Final farewell to PAP founding chairman Toh Chin Chye
His death another sign the founding generation is fading away: PM
By Rachel Chang
For the fourth time in six years, the flags on government buildings flew at
half-mast in mourning on Tuesday.
For the third time in two years, a ceremonial gun carriage made its slow journey
to Mandai Crematorium.
The coffin it carried was that of Dr Toh Chin Chye, the founding chairman of the
People's Action Party and deputy prime minister in independent Singapore's first Cabinet.
He died last Friday at age 90.
At the sombre private funeral in the morning, he was remembered as a resolute
fighter and a meticulous policymaker, who almost devoted his life to God as a Jesuit priest, but gave it to his
young country instead.
'Dr Toh's passing is another sign that our founding generation, both leaders and
ordinary citizens, are gradually fading away,' Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his eulogy.
Since 2006, four founding fathers - Dr Toh, Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam and
Mr Lim Kim San - have died. In 2010, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew,
With Dr Toh's death, only five members of independent Singapore's first Cabinet
are still alive: Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Ong Pang Boon, Mr Jek Yuen Thong, Mr Othman Wok and Mr Yong Nyuk
Some, such as former education minister Ong and former labour minister Jek, are
rarely seen at public events, but on Tuesday, they were at the funeral.
Mrs Jek said, with tears in her eyes: 'It is terrible to lose such a hardworking
man.' Dr Toh was part of a monthly lunch group with Mr and Mrs Jek and several other PAP stalwarts.
Mr Lee, who had described Dr Toh as a 'redoubtable fighter for equality for all
people', did not attend the funeral.
The present generation, while benefiting from what the founding fathers achieved,
does not have the 'personal experience of how we got here', said PM Lee.
'The battles and the blows, the excitements and disappointments, the unforgettable
memories and indelible lessons that those critical years in our history impressed on the people fortunate enough to
live through them.'
It was Dr Toh who pushed the group of young men who met in Mr Lee's basement in
the 1950s to form a political party and enter the fray, PM Lee recalled.
But as Dr Toh fought for independence from the British, and later battled the
leftists for political power, his family back in Taiping, in the Malaysian state of Perak, was
kept in the dark of the risks he was taking, younger brother Toh Chin Kooi, 69, said in his eulogy.
Every month, recalled the younger Dr Toh, a money order for 400 Malayan dollars
would arrive - to the immense relief of their parents. It was their only sign that Dr Toh was safe and well across
Dr Toh's pugnacious public persona - first as the fearsome political negotiator,
then as the 'Iron Chancellor' of the University of Singapore - hid a devout and devoted family man.
Former PAP MP Loh Meng See, who took over the Rochor area from Dr Toh in 1988,
recalled receiving a cassette tape from Dr Toh of his favourite hymns.
'His top favourite was One Day At A Time,' said Mr Loh. 'As it turned out, his one
day at a time topped 90 years.'
While Dr Toh may have expressed his convictions strongly, his views stemmed only
from a selfless vision for Singapore, he added.
Final resting place next to wife and daughter
After five eulogies were delivered, eight pall-bearers lifted the Singapore flag
off Dr Toh's coffin, folded it and placed it in the arms of his son-in-law Johnny Ng.
It was a flag Dr Toh had brought into being. Having helped earn the fledgling
nation's independence, he was tasked with helming the committee to design its flag.
'This was not merely an issue of aesthetics,' said PM Lee. 'Our flag had to embody
the values, aspirations, spirit and pride of our nascent nation, and over time, win the affection and loyalty of
The red-and-white flag which finally emerged had a crescent and five stars
representing democracy, justice, peace, progress and equality - 'values Dr Toh himself embraced and fought for all
his life', said Mr Lee.
As the funeral came to a close, Dr Toh's family placed white roses in his
His ashes will be kept in Mandai Columbarium, next to those of his late wife and
daughter. Over the last eight years, their deaths had dealt him heavy blows.
In a brave and composed eulogy, 15-year-old Matthew, the eldest of his four
grandchildren, said that 'Kong Kong has gone to join Ah Ma and my mother'. Over the last week since his grandfather
died, he has learnt something of what Dr Toh had accomplished before he was born, Matthew added.
'I knew my grandfather made many contributions to Singapore. However, I did not
realise how many lives he touched until this week.'
Recalling the fateful decision Dr Toh made as a boy to take up a scholarship to
further his studies instead of becoming a Jesuit priest, Mr Loh said that Dr Toh had the 'brilliant mind and
unworldly heart' to be a good man of the cloth.
'But he is no less beloved for choosing to serve his country.'
PM: HE WAS ALWAYS GENEROUS AND KIND
'I first knew Dr Toh as a young boy. Dr Toh would visit Oxley Road, and my parents would also bring me and my
siblings along when they visited Dr Toh where he lived. His home was a flat at the university quarters at Nassim
Road. It is gone now. He was not yet married, and had no children of his own, but was always generous and kind to
Later, as a young officer in the Singapore Armed Forces, I had an opportunity to work with Dr Toh. My formation,
the Artillery, was organising a decentralised National Day Parade in Jalan Besar Stadium, where Dr Toh would be the
reviewing officer. I accompanied the Chief of Artillery to brief Dr Toh on the plan several times, at his office
which was then at King Edward Road. He was meticulous and insistent on doing things the way he wanted, down to the
last detail. Fortunately, the parade went off smoothly, and Dr Toh was satisfied.
After his retirement from politics in 1988, I would meet Dr Toh from time to time, often at gatherings of
retired MPs. He was the same old Dr Toh, but the years gradually took their toll on him. Dr Toh's passing is
another sign that our founding generation, both leaders and ordinary citizens, are gradually fading away. Singapore
is well into a post-independence phase.
The present generation has benefited tremendously from what the founding generation did, but without the
personal experience of how we got here - the battles and blows, the excitements and disappointments, the
unforgettable memories and indelible lessons that those critical years in our history impressed on those who lived
through them. Dr Toh's passing reminds us of how we got here, how much we owe to him and his generation, and how
heavy a responsibility we have to carry their vision forward and to take Singapore higher and further into a
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his memories of Dr Toh Chin Chye