Tributes pour in for Dr Toh Chin Chye

Deborah Choo

(UPDATED 4 Feb at 1:15pm, adding statement from Chiam See Tong below)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet have conveyed their condolences to the family of Dr Toh Chin Chye, whom passed away peacefully at 9:30am on Friday.

Dr Toh, a founding member of the ruling party People’s Action Party (PAP) and former deputy Prime Minister, was 90.

PM Lee paid tribute to Dr Toh by remembering the late DPM's contributions to Singapore and describing Dr Toh as "a tenacious fighter and a man of principle".

Commenting on Dr Toh's legacy in Singapore, PM Lee said: "Singaporeans will long remember and honour Dr Toh for his many contributions to our nation. He helped to shape the course of our nation's history at a critical time, and to lay the foundations for Singapore's success."

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong also sent a condolence letter to Dr Toh's family.

He wrote, "I respected Dr Toh Chin Chye as a key member of a small group of founding members of independent Singapore. We refer to this group as the Old Guard. His historical contribution as the PAP's founder Chairman and his leadership of the Party for 27 years, during a trying period when the party had to battle enemies within and outside its ranks, is well-acknowledged."

ESM Goh added that one of Dr Toh's lasting legacies is the Singapore flag, which was designed by a committee that he chaired and he hopes that "Singaporeans will remember [Dr Toh's] role in Singapore's history when they look at our national flag."

Meanwhile, former PM Lee Kuan Yew, as quoted in Channel NewsAsia (CNA), honoured Dr Toh by saying that "Singapore has a lost a historic figure in the country's fight for justice and independence."

Lee said that Dr Toh was "tenacious in his beliefs" and a man of strong character who fought valiantly for people's rights, regardless of race, language or religion, according to CNA.

Former Foreign Minister George Yeo also remembered Dr Toh as a man with a great "repository of knowledge", reported CNA.

In his condolence message, Yeo, as quoted in CNA, said, "[Dr Toh] left an imprint on [him], a kindly gentleman, clear in his views."

Veteran opposition leader Chiam See Tong said on Saturday morning that he was saddened to learn of Dr Toh's passing, and that he admired Dr Toh's efforts in fighting for Singapore's independence, helping the nation move forward after its separation from Malaysia.

"He was the epitome of dedication to and sacrifice for public service, and will be remembered as one of Singapore's key founding fathers," said the Singapore People's Party secretary-general in a statement sent to the media.

Chiam said he sat beside Dr Toh when he first entered Parliament in 1985, and said he remembers Dr Toh as a "quiet, humble and reserved gentleman".

Other Ministers and MPs also paid tribute to the former DPM.

MP for Tampines GRC, Baey Yam Keng honoured Dr Toh, saying, "Dr Toh gave Singapore our national flag, national anthem and a lot more. Without him and other pioneer leaders of Singapore, we will not be what we are, or enjoy what we have today. With the passing of another old guard, I am reminded of how far we have come. All the more we must do our part for the future of Singapore."

Acting Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Chan Chun Sing also paid tribute to Dr Toh for his many years of service. “Deepest condolences to Dr Toh's family. You have done much for Singapore and Singaporeans all these years. I will always remember you and your service to our nation. Your commitment and dedication will always be an inspiration for us to follow. Thank you Sir.”

Bukit Panjang MP Dr Teo Ho Pin added, “I am saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Toh Chin Chye. My condolences go to his family members.”

Dr Toh served as Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister from 1965 to 1968. After which, he took on the role of Minister for Science and Technology for the next seven years. During this period, he also served as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore. He continued his service to Singapore from 1975 till 1981.

Concurrently, Dr Toh was the Chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP) from 1954 to 1981. When he left the Cabinet in 1981, he continued to serve as a Member of Parliament (MP) until he officially retired from politics in 1988.

Dr Toh is widely known to be one of the Cabinet’s most tenacious fighter in his time. Dr Tan Cheng Bok, Dr Toh’s former physiology student in medical school described his ex-lecturer as a “tough negotiator with very strong views, stubborn and straight talks”.

He added, “Many young Singaporeans may not have known or even heard about him. That is because he kept a low profile after he left parliament in 1984. He does however join our lunch groups together with former MPs like Ong Pang Boon, Tang See Chim, Tan Soo Koon, the late Ho See Beng and others. We tried to take care of him but over the years after the death of his only daughter, we noticed his health failing and his memory was fading.”

“Those of us who knew him have very high regards for a man who believe in service before self. Thank you, Dr Toh for your sacrifice and immense contribution to building Singapore.”

Dr Toh had left instructions for a private funeral. The funeral will be held at Mandai Crematorium on Tuesday, 7 February 2012.

Dr Toh will be awarded the honour of being borne on the ceremonial gun carriage for his final journey to Mandai Crematorium. The state flag on all government buildings will also be flown at half-mast on the day of the funeral.

Additional reporting by Faris Mokhtar