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  • Claire Vorster

Lee Kuan Yew is 90. Legendary (And Little Known) Facts

Lee Kuan Yew’s 90th birthday was notable, as much for the wealth of greetings from other legendary public figures, as for his age.

The UK’s Queen Elizabeth II and Germany’s Angela Merkel remarked how Lee’s life has been “inextricably interwoven with the history and development” of Singapore and reiterated that Singapore will remain a key partner in Asia. China's former vice premier, Li Lanqing paid tribute to Lee’s efforts in forging the friendship between China and Singapore. Back home, many MPs and dignitaries also sent their well wishes to via social media. Large sections of Lee Kuan Yew’s story are well known. Born on 16 September 1923 at 92 Kampong Java Road in Singapore, Lee says in his autobiography that he is a fourth-generation Chinese Singaporean. His Hakka great-grandfather emigrated from the Dapu county of Guangdong province to the Straits Settlements in 1862.

He was the co-founder and first secretary-general of the People's Action Party (PAP), and led the party to a landslide victory in 1959. During his leadership, Singapore separated from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965. Since independence the newly formed island state has gained a powerful international reputation and is often referred to as one of Asia’s economic powerhouses. Lee Kuan Yew has remained one of the most influential political figures in South-East Asia.

Resilient Leading Man

This much is well documented, but we thought you might like to know more. Here is a compilation of things you may not know about Singapore’s most resilient leading man.

  • Lee attained a double First Class Honours in Law with a star for distinction from Cambridge University. It was in England that he also met and went on to secretly marry his first love, Kwa Geok Choo. When they came back to Singapore, he married her again in a more public ceremony. Lee quipped: “I don’t think that’s an offence, to marry a woman twice, the same woman!” They have three children: current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Wei Ling and Hsien Yang.

  • During the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II, Lee helped to develop a glue based on tapioca, which he sold under the name Stikfas. The logo subsequently appeared on the base of his wedding cake.

  • He learnt Mandarin when he was 32 years old, and Hokkien at 38 years. The first thing he said in Hokkien to a crowd: “Gin nah mai chio, wah beh oh” in Hokkien, it means “kids don’t laugh, I want to learn.” Lee also speaks English and Bahasa Melayu fluently.

  • He is the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of politics, having never lost an election.

  • On 13 September 2008, Lee, 84, underwent successful treatment for abnormal heart rhythm at Singapore General Hospital, but he was still able to address a philanthropy forum via video link from hospital!

  • Lee’s wife Kwa passed away on 2 October 2010. She was bedridden for the last two years of her life after suffering a series of strokes. Lee would keep vigil by his wife’s side whenever he was not at work, reading to her. While he was abroad, Lee would ensure to speak to her via webcam. They were married for 63 years.

  • He reads the obituary column with a certain amount of glee, saying “at 89, I look at the obituary pages and see very few who have outlived me.”

Happy Birthday LKY!

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