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Kwa Geok Choo, the wife of Singapore’s first prime minister and mother of its current leader, died Saturday. She was 89.
Kwa suffered strokes in 2008 and had been bedridden and unable to speak since then. She is survived by her husband Lee Kuan Yew, sons Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Hsien Yang, and daughter Lee Wei Ling.
Kwa “passed away peacefully at home,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. It did not specify the cause of death.
Kwa was born into a prominent Chinese family and was the daughter of a banker. She attended Methodist Girls’ School and Raffles Institute in Singapore and England’s Cambridge University, where she studied law as a Queen’s Scholar. Kwa met fellow Cambridge student Lee in 1944 and the two married in Singapore in 1950.
“I had 61 years of happiness,” Lee, 87, said in an interview with the New York Times published earlier this month.
Lee, who is currently a senior adviser in his son’s Cabinet, also has had health problems in recent years. He has been hospitalized since Wednesday with a chest infection, and in September 2008 he was treated for an abnormal heart rhythm.
Kwa was a partner at Lee & Lee law firm, which she founded with her husband and Lee’s brother Lee Kim Yew in 1955.
Kwa was not known as a campaigner or speech giver during Lee’s term as prime minister from independence in 1965 to 1990. Most Singaporeans remember her for wearing traditional Chinese cheongsam dresses while accompanying her husband on official trips abroad.
“It’s really sad,” said Iris Tan, a 48-year-old flower shop owner. “She seemed like a very kind person.”
Lee said he had been distraught at times over his wife’s illness.
“I tell her about my day’s work, read her favorite poems,” Lee said in the interview. “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.”
Prime Minister Lee is currently on an official trip to Brussels and will return to Singapore immediately, television station Channel NewsAsia reported.
A public wake for Kwa will be held at the Prime Minister’s official residence on Oct. 4-5 and a private funeral will take place Oct. 6, the Prime Minister’s Office said.