THE wife of Singapore's founding leader Lee Kuan Yew was given a heroine's funeral yesterday after a public outpouring of sympathy for one of Asia's most influential political families.
The glass-encased brown coffin of Kwa Geok Choo, who died aged 89 on Saturday after a long illness, was transported to a suburban crematorium on a ceremonial gun carriage normally reserved for state and military funerals.
In a eulogy for his wife of 63 years, the 87-year-old Lee said "without her, I would be a different man, with a different life," adding that he should find solace from "her life well lived."
"But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief," he added at a private ceremony in the crematorium.
Their son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 58, had presided over two days of public mourning at the Istana state complex where more than 14,000 visitors including foreign envoys paid their respects, according to local media.
The government said the usage of a ceremonial gun carriage "is in recognition of her exceptional and unique contributions to Singapore for more than five decades, beginning before Singapore became independent."
Admirers hailed Kwa as the "mother of the country" in condolence messages posted on websites and urged her husband, who was in hospital for a chest infection when she died at home, to take care of his health.
Lee Kuan Yew served as prime minister from 1959 to 1990, while Lee Hsien Loong has been prime minister since 2004.
Kwa, once one of Singapore's most prominent lawyers, was portrayed in local media as an exemplary woman who quietly assisted her husband during important periods in Singapore's history, including drafting historic legal documents. Despite stepping down in 1990, Lee Kuan Yew still wields power as an adviser to the cabinet and global ambassador for Singapore.
Hundreds of people waited for a view of the funeral cortege as it left the Istana's main gate on Wednesday for Mandai crematorium on the edge of a tree-lined reservoir in northern Singapore.
"I want to send her off," said one of the mourners, 65-year-old housewife Seow Ah Seoh. "She took great care of both her job and her family." Shi Fa Rong, 53, an abbot at a Buddhist temple, said "I want to pay my last respects to her and I just want to wish MM Lee to get well soon," referring to Lee Kuan Yew's special cabinet title, "Minister Mentor."