Son of S'pore first President: Yes, I taught PM Lee to ride a bike
At his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, PM Lee Hsien Loong reminisced about how the son of Singapore's first President, Mr Yusof Ishak, taught him how to ride a bike. Dr Imran Yusof Ishak speaks to The New Paper about those days at the Istana and of his late father
And I will never forget the great sacrifices my father made as Singapore's first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (President).
That is what Dr Imran Yusof Ishak said in a recent telephone interview with The New Paper.
We began the interview by asking about his days at the Istana, which the family stayed in when his dad became president of self-governing Singapore in 1959.
Dr Imran - who has been living in Brunei for the last 13 years - recounted his childhood days with great relish.
Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Yusof Ishak were friends, he said. Mr Lee used to bring his family to the Istana for visits on occasion.
In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, PM Lee said he used to play with Dr Imran during those visits.
"PM Lee is a year younger than me, and we were friends. I don't remember much about those days but we used to fly kites and I also taught him how to ride a bicycle back then," said the 63-year-old. He is now a consultant at the Accident and Emergency Department at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital, in Bandar Seri Begawan.
During the hour-long interview, Dr Imran spoke fondly of the 11 years he spent living at the Istana with his parents and two siblings.
He said: "We used to live in Sri Melati, in a bungalow near the main Istana building. The Istana grounds as I remember was very large and very quiet but we had a lot of fun there."
But he declined to speak about his days at the Istana at length because "I don't want to talk about the past, even if I have nothing but fond memories of my days there".
He did, however, talk about the sacrifices his father made for the country.
"My father never took care of his health because he was always working long hours," said Dr Imran.
"When I was growing up we didn't see much of him. He was always busy with meetings and always had things to do and kept on working no matter how tired he was."
For example, Mr Yusof used to tirelessly visit constituencies around the island to meet citizens.
"My father used to tell us that we should always be the best at what we did. Which is not surprising, considering he had a competitive streak and was a keen sportsman who excelled in everything, including golf, in his later years," said Dr Imran.
In his youth, Mr Yusof was also a good athlete, representing his school, Raffles Institution, in many sports including hockey, cricket, swimming and water polo.
As a boxer, he won the Aw Boon Par Cup in 1932. In weightlifting, he became the national lightweight champion in 1933.
When it came to his father's job, Dr Imran said: "Our family understood his devotion to his job because we know Singapore was a new nation then and my father had to work hard to make things work."
But while his work scheduling was punishing, Dr Imran said his father never neglected his family.
For example, Mr Yusof made it a point to take his family to Malaysia each year to visit their relatives, along the way imparting lessons Dr Imran still holds dear.
VALUE OF HARD WORK
He added: "My father was a broad-minded individual who taught us the value and honesty of hard work.
"The indelible mark he left on us is that we are not better than anyone else, we must always lead by example and that there are no such thing as short cuts in life."
But since Mr Yusof was also a "workaholic" with an extremely packed schedule, this eventually "took a toll on his health".
"He didn't pay attention to his health because he was always working. Furthermore, an illness he contracted during World War II left him with lung problems for the rest of his life.
"But he always pushed himself because his aim in life was to help people whatever way he could," Dr Imran added.
Mr Yusof died in office in 1970 at age 60.
Dr Imran said in a small voice: "I was 20 and studying at the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore) when he passed away of heart failure. I remember it was quite hard for our family to deal with."
Still, he is glad to learn that his father's contributions to Singapore have not been forgotten.
"My father died 44 years ago so it's nice to know that he is still being remembered," he said.
"But I feel my father didn't do it all alone. He also had a good team behind him and without them, Singapore would have not worked."
The indelible mark he left on us is that we are not better than anyone else, we must always lead by example and that there are no such thing as short cuts in life.
- Dr Imran Yusof Ishak, on his father
'A president for all Singaporeans'
In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the country will honour Singapore's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, by naming a new mosque, a leading think-tank and a professorship after him.
A new mosque in Woodlands, which is now being built, will be named Masjid Yusof Ishak and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will now be known as Iseas-The Yusof Ishak Institute.
A Yusof Ishak professorship in social sciences will also be started at NUS to enhance research in multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, said PM Lee.
"He was a president for all Singaporeans," said PM Lee at the rally. "Encik Yusof showed that in Singapore, you can rise to the top if you work hard. He stood for enduring values that underpinned Singapore's success: meritocracy, multiracialism, modernisation."
Born in Perak in 1910, Mr Yusof was the oldest of nine children of a civil servant.
When his father was posted to Singapore in 1923, Mr Yusof accompanied his parents and studied at Victoria Bridge School before entering Raffles Institution.
He started Utusan Melayu, a newspaper dedicated to Malay issues, at age 29.
During his years as head of state, Mr Yusof stressed the need for racial harmony and multiculturalism for Singapore to succeed.
Said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim eariler this month: "It was his firm belief in respect and multiracialism that held the nation together in our early years, and it was his drive in championing a progressive Malay/Muslim community that rallied our people together."
Mr Yusof said in his 1968 New Year message: "No man need feel that to belong to a particular religion puts him at a disadvantage or gives him an advantage... This is how things are in Singapore and this is how things must always be in our country.
"Only in this way can a multiracial society like Singapore live in peace and prosperity."
Mr Yusof died from heart failure while still serving in office on Nov 23, 1970.
He is survived by his wife Puan Noor Aishah, now 81, and his children: Dr Imran and his sisters, Ms Orkid Kamariah, 65, and Madam Zuriana, 61, who now live in Malaysia and Brunei respectively.