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Chun Han Wong
Dow Jones Newswires
The founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, said he’d be a “different man” if not for his late wife as he paid tribute to her contributions to the Southeast Asian city-state at her cremation Wednesday.
Kwa Geok Choo died last Saturday after being bedridden for two years following multiple strokes. She was 89.
Her private funeral took place Wednesday evening after a wave of public sympathy for one of Asia’s most influential political families.
Two of the three leaders that Singapore has known since its independence in 1965–Kwa’s husband Lee Kuan Yew, and her son and current premier Lee Hsien Loong–followed the casket as part of the funeral cortege.
Kwa’s death has sparked concerns over the health of her husband, Lee Kuan Yew, 87, who was hospitalized last Wednesday with a chest infection. There has been no official confirmation whether he has been discharged.
“I should find solace at her 89 years of her life well lived,” Lee said, according to a transcript of his eulogy on the Straits Times website. “But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”
Although Kwa has never held any official post, her casket was taken to the funeral on a ceremonial gun carriage “in recognition of her exceptional and unique contributions to Singapore for more than five decades, beginning before Singapore became independent,” the government said late Tuesday. The use of the carriage is an honor usually reserved for state and military funerals.
Footage aired Wednesday on local TV station Channel NewsAsia showed the elder Lee walking slowly and unaided behind his wife’s casket ahead of the funeral service. He showed little emotion in brief TV grabs.
The elder Lee was Singapore’s Prime Minister from 1965, when it broke away from Malaysia, until 1990, when he handed over the reins to Goh Chok Tong. Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, is now Prime Minister.
Kwa was married to Lee for 63 years, and was widely credited for her quiet influence over Singapore’s transformation from a small trading port to a gleaming commercial center. Once one of Singapore’s top lawyers, she is portrayed by local media as an exemplary woman who faithfully aided her husband through the nation’s roughest patches while he held office.
In his eulogy to Kwa, Lee Kuan Yew noted her contributions to the nation, including helping to draft the ruling People’s Action Party’s constitution, and a document that guaranteed neigboring Malaysia’s observance of agreements to supply Singapore with fresh water.
The People’s Action Party, which Lee founded, has never lost a general election.
“Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life,” he said.
Lee, who holds the official title of “Minister Mentor” in Singapore’s cabinet, is still influential in the city-state, and his advice is widely sought globally.
He had or still holds advisory positions for the Government of Singapore Investment Corp., the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Citigroup Inc., French oil company Total S.A., Daimler Benz and JPMorgan, among others.
Lee recently said he had to keep busy to stop thinking about his wife’s condition.
“I try to busy myself, but from time to time in idle moments, my mind goes back to the happy days we were up and about together,” he said of his wife in an interview with the New York Times, weeks before her death.