Lee Kuan Yew & Kwa Geok Choo’s Love Story Echoes In The Realms Of The Internet Again
Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a complex man many Singaporeans have only glimpsed facets of in their lifetimes.
Our pioneer generation, remembers him as a fiery orator who rallied a nation together to navigate turbulent waters, paving the way forward for Singapore.
To his political opponents, he was a heavy-handed, iron-willed statesman who showed no mercy to those who crossed him.
As for millennials, we remember him as the elderly man with cropped white hair whom the crowd would cheer on at National Day parades, year after year, until he finally passed in 2015.
But none of us ever saw a glimpse of who he was as a husband, or a lover, except his wife Ms Kwa Geok Choo.
A netizen named Levan Wee decided to immortalise their love story in a Facebook post on Wednesday (13 Nov), including how Mr Lee struggled to cope with Ms Kwa’s death in 2010.
The post – which you can view in full here – quickly went viral, with locals tagging their significant others for ‘couple goals’.
An inspiring love story regardless of political affiliations
Mr Wee begins his post by saying that we can all appreciate Mr Lee & Ms Kwa’s love story, regardless of our political affiliations.
He described their romance as,
The life-long kind of love that’s so rare these days.
The netizen then shared snippets of Mr Lee’s eulogy for his wife, and parts of an article that depicted how he coped with her death.
His in-laws didn’t like him at first
Mr Lee was surprisingly not a “desirable son-in-law” candidate, as he didn’t hold a steady job, and had an “interrupted education”.
That didn’t stop Ms Kwa from believing in his potential.
The pair knew that if they believed they’d remain “starry-eyed lovers” all their lives, the union would not last.
A life-long partnership of equals
They worked to influence and accommodate each other, mutually adjusting to their habits & seek a middle ground.
As a result, Mr Lee shares that Ms Kwa and him rarely fought.
We never argued over the upbringing of our children, nor over financial matters. Our earnings and assets were jointly held. We were each other’s confidant.
As a husband, he would also turn to her for advice, famously saying that Ms Kwa had an “uncanny ability” to “read the character of a person”. In most cases, she was usually right.
For the merger with Malaysia, Ms Kwa had called the union a precarious one right off the bat. Mr Lee found Ms Kwa’s prescience impressive, as Singapore parted ways with Malaysia within 2 years.
Humble hobbies brought them closer
Spending time as a couple was an important aspect in nurturing their relationship.
Ever the busy statesman, Mr Lee still set aside time to walk around the Istana gardens, arm in arm with his wife in the evenings.
They’d also take their grandchildren out to feed fish and swans lounging about in the Istana ponds. The elderly couple would also swim, to pass the time.
Tragedy soon struck in 2003, however, as Ms Kwa’s health took a turn for the worse.
Ms Kwa kept herself busy, despite losing her field of vision
Ms Kwa lost her “left field of vision” shortly after her first stroke.
Despite her condition, Mr Lee shares that Ms Kwa continued keeping up with his busy schedule — swimming every evening and travelling with the statesman.
Music was also a source of solace for Ms Kwa. She would listen to CDs of classical music and oldies, dividing her life into “before stroke” and “after stroke”.
Sadly, come May 2008, she was admitted to hospital for a stroke that eventually made her bedridden.
Tenderly cared for Ms Kwa after her stroke
Even hospital staff who cared for her, fell for Ms Kwa’s warm and caring nature.
She would reportedly take a pillow to cover her mouth when she coughed, as she didn’t want to affect them. She also told Mr Lee not to come too close when he kissed her on the cheek, in case he caught her pneumonia.
In his words,
When given some peaches in hospital, she asked the maid to take one home for my lunch. I was at the centre of her life.
As her condition worsened, Mr Lee brought her home to receive palliative care. Doctors believed Ms Kwa would only live for a few weeks in July 2008.
Ms Kwa went on to live for another 2 years and 3 months, until 2 Oct 2010.
Reading her poems as she fell asleep
Although the deterioration to Ms Kwa’s body proceeded at a rapid pace, she remained lucid although she could not speak.
Mr Lee would talk to her every evening, sharing the highlights of his day and reading her favourite poems as she fell asleep.
This continued until the day she slipped away.
Childhood sweethearts for 68 years
As many of us recall, Mr Lee was visibly distraught at his wife’s funeral, sending her off with an emotional kiss on the forehead as his final goodbye.
He also wrote a eulogy, that was delivered in celebration of her life. Mr Lee famously said about her passing, that his grief “cannot be expressed in words”, at the moment of their final parting.
Ms Kwa’s dying wish was to place her ashes together with his, entwined as they were in life, as in death.
Never the same after she passed away
After Ms Kwa passed away, Mr Lee was never the same.
To cope with his grief, he “fussed over her photographs” on their living room wall in the house at Oxley Road, just a week after her passing.
Finally, he moved his dining table chair – a grey plastic chair – so he could view her pictures on the wall as he ate dinner.
The article continues,
He slept erratically. A memory would bring tears to his eyes. When her ashes arrived at Oxley Road in a grey marble urn three days after the funeral, he wept.
After 3 months of silently mourning his wife’s death, his routines began approaching normalcy again.
However, it took his body and health, 9 more months to catch up.
“They felt very much still in love.”
An often quoted anecdote that unfolded at a museum summed up their relationship best. A museum guest had spotted the elderly couple there, observing them in silence.
Mr Lee requested to push his wife in her wheelchair personally. Even though he struggled with the physical effort to do so, they stopped at almost every painting.
In the words of the guest,
At every painting, he would bend down, asking her gently for her thoughts. They’d share a quiet moment of discussion…It felt like no one else was around & they felt very much still in love.
Love changes you for the better
Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Ms Kwa Geok Choo’s story is a timeless tale of sacrifice and commitment.
We’ll close with a quote from Mr Lee himself about the love of his life — his only love besides Singapore really.
“I have precious memories of our 63 years together. Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children. She was always there when I needed her. She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning.
I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.”
Those of us who’ve already been blessed with our soulmates know that the greatest privilege is to have someone love you in return.
After Ms Kwa passed, Mr Lee was never the same. But because he knew her and loved her, he found the strength to become the man Singapore would rely on in the toughest of times.
And that’s what love is really about.