“One golden thread that ran through Othman Wok’s long life was his commitment to the ideal of a multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore while paying tribute to independent Singapore’s first Social Affairs Minister Othman Wok during a memorial service organised at Victoria Concert Hall.
He added, “If not for Othman Wok’s conviction in multiracial ideals, there might never have been an independent Singapore, much less one where citizens pledge themselves as a united people regardless of race, language and religion.”
Othman Wok was one of the founding members of Singapore who died on April 17, 2017 at the age of 92 after a long battle with cancer.
While referring to the tough days of Singapore, Lee said, “During an era when the People’s Action Party (PAP) was battling to stand up to Malay supremacists, it was not only Chinese Singaporeans who could not be cowed by threats of riots and mayhem.”
“Malay Singaporeans too could not be easily seduced by appeals to race and religion. Singaporeans were an altogether obstreperous people. Better for Singapore to leave Malaysia. That set in motion events which led to August 9, 1965,” said Lee, referring to the day when Singapore seceded from Malaysia and became independent.
At the memorial service, more than 600 invited guests were present including Othman’s friends and family, Old Guard colleagues such as former Cabinet Minister Ong Pang Boon, grassroots leaders from Pasir Panjang and representatives from religious and community groups.
Other speakers who paid tribute included Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim and OnePeople.sg chairman Janil Puthucheary, who highlighted Othman’s conviction and belief in multiracialism.
While concluding PM Lee remarked, “So while it is with sorrow today that we bid farewell to one of Singapore’s greatest sons, we also give thanks for the extraordinary life of one who gave so much of himself to the nation.”