Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Condolence Letter on the Demise of Dr Toh Chin Chye

3 February 2012

Dear [Mr Ng],

My Cabinet colleagues and I are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Toh Chin Chye.  Please accept our deepest condolences and sympathies.

Dr Toh was born in Taiping, Perak. He was a brilliant student, and won a scholarship to study in Singapore and, later, the University of London for his PhD. While in London, Dr Toh chaired the Malayan Forum, a group that brought together students who were concerned about the future of Malaya and Singapore. It was also in London that he met some of his future comrades in politics, including Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the late Dr Goh Keng Swee. He returned to become a lecturer in physiology in the University of Singa­pore.

Dr Toh belonged to the core group of founding fathers who created today’s Singapore.  He was the founding Chairman of the People’s Action Party (PAP), and served as Chairman for 27 years. When the PAP was elected to form the government in 1959, Dr Toh was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. 

As Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Toh chaired the committee to design a new flag for Singapore.  He conceived a design with a crescent moon to represent a newly independent country, and five stars to represent the ideals of democracy, justice, peace, progress and equality. He also chose the colours red (to symbolise universal brotherhood and equality of man) and white (to signify purity and virtue) to represent what Singapore stood for. This flag has become an enduring symbol of the spirit and unity of all Singaporeans. 

Dr Toh was a tenacious fighter and a man of principle.  His comrade-in-arms, the late Mr S Rajaratnam, described him as a “man who does not look for a fight, but once in a fight, where honour is at stake, he fights unto death”. 

In the battle against the communists, Dr Toh was a stout-hearted warrior and yet, at the same time, a voice of reason.  Dr Toh himself was thrust into the centre of the political battle in the 1963 general election, when Dr Lee Siew Choh, the leader of the left wing Barisan Sosialis party, stood against him in Rochor.  After a fierce campaign, Dr Toh won by a slim margin of 89 votes.  This narrow victory made all the difference: it marked a turning point in the struggle between the non-communist PAP and the pro-communist Barisan Sosialis

After Singa­pore joined Malaysia, Dr Toh felt passionately about equal rights for all races in Malaysia. He decided that the PAP should fight the 1964 federal elections in the peninsula and started the Malaysian Solidarity Convention to campaign for a Malaysian Malaysia.  He organised the first Convention rally in June 1965 in Singa­pore, and launched a series of Solidarity rallies throughout Malaysia.  This led to many consequences, culminating in Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia.  But when the moment came to split, Dr Toh found it emotionally a very difficult decision, especially as he still had family in Taiping. Dr Toh was one of the last ministers to sign the Separation Agreement.

Three years after Singapore’s independence, Dr Toh returned to the University of Singapore, this time as the Vice-Chancellor.  His purpose was not academic studies, but nation-building. He re-oriented the University’s mindset towards national goals. He established new faculties, and emphasised professional degrees relevant to Singapore’s economic development.  He built a new University campus at Kent Ridge, and gathered in one modern campus all the departments previously scattered in four different locations.   

Dr Toh also served as the Science and Technology Minister and, later, Health Minister before retiring from the Cabinet in 1981. He continued for two more terms as a Member of Parliament until 1988.  As a back-bencher, Dr Toh served with commitment, dedication and integrity.  He reflected the concerns of his Rochor constituents and also spoke up on national issues he felt strongly about.  During the Budget Debate in 1985, Dr Toh made a passionate speech criticising the CPF contribution, then 50% of wages, as a heavy imposition on employers. I had just entered politics, and as a minister of state in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I stood up and rebutted him vigorously.  But as it turned out, Dr Toh was right. The economy soon went into a steep recession, and by the end of the year, the Government had concluded the CPF rates were too high and indeed needed to be cut. 

Throughout his career, Dr Toh dedicated himself to the task of nation-building, so that as he said “every race, every community has a share in the prosperity of Singapore”. He recognised this as the foundation of a united and cohesive nation, and commented in retirement that his greatest pleasure was that there were no more race riots.

Singaporeans will long remember and honour Dr Toh for his many contributions to our nation.  He helped to shape the course of our nation’s history at a critical time, and to lay the foundations for Singapore’s success.  His passing is a deep loss to all of us.

[With my deepest sympathies]


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