Final farewell to a founding father
PM Lee and members of the Cabinet, along with friends and the public, pay respects to Mr Othman Wok
Mr Muhammad Haziq was born more than 10 years after Mr Othman Wok stepped down from political office, and he had never met the late pioneer minister.
But the 20-year-old, who is waiting to enlist for national service, braved the rain yesterday to get a glimpse of Mr Othman's cortege as it travelled along River Valley Road.
"I felt a personal and moral duty to pay my respects to someone who had done so much for me," said Mr Haziq, a history buff who read about Mr Othman from newspaper clippings.
He stood on an overhead bridge in River Valley Road that was part of the funeral procession route from Sultan Mosque to the Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery.
As Mr Haziq waited for the cortege, people at the cemetery were making sure Mr Othman's final send-off would go as smoothly as possible.
Under a makeshift white tent that shielded the burial plot from the rain, several workers used masking tape to remove dirt and debris from a black platform.
Former senior parliamentary secretary Yatiman Yusof was among those who had gathered at the cemetery and Sultan Mosque to bid a final farewell to Mr Othman, who died on Monday at the age of 92.
Prayers were first recited at the mosque just after 1pm yesterday for Mr Othman, who was Minister for Social Affairs in independent Singapore's first Cabinet and a champion of multi-racialism.
Pallbearers later placed his coffin on a ceremonial gun carriage and it was taken to the cemetery.
After the cortege arrived, eight pallbearers from the army, navy, air force and police moved the coffin on a platform.
The state flag was removed from the coffin and handed to his daughters Lily and Diana, together with the Order of Nila Utama (2nd Class), an award Mr Othman received in 1990.
Past and present Malay-Muslim leaders - including Mr Yatiman, former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim and Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman - helped members of Mr Othman's family as they transferred the body from the coffin into the grave.
After the grave was covered, Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram read the talqin, or last prayers, for Mr Othman.
Some of the political leaders that bade Mr Othman a final farewell yesterday included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and members of the Cabinet.
Some members of the public who paid their last respects to Mr Othman remembered him for being a strong leader of the Malay community - one who was open and friendly, and with a sense of humour.
Retiree Said Mohamed, 54, travelled for more than an hour from Woodlands to Sultan Mosque to pay his last respects to a man he said was "a significant leader" for the Malay community.
Housewife Aini Osman, 58, a long-time friend of Mr Othman's widow Lina Abdullah, said he was a leader who made significant contributions to Singapore and her community.
Others spoke of his lighter side.
One of his former golfing buddies, Mr Billy Lee, 69, said Mr Othman was jovial and humorous. He recounted a golfing trip in Indonesia in the 1990s, when their group of about 20 were in a cramped minivan travelling from Jakarta to Bandung.
Said Mr Lee: "He kept cracking jokes and made the three-hour journey so much more enjoyable."
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ABIGAIL NG
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Mr Othman Wok a key figure in separation agreement
When separation from Malaysia became imminent in August 1965, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew pulled Mr Othman Wok aside to speak to him privately about it.
Leaving Malaysia meant the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore would go from being part of a majority to a minority, and Mr Lee was worried that Mr Othman, the only Malay-Muslim member of the Cabinet, would oppose the separation.
But Mr Othman, who was Minister for Social Affairs, readily agreed to put his signature to the separation agreement, demonstrating his steadfast support for a multiracial Singapore. This sent a strong signal to other Malay-Muslim members of the People's Action Party, and none of them defected to other political parties over the separation issue.
The late Mr Lee, recounting the event at his 75th birthday dinner in 1998, said of Mr Othman: "Because of the courage and leadership you showed, not a single PAP leader wavered. That made a difference to Singapore."
Mr Othman, who died on Monday, aged 92, was one of 10 representatives from Singapore who signed the Independence of Singapore Agreement when Singapore left Malaysia in 1965.
The other signatories were Mr Lee and eight other ministers: Dr Toh Chin Chye (Deputy Prime Minister), Dr Goh Keng Swee (Finance), Mr E. W. Barker (Law), Mr S. Rajaratnam (Culture), Mr Ong Pang Boon (Education), Mr Yong Nyuk Lin (Health), Mr Lim Kim San (National Development) and Mr Jek Yuen Thong (Labour).
With Mr Othman's death, only two members of this group of Old Guard leaders remain - Mr Ong, 88, and Mr Jek, 86.
Mr Ong was a member of self-governing Singapore's first Cabinet, formed after the PAP won the Legislative Assembly General Election in 1959.
He was appointed minister for home affairs that year, and spearheaded the "anti-yellow culture" campaign to stamp out pornography, gambling dens, prostitution and secret societies. He went on to hold other portfolios, including education, labour, environment and communications, until 1984.
He then remained a backbencher until he stepped down from politics in 1988.
Mr Jek was elected a member of the legislature in 1963.
He was appointed labour minister that year and tasked with reforming the trade unions that had been taken over by communists. He subsequently also held ministerial positions for culture, as well science and technology, until his retirement from politics in 1988.
Mr Othman Wok's memorial service will be held at the Victoria Concert Hall this evening, and out of respect, theatre company Wild Rice announced yesterday that it has cancelled its performance, La Cage Aux Folles, scheduled for 8pm at the venue tonight.
Patrons affected by the cancellation should retain their tickets and contact Sistic at 6348-5555 to make alternative arrangements.