In PM Lee’s ministerial statement, he acknowledged that it is the personal wish of his father to demolish the house. The official reason given by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) was that “It has no foundations and it is in poor condition. It is difficult to maintain when people start trampling through the house. Whenever there is piling at Kiliney Road, hairline cracks begin to appear in the walls. So keeping the house is too hazardous and costly.”
On top of this, LKY also officially stated, shortly after his late wife’s passing, that “38 Oxley Road should not be kept as a kind of relic for people to tramp through. Take photos of it or whatever else they want,” I also cross-referenced with the follow-up statement by the Lee siblings which stated that their “mother did not want strangers to invade their home.”
It may be presumptuous of me, but based on the facts presented above, this is my interpretation of the true nature of LKY’s decision to demolish the house:
LKY was an excellent statesman who selflessly gave his entire life in service of this country. He is also known as someone who consistently exercised collectivistic statesmanship, putting the interests of the country before individuals. These 2 facts of LKY contradict with his request to demolish the house to protect his and his family’s eternal privacy. I find the collectivistic reason he gave – that the house will be expensive to maintain – to be unconvincing. How could such an excellent, and not to mention collectivistic, former statesman conclude that this shabby reason could outweigh the cultural and historical contribution which the preservation of his house would provide to the national identity of Singaporeans?
I can only resolve this contradiction by speculating that LKY loved his wife very deeply. He loved her so much that, in order to honor her wishes upon her passing, he would sacrifice his collectivistic values held as a statesman. That is the most reasonable and respectful way I can reconcile his contradictory actions.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew is our founding father who we must undoubtedly be grateful to for making Singapore what it is today. He was a highly skilled statesman, respected even by the statesmen of superpower state that dwarfs Singapore’s size. He gave almost his entire life in the service of this country. “Behind the no-nonsense demeanour”, as written in Straits Time, wasn’t just “a heart that beat for Singapore” It was also a heart that beat for his wife, Kwa Geok Choo. He had hidden this very human and sentimental side of him from the public for almost his entire life but how can anyone hide his feelings forever? His sentimentality isn’t a trait that’s as well celebrated as his competency and patriotism, but it tells us a story – A story that Mr Lee wasn’t just a cold, rational and Machiavellian statesman. He was also just like every other human being who is capable of deep love. It is, indeed, a common ability possessed by everyone, but it is the one of the few ordinariness that we ought to celebrate. Mr Lee was one of us, and yet he was extraordinary. This reinterpretation of our founding father’s personality will undoubtedly serve to inspire many who come across his story.