Mdm Kwa Geok Choo: A Silent Pillar of Strength For Our Nation
Today (2 Oct) marks the 8th anniversary of the passing of Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, wife to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
As we look back at her loving relationship with her husband, we break down 5 facts that made her a stellar force behind the success of a respected national leader.
1. Her intelligence was phenomenal
At 16 years old, Mdm Kwa topped the whole of Malaya in the 1936 Senior Cambridge examination.
Mdm Kwa then became the only girl to enrol in Raffles Institution.
She joined Raffles College (now NUS) in 1940 where she would later meet Mr Lee, but not without beating him in the Economics and English exams first.
Mdm Kwa returned to Raffles College in 1946 after the war and graduated in 1947 with a First Class Diploma in Arts.
She won the prestigious Queen’s Scholarship which took her to Cambridge to join Mr Lee in reading law.
They both graduated with First Class Honours degrees in 1949.
Mdm Kwa – the first woman in Malaya to achieve this feat – completed it in 2 years while Mr Lee finished his course in 3.
2. She made groundbreaking achievements beyond her studies
Mdm Kwa was one out of only three women called to bar in London in 1950, along with five other Malayan law students which included her husband.
Later that year, she became the only woman lawyer in Singapore, having been the first local girl to return from England as a lawyer.
Mdm Kwa joined local law firm Laycock & Ong with Mr Lee, practising conveyancing and craftsmanship.
Mr Lee often mentioned that his wife’s ability to be the family’s main breadwinner was the main reason why he was able to pursue his political career.
3. She supported Mr Lee as a loving wife and a wise advisor
Even before Mr Lee founded the People’s Action Party (PAP), Mdm Kwa was already assisting him with his work.
In 1952, while on maternity leave after the birth of their first son, she edited Mr Lee’s draft statements for a case involving the postmen’s union
Mdm Kwa also drafted the PAP constitution, which laid the groundwork for the party.
Upon the separation of Malaysia and Singapore in 1965, Mdm Kwa drafted crucial provisions which guaranteed the observance of Singapore and Malaysia’s water agreements.
She basically ensured Singapore’s continued water supply after the separation.
4. She had great foresight
The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew spoke of Mdm Kwa’s foresight in his touching eulogy to her,
She had an uncanny ability to read the character of a person. She would sometimes warn me to be careful of certain persons; often, she turned out to be right.
Most notably, Mdm Kwa predicted the failure of the merger between Malaysia and Singapore due to irreconcilable differences.
Mr Lee quipped in retrospect,
She was right. We were asked to leave Malaysia before two years.
5. She was a model mother
Even as a busy lawyer and wife, Mdm Kwa made it a point to come home for lunch with her children in their school years.
Like any proud mother, she kept neat files of photos and news reports of them as they grew up.
Having seen the price her husband paid for not mastering Mandarin, she sent their children to Chinese schools but ensured that they learnt English and Malay at home.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew shared in his eulogy,
She brought them up to be well-behaved, polite, considerate and never to throw their weight as the prime minister’s children.
A remarkable woman
As much as the nation lauds Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his contributions, the woman behind his success should not be forgotten.
The late Mdm Kwa Geok Choo may have been the minister’s supportive wife in the public eye, but she was also responsible for the development of Singapore and its leaders.
It’s important that we remember her for her incredible achievements which have made her a prime example for all women to follow.
Featured image from Pinterest.