The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had developed Parkinson’s disease three years ago which severely limited his mobility, said his only daughter Lee Wei Ling at the family’s private cremation service on Sunday evening.
“He had great difficulty standing and walking. But he refused to use a wheelchair or even a walking stick. He would walk, aided by his SOs,” Dr Lee said at the Mandai Crematorium.
He was also plagued by bouts of hiccups, and his ability to swallow both solids and liquids was impaired.
Mr Lee, who died at the age of 91 on March 23, “searched the Internet and tried a wide variety of unorthodox hiccup therapies”.
“For example, he once used rabbit skin and then chicken feathers to induce sneezing, so as to stop the hiccups. Although the sneezing sometimes stopped his hiccups, it did not do so consistently enough,” she told a gathering of family and people who had worked closely with Mr Lee.
She said Mr Lee also tried reducing his food intake because he felt that eating too much could precipitate hiccups, “hence he lost a lot of weight, and appeared thin and gaunt”.
She said her father was stubborn and determined. He would insist on walking down the steps at home, from the verandah to the porch where the car was parked.
Mr Lee’s daughter-in-law Ho Ching had a lift installed so he need not negotiate those steps. But when he was aware and alert, he refused the lift though it was a struggle for him to walk down those steps even with three security officers (SOs) helping.
“But the lift was not installed in vain,” she said. “On several occasions when he was ill and needed to be admitted to SGH, he did not protest when the SO guided him onto the lift. Still, even when ill, if he was asked if he wanted to use the lift, the answer would invariably be ‘no’.”
Dr Lee devoted a part of her eulogy to thanking the SOs whom she said were an integral part of Mr Lee’s life, even more so in the last five years.
“They looked after him with tender loving care, way beyond the call of duty. One doctor friend who came to help dress a wound Papa sustained when he fell, noticed this and said to me: ‘The SOs look after your father as though he is their own father.'”
She said her father was also very considerate towards his SOs. During an official trip to Saudi Arabia, an SO came down with chicken pox. Rather than leave him behind in a hospital there as doctors suggested, he insisted the SO return to Singapore with the rest of the delegation.
“He wasn’t going to leave any Singaporean behind, not least an SO.”
Sensing he was special, all the SOs have been very kind to Mr Lee she said, adding: “On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all of them. I know each of them well, even the number of children they have. To me, they were not only staff whose job was to look after Papa, but also friends of the family. They helped me pull out the SIM card from my blackberry when it hung; they were friends for me to share food and goodies with whenever the opportunity arose.”
She said that soon after her father died, one of the SOs, Yak, called to inform her of it.
“After being in my room alone and unable to go back to sleep, I went downstairs to the SOs room, and sat with the two SOs on duty, watching black and white footage of Papa in his younger days. I needed the company of friends. Junji jichaou dan ru shui. There is a Chinese saying that the relationship between two honourable gentlemen is as understated as plain water. That was the relationship between the SOs and me,” she said.
She also revealed that once, Mr Lee choked on a piece of meat. The quick-thinking SOs – Liang Chye, ASP Yak and Kelvin – managed to save him through the Heimlich manoeuvre.
“They coordinated their pull, and after several attempts, the piece of meat was finally ejected. By this time, Papa had already turned purple. But within seconds of the meat being dislodged, he was mentally alert.”
She gave special thanks to Liang Chye and Kelvin, and especially ASP Yak, whose presence of mind saved Mr Lee’s life, she said.
“To all the SOs who have served Papa over the years, I thank you on behalf of my family,” she said.
She also thanked all the nurses, doctors and specialists who had looked after Mr Lee over the years, especially those involved in the last five years of his life, when his medical problems multiplied and became more complicated.
“I am grateful to each and every one of them for all the care they have provided to Papa,” she said. “Thank you all – doctors, nurses and physiotherapists – who have helped Papa be as comfortable as possible in his final days. My family is extremely grateful to all of you.”
Dr Lee also thanked the staff of the Prime Minister’s Office who kept the office running smoothly in Mr Lee’s absence. “Thank you all for being with Papa and for helping to ease his suffering in the last five years of his life. Thank you for being here with us today, to bid farewell to Papa.”
She spoke about the influence her father had on her, and how they were similar temperamentally, for example their determination to exercise.
Mr Lee would complete his 12 minutes on the treadmill, even on days that he was tired, she said. “The SOs were amused because they knew I was equally fanatical about exercise. Today, I have run up and down my 20 metre corridor 800 times, making it to 16 km.”
She also said: “Papa, I know you would have preferred if I had married and had children. But I have no regrets, no regrets I was able to look after you and Mama in your old age.”
The most important lesson she learnt from her father, she said, was “never to push around anyone simply because he or she is weaker than me or in a socially inferior position”. Also, “never to let anyone bully someone else if I am in a position to stop such bullying.”
She added on a poignant note: “This morning I noticed that the maid, in setting the dining table, had moved away Papa’s chair and placed it against the wall. It was a poignant reminder that this farewell is for ever. I have been controlling my feelings for this past week, but looking at this unexpected scene, I nearly broke down. But I can’t break down, I am a Hakka woman.
“Farewell Papa. I will miss you. Rest in peace.”