10 Quotes We Love From Mr Lee Kuan Yew

We remember our founding father’s rich legacy through some of his best quotes


Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew passed away, aged 91, on 23 March at Singapore General Hospital. The former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor of Singapore was suffering from severe pneumonia and had been hospitalised since 5 February. Here are some of the best (and sometimes, funny) quotes from the man who transformed Singapore from a Third World to First World country.

1. Opinions of you will keep changing

“It’s irrelevant to me what young Singaporeans think of me. What they think of me after I’m dead and gone in one generation will be determined by researchers who do PhDs on me, right? So there will be a lot of revisionism. As people revised Stalin, Brezhnev and one day now Yeltsin, and later on Putin. I’ve lived long enough to know that you may be idealised in life and reviled after you’re dead.” — 2011, excerpt from Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going.

2. You can’t please everyone

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” — 1999, excerpt from From Third World to First: The Singapore Story.

3. Don’t blame your circumstances

“If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.” — 2000, interview with BBC reporter, Peter Day, on Singapore’s chewing gum ban

4. You will always have your critics

“I have never been over-concerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind... you will go where the wind is blowing. And that’s not what I am in this for.” — 1999, excerpt from The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

5. Work hard and work smart

“Rest on laurels? I wish I could do that. No, you rest when you’re dead.” — 1978, excerpt fromThe Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew.

6. Nothing is impossible

“This country belongs to all of us. We made this country from nothing, from mud-flats... Over 100 years ago, this was a mud-flat, swamp. Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear!” — 1965, Sembawang Grassroots Event

7. Be determined in spite of setbacks

“I’m very determined. If I decide that something is worth doing, then I’ll put my heart and soul to it. The whole ground can be against me, but if I know it is right, I’ll do it.” — 1998, excerpt from Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas.

8. Say What You Need to Say

“I have been accused of many things in my life, but not even my worst enemy has ever accused me of being afraid to speak my mind.” — 1955, excerpt from The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew

9. The suit does not make the man or woman

“I’m not interested in changing either my suit or my car or whatever with every change in fashion. That’s irrelevant. I don’t judge myself or my friends by their fashions…I’m not impressed by a $5,000 or $10,000 Armani suit.” — 1995, excerpt from The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew

10. Behind every great man is a strong woman

“At the end of the day, what I cherish most are the human relationships. With the unfailing support of my wife and partner, I have lived life to the fullest.” — 2003, at Mr Lee’s 80th birthday celebrations.

Photo: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook page

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