Eulogy by Mr Li Hongyi at Cremation Service of the Late Mr Lee Kuan Yew

29 March 2015

 

Some years ago when I was preparing to go to university, Ye Ye gave me a camera. This was the first and only time he ever gave me a present. Over the next few years I got deep into photography and took many thousands of photos of my time in college. After I graduated I got a book printed of my favourite pictures and I presented it to him as a thank you for the gift and hopefully to show him that I had done something good with it.

Ye Ye was more than a grandfather to me. He was an inspiration. When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be the man like him. And even now, I still do.

We would have lunch with Ye Ye and Nai Nai every Sunday at their home. We always ate simple things: mee rebus, nasi lemak, popiah. He was never one concerned with luxury or lavishness. The idea that he would care about how fancy his food was or what kind of brand name clothes his wore was ridiculous. His mind was always occupied on far more important things. He would have discussions with our parents while my cousins and I would sit by the side and listen. After listening I would always feel a little bit silly because he made me realise how petty all the little problems in my life were and how there were so many more important things in the world. He made me want to do something more with my life.

He was not an especially charming man. Yet when he spoke you felt compelled to listen. That's because when he spoke to you, you knew he was being straight with you. He would not try to cajole or flatter. He would always be frank and honest. After speaking with him in person you knew that his speeches were not fluffed up puff. They were truly his opinions on the matters he cared most about. He would never echo empty slogans or narrow-minded ideologies; it was always thoroughly researched and well-considered perspectives. I had the privilege once of accompanying Ye Ye to a ceremony in Washington where he was receiving an award. Hearing him speak and watching the entire room listen made me feel so proud because his charisma came not from showmanship but from pure substance.

Ye Ye understood the limits of his knowledge. He made it a point to try and understand the flaws and risks of his perspectives better than anyone else. This was especially true when it came to Singapore. He refused to let blind nationalism run this country to the ground. He cared about this country deeply and made sure that he was aware of any weaknesses that could cause us harm. And yet he was very proud of Singapore and confident that we could be better.

Ye Ye showed me that you could make a difference in this world. Not just that you could make a difference, but that you could do it with your head held high. You didn't have to lie, cheat, or steal. You didn't have to flatter, charm, or cajole. You didn't have to care about frivolous things or play silly games. You could do something good with your life, and the best way to do so was to have good principles and conduct yourself honourably.

People admired Ye Ye for his brilliant mind. They admired him for his ability to lead and rally us together. They admired him for all of his staggering accomplishments. These are all true. But to me, what made him a great man was the person he chose to be. A man of character, clarity, and conviction. We should remember him less as a man who gave us great gifts, and more as a man who showed us the kind of people we could be.

When Ye Ye gave me that camera years ago, he wrote me a note. It was a simple note without any flowery language or cheap sentiment. He simply told me that he hoped I make good use of it. I hope I have.