Singapore

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

FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES TODAY

Musical cancelled

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.

Lee Hsien LoongRiver ValleyCABINET (SINGAPORE)