Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wife, confidante, lawyer, mother

Oct 2, 2010

By Hannah Koh

MADAM KWA Geok Choo, perhaps better known Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, wife of Singapore's founding father and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, died at home on Saturday. She was 89.

She leaves behind MM Lee, 87, sons Lee Hsien Loong who is the Prime Minister, Hsien Yang, 53, and daughter Wei Ling, 55 and several grandchildren.

Mrs Lee was born on Dec 21, 1920. Her father, Mr Kwa Siew Tee, was a general manager at OCBC Bank. She excelled at her studies at Methodist Girls' School, Raffles Institution and Raffles College, where her university education was interrupted by World War II. She resumed her studies at Raffles College in 1946, after the university was reopened. She graduated with a First Class Diploma in Arts, winning the Queen's Scholarship.

On the strong recommendations of her professors from Raffles College, Mrs Lee was allowed to read Law as a second year student at Cambridge University. She would later become the first Asian woman to be awarded a first-class honours, and she passed the final Bar exam in May 1949.

Mrs Lee married Mr Lee in secret in Dec 1947 at Stratford-on-Avon, in England. The Lees had first met in Raffles College, where a friendly competition for grades later blossomed into romance. They married officially in September 1950 in Singapore.

Mrs Lee was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1950 and admitted to the Singapore Bar the next year, becoming a full-fledged conveyancing lawyer by profession.

The Lees welcomed the birth of their first son, Hsien Loong, in 1952. Their first daughter, Wei Ling, was born in 1955, followed by her brother and the Lees second son, Hsien Yang, in 1957.

In 1955, the Lees, along with Mr Lee's brother Lee Kim Yew, founded law firm Lee & Lee with Mrs Lee as a senior partner.

Mrs Lee was a strong pillar to her husband in his political career, and accompanied her husband occasionally on official business trips abroad.

Her health began to deteriorate in Oct 2003, when she suffered a stroke during the last leg of a two-week tour of three European cities with Mr Lee, who was then Senior Minister. She was warded in a London hospital for six days before being flown back and admitted to Singapore General Hospital.

Mrs Lee recovered from her first stroke, but suffered another three years later in May 2008. She was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where she received surgery. While hospitalised in June, she suffered another stroke, and a brain scan revealed bleeding in the right side of the brain. The two consecutive strokes robbed her of her physical mobility, and Mrs Lee has remained bedridden ever since.

Mrs Lee died peacefully at home on Saturday at 5.40 pm.

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