Think Centre joins fellow Singaporeans in sending our condolences to the family of the late Dr Wee Kim Wee.
Dr Wee was a model citizen and an extraordinary Singaporean. Despite humble beginnings, he excelled in his professions and distinguished himself as an outstanding journalist. As a career diplomat, he was tactful and dedicated to establishing cordial ties on behalf of his country.
As the President of Singapore, he brought dignity and integrity to the highest office. Dr Wee will be fondly remembered for making the President an accessible icon to the masses, for his continuous support to philantrophic causes, and for ushering in the new era for the elected Presidency.
Even after leaving the Istana, he remained active and resumed his meritorious service to the community, society and country. Dr Wee truly epitomised the label of the "Peoples' President".
Think Centre joins fellow Singaporeans in remembering Dr Wee Kim Wee as a father to Singapore.
HE WILL always be remembered for his humble and gentle ways — and in the hearts of Singaporeans, he will live on as a People's President.
His natural warmth touched the lives of many who had the pleasure to know him during his long and fruitful life, during which he was a celebrated journalist, a diplomat who helped cement ties with Malaysia and, in the twilight of his life, the holder of the highest office in the land.
Former President Wee Kim Wee, 89, died yesterday at 5.10am of "secondary cancer", arising from complications from an earlier bout with prostate cancer, at his bungalow home in Siglap Plains. He had been in hospital for the past month until he asked to return home three days ago.
He is survived by his wife, seven children, 13 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
Members of the public can pay their last respects to Dr Wee at the Istana from today until Thursday. After that, his family will hold a private wake for the former President. On Friday, the cortege will leave at 4.30pm for cremation at the Mandai Crematorium.
As a mark of respect to Dr Wee, the State flag on all Government buildings will be flown at half-mast from today until Friday, the Prime Minister's Office said yesterday.
"He was in pain in the last few months up until his death and it was unfortunate he had to go this way, this painful end," his son, Bill Wee, 68, said.
Yesterday, hundreds of well-wishers, including President SR Nathan, who first knew Dr Wee when he was a teenager, turned up to say goodbye to a kind man who always had time for even the simplest folk.
While Mrs Nathan embraced a sobbing Mrs Wee, Mr Nathan described Dr Wee's passing as a "a great loss to the nation, and for me, the loss of a special friend and mentor".
While Singaporeans mourn Dr Wee's departure, "the memories of his life, his achievements and his warm and gentle personality will continue to touch and inspire us, and the generations to come," said Mr Nathan.
"All his life he was not only approachable, but above all, he was without the biases of race, language or religion. In his conversations, he was always full of wit and humour," he said
An old friend from Dr Wee's days as a journalist, former minister Othman Wok, turned up at the family residence, too.
He told Today: "I remember having a game of golf with Dr Wee soon after former President Devan Nair stepped down and telling him what a wonderful president he would make. His response: Don't talk bullshit ... there are many other people better than me."
Three weeks later, Mr Wok said he had received a call from Dr Wee, who told him that then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had invited him to be President.
Said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: "Most of all, we will remember him as a true Singaporean, who, in his own life, experienced the many facets of being a Singaporean, having been a worker, a sportsman, a public officer, a corporate leader, a Samaritan, a husband and a father."
Dr Wee, he said, was completely lacking in self-importance or stiff formality.
"He was unassuming, interested in people, and at ease interacting with one and all, from the highest in the land to the humblest," said Mr Lee in a letter to the widow, Mrs Wee Sok Hiong.
Becoming President did not change Dr Wee, as it might have changed a lesser man.
"It was not just what he did, but also what he was, that endeared him to Singaporeans, and made him known as the 'People's President'," said Mr Lee.
Some East Coast residents were once in a queue when Dr Wee and his wife were driving by. The couple stopped and enquired what the matter was. The residents said they were queuing overnight to get places for their children in a kindergarten.
Mrs Wee later sent over a large pot of porridge, which she had cooked, to help them through the night, one of the residents told Today last night,
Yet, even as he rose to become one of Singapore's most respected presidents, Dr Wee never forget his humble beginnings. When he received an honourary doctorate from the University of Singapore, he said sadly that financial constraints — his father died when he was young — prevented him from completing his O levels.
Hence, his concern for the less fortunate. National Trades Union Congress president John De Payva said: "Many a times, he would extend his helping hand for the lower-income workers and the poor through official channels or with his own means."
For all his accomplishments, Dr Wee lived a simple life in retirement.
In his memoirs, Glimpses And Reflections, which was published last year, when he completed 10 years of retirement, Dr Wee wrote: "I cannot say I have had a blissful retirement, but at the same time, I have been able to avoid stress and boredom without significant reserves. The simple truth is one can live frugally and prudently, yet achieve a fulfiling retirement."
The simple truth, as he put it, after working as a journalist for the now defunct American news agency United Press International and then The Straits Times, was that when "I reached the age of 55, the CPF I withdrew could not buy me a shack, let alone a comfortable home."
Dr Wee then saw sterling service as High Commissioner to Malaysia as well as ambassador to Japan and South Korea. But his 10-and-a-half years as a diplomat did not bring him a windfall either and by then he was nearing 65.
Finally, the remuneration for Head of State — he was President from 1985-1993 — had no provision for a provident fund and was not tax-free. Almost one-third of the salary he drew went back to the Government by way of income tax, he wrote.
"I am listing all this not to make a point for my personal position, but to show that when push comes to shove, one can still retire and live a full life without having to beg, borrow or steal and even to depend on one's children," he wrote.
His book posted sales of more than $500,000 in sales, but Dr Wee gave the entire proceeds away to eight charities.
While he was President, Dr Wee did work for various charity groups, which he did not want publicised, said immediate past president of the Society for the Physically Handicapped, Mr Koh Nai Teck.
He cited the President's help when the society was short of $4.5 million to build its own facilities.
"He immediately helped us raise the funds through his connections," said Mr Koh.
But the spirit of frugality that Dr Wee practised was abandoned, at least once a year, on the first day of Chinese New Year, in the years when he was with The Straits Times, journalists recalled.
"We would show up in droves for that wonderful get-together at his company-provided home in Pierce Road to enjoy the warm hospitality of the Wees — and the wonderful spread of peranakan food prepared by Mrs Wee," recalled one journalist.
That conviviality helped the Wees when Dr Wee was in the diplomatic service.
He knew the political leaders in the region long before he embarked on his diplomatic assignments, and could obtain access to them at the drop of a hat, said President Nathan.
"They spoke to him freely and gave him all the time he wanted. Above all, he knew how to listen and make others listen to him — to his interesting and often humourous anecdotes," he said.
That deftness in engaging people helped him land a major coup when as a newsman, Dr Wee wrote a "world exclusive" in 1966 following an interview with then-Indonesian army chief General Suharto that Indonesia wanted an end to confrontation with Singapore and Malaysia.
Peace followed soon after.
Former group editor of The Straits Times, Mr Peter Lim, said Dr Wee would contact him on the telephone, in person or by email, even though was very sick in the last few months. His concerns were the state of Singapore politics, the quality of Singapore journalism and the integrity of the younger Singaporean journalist.
Dr Wee worked with frenzy on his memoirs, telling Today reporter Ng Shing Yi then: "Why am I in a hurry? I'm in the winter zone of my life. I am here talking to you, but I might drop dead tomorrow."
Still, he loved telling the story of how, when he was warded at the Singapore General Hospital for cancer treatment in 1989, former Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee, who had a room three doors away, would amble round to his room and drawl: "Mr President, another bonus day!"
That was 15 years ago.
Singaporeans, such as his personal assistant Edith Tay, who said he urged her not to forget to eat when she worked long hours, would have wished Dr Wee even more bonus days.