An Inspiring Woman

Last Saturday, at 5:40 in the evening, a soul slipped quietly into that good night. Her name was Kwa Geok Choo, but she was better known as the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.

She was a woman both inspiring and inspired, the perfect complement to what many would agree has been Singapore’s greatest visionary.

To say that Madam Kwa had lived a remarkable life would be to issue an understatement, because her life was remarkable, but it was also so much more.

Born in 1920, she grew up at a time when many Asian women were uneducated, and had few goals in life. Many looked no further than the prospect of a good marriage.

Madam Kwa was different. She received a prestigious scholarship and the opportunity to study at Cambridge. Even in today's world, the honour is tremendous.

As a founding partner in Lee & Lee, she was a career giant, yet never neglected her home duties; the work shirts worn by MM Lee were bespoke tailored, and she personally visited the family tailor to place new orders for her husband’s clothing.

As a grandmother, she taught her grandchildren to be kind to animals and love nature. She also inculcated a lifelong love of reading in them.

In his final eulogy, MM Lee shared how Madam Kwa was considerate of the nurses who attended to her, taking great care to cough into a handkerchief when they were present, and how her last wish was only to have her ashes placed beside her husband’s, so that she would always be with him, even as she was for over three-quarters of his life. When he travelled frequently for diplomatic trips, she was by his side, a quiet but constant pillar of support.

She was a lady in every sense of the word.

The question that begs to be asked really is this: would you want your daughter to grow up to be like Kwa Geok Choo?

Of course you would. Who wouldn’t? But instilling desirable values so that your child grows up to become a poised, awe-inspiring woman is not something that happens overnight. It starts as a seed from within. With the right amount of sunshine, water, and air to nurture the seed, it will grow surely and steadily into a strong, strapping tree. Likewise, as parents, we nurture our young charges, so that their intrinsic qualities are fully encouraged and developed so that they fulfill their destinies as bright, successful people.

Madam Kwa stepped forward boldly in life, and everywhere she went, she left an indelible footprint. This footprint, surely, is the deepest mark etched on the heart of her husband and loved ones.

By planting the correct seeds and teaching our daughters that they are talented and capable of doing anything, deeply loved and more than worthy of the respect and admiration of both the men and women around them, we can continue to raise up a generation of young women who will be strong, beautiful, secure, well-adjusted visionaries.

By first ensuring that our girls are assured of their pivotal role in our lives and society, our daughters will be the ones who continue to lead Singapore forward. By loving them whole-heartedly and encouraging them to dream big dreams, they will be fully prepared to carry on the legacy that Kwa Geok Choo and other women like her have begun.

What is this legacy? It’s one of empowerment. It’s one that involves the graceful combination of recognizing, acknowledging, and bolstering our rich tradition of Asian values, while keeping abreast with the fast-moving pace of the modern world and all of its trappings. It’s one of knowing that every woman’s potential is limitless, and that it can be fulfilled, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the times. And by raising our girls to know and act on this, they can truly fulfill their greatest aspirations.