Madam Tham Lai Kuan, PBM CCC Member
We Are Family
“I am the secondoldest in a family of nine children. One of my brothers, now 58, was born spastic and he resides at the Orange Valley Nursing Home. We (his siblings) visit him regularly. Both my parents have passed on, in 1980 and 2005 respectively. We are a close-knit family.
“I studied at St Nicholas Girls' School between 1963 and1974. I'm married and have three sons. I have been a member of the grassroots committee at Tanjong Pagar Community Centresince December 1980, and I have not stopped my grassroots work since, not even when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
Tanjong Pagar estate was home for us until 1969, when our family moved to Outram Park. I have fond memories of the very first National Day celebration in 1965, when Singapore became independent. My father brought me to cheer at the parade, and to listen to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s speech.To the former, Mr. Lee was a hero.”
Leader with a Heart
“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had the reputation of being stern, so before I met him for the first time at one of TPCC’s events, I was understandably nervous.But then I also had the honour of sitting at the same table as him, and tense as I was, I could hardly eat. When he noticed my nerves, he said softly, ‘Please eat. I’m not hungry, so please enjoy my share as well’.
“It’s true Mr. Lee appears stern, but his facial expressions belie a soft-spoken and caring nature, who is interested in the daily lives of the residents. He instilled in grassroots leaders the servant leadership he practised himself, emphasising to leaders the need to devote effort and time in seeing to the wellbeing of the community, to understand their challenges and hear them out.
“An example of his extraordinary brand of empathy was when Outram Park went en-bloc and its residents were resettledat CantomentClose, at the time a new enclave of four- and five-room apartments.Mr. Lee understood that most of there-settled Outram Park residents could not afford the bigger Cantonment Close apartments, so he passed on the directive for more affordable three-room apartments to be built as well.
“In 2000, when Cantonment Close was declared open, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was invited as the Guest of Honour. As the Chairman of the Residents’ Committee, I was appointed to escort him and once again I was a bundle of nerves. My hands were as cold as ice when I shook his,but Mr. Lee was his usual calm, reassuring self. He simply gave me a comforting smile. It was all the steadying I needed to carry out the rest of the day’s proceedings without a hitch.
“When it stormed and we were drenched during one election, Mr. Lee insisted we change out of our wet clothes so we wouldn’t fall sick. His concern and care touched us.
“For all his brilliance in nation-building, Mr. Lee was also a devoted husband. I was deeply moved by the eulogy he gave at Mrs. Lee’s funeral. He was not afraid to be vulnerable and sobbed uncontrollably as he spoke about her and about their life together. There was not a dry eye in the house. Even the men among us teared up.
“I remember my chats with Mrs. Lee at major TPCC events, whenever I was assigned to chaperone her. She told me that Mr. Lee was a caring person.”
A Singapore Special
“I have Mr. Lee to thank for the exemplary housing we enjoy today and the fact that most of us own our homes and live harmoniously among different races. His firm foresight also ensured the eradication of rampant secret societies along the Craig Road area. No longer do we need to put up with the flooded living rooms of yore whenever it rained. All these are lasting legacies of Mr. Lee’s profound vision.
“Like he did, so must I look into constantly improving the welfare of the residents, especially those from low income groups, and the elderly. This is my responsibility.
“I am especially proud of the fact that in 1996, Mr. Lee won Architect of the New Century. As a commemorative gift, TPCC recorded a CD for him and I was one of the residents nominated to put in a congratulatory message for him. The CD was of course recorded in four languages, and in various dialects too.”