr Lee led the newly formed People’s Action Party (PAP) to win three of the four seats it contested in the 1955 elections.
1959: Chaired by his supporters, Mr Lee is Leader of the Opposition no more as he becomes the first PM of Singapore after a landslide victory by the PAP in the 1959 elections.
1962: Mr Lee with Tengku Abdul Rahman in better days. Believing that a tiny island would benefit from a hinterland during turbulent times, Mr Lee proposed that Singapore become part of the Federation of Malaya.
1965: It was a moment of anguish for Mr Lee when he announced Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. As to what made him so emotional, Mr Lee shared in an interview, “I have a responsibility for the survival of the two million people in Singapore. I thought survival was best secured by 11 million people, then it would have been like a stool, firm and stable. But now I have only got one leg. It is like a shooting stick. We are resting on a shooting stick!”
1969: Mr Lee speaking at the Trade Union Seminar on plans to transform the Labour Movement. As PM, Mr Lee promoted tripartism to build industrial harmony. It worked to give Singapore an economic advantage over other nations while protecting workers’ rights.
1971: Mr Lee planting a yellow flame tree sapling at the Tanjong Pagar Community Centre. In line with his vision to transform Singapore into a ‘garden city’ that is lush and green, it kickstarted a tree-planting tradition that continues to this day.
1973: Mr Lee touring the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Supermarket at Toa Payoh during its official opening. Established to combat inflation and provide affordable groceries to all Singaporeans, the social mission of NTUC FairPrice remains unchanged fifty years on.
1979: Mr Lee and Mr Liu Thai Ker visit a HDB (Housing Development Board) flat in Clementi estate. Housing Singaporeans and giving them each a stake in the country was always a priority for Mr Lee. By the 1970s, HDB had built new towns in Jurong, Ang Mo Kio, Clementi and Bedok, making more homeowners out of Singaporeans and shaping the suburbs we recognise today.
1987: Mr Lee and his wife Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, inspect the newly rejuvenated Singapore River, a massive effort that took ten years. Gone are the waterways piled high with oil, debris and bodily waste from cottage industries and squatter settlements. Instead, the cleaned-up river turned the surrounding area into a recreational and water catchment spot.
1990: Having stepped down as PM, Mr Lee was sworn in as Senior Minister, witnessed by President Wee Kim Wee and PM Goh Chok Tong. By then, he was one of the longest-serving Prime Ministers in the world (1959 – 1990) and led the PAP to seven election victories.
2014: Mr Lee attends what would be his last National Day Parade (NDP). Rain or shine, he had been present at every celebration without fail since 1966.
clean waterways, lush greenery and international reputation as a trusted nation with a highly educated workforce.
Still keen to learn more about Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy? Check out the following exhibitions for free at the museums!
- LKY100 – The Boy Who Became Prime Minister
- LKY100: The Life and Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew
- Semangat yang Baru: Forging a New Singapore Spirit
Photo Source: National Archives of Singapore/Roots.sg/ NTUC/ Remembering Lee Kuan Yew and Amy Khor via Facebook