Singapore

Former minister and PAP Old Guard leader Jek Yeun Thong dies at 87

When Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke in Mandarin for the first time at a political rally in 1955, it was Mr Jek Yeun Thong who wrote the one-page speech.

Mr Jek, then the chief reporter at Chinese broadsheet Sin Pao, had also spent time going through the speech with Mr Lee, coaching him on pronunciation of the words.

He would go on to play an important role in helping the People's Action Party (PAP) mobilise the Chinese-speaking ground to support the party's vision of a non-communist, multi-racial Singapore.

On Sunday, the former minister, one of the PAP Old Guard leaders, died in his Bukit Timah home. He was 87.

Mr Jek is survived by his wife, Madam Huang Kek Chee, 84, two sons Kian Jin, 59, and Kian Yee, 55, and five grandchildren.

Son Kian Yee said his father had been quite frail since his last public event at Singapore's SG50 National Day Parade celebration in 2015.

"Old age was catching up with him and (he had) various illnesses. He passed away peacefully in his sleep and the family was with him till the end," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

He added the family, heeding Mr Jek's wishes, held a private wake, and the funeral was on Tuesday.

In a condolence letter to Mrs Jek, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted his contributions and said his death was a "deep loss to the nation".

From his teenage years, Mr Jek had been politically aware.

He was a student union leader and editor of a wall newspaper, which is put up on walls, when studying at The Chinese High School. He joined the PAP in 1954.

Recounting his first-ever Mandarin rally speech in Bandar Street Square, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew credited Mr Jek with playing a crucial role: "A friendly Sin Pao reporter called Jek Yeun Thong drafted two paragraphs for me, and then spent several hours coaching me to read a speech that took only three minutes to deliver. But the crowd was with me, and they cheered me for the effort."

In 1959, after the PAP came into power, Mr Jek became Mr Lee Kuan Yew's political secretary.

Mr Jek was Culture Minister from 1968 to 1978, Labour Minister from 1963 to 1968, and Minister for Science and Technology from 1976 to 1980. Eight years later, he retired from politics.

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Singapore Politics