As we enjoy the success and prosperity of our nation today, do you still remember the pioneers who fought hard in the early days?
We bring to mind heroes from various ethnic groups who helped to build our nation.
Indian: S Rajaratnam (1915 – 2006)
Sharing the same dissatisfaction with the prevailing political situation, S Rajaratnam and Lee Kwan Yew formed the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Being a strong believer in racial harmony, Rajaratnam wrote our National Pledge with the words “…one united people, regardless of race, language or religion…”
Malay: Yusof Bin Ishak (1910 – 1970)
Although from humble origins, Yusof bin Ishak became the 1st Malayan-born Head of State on Dec 3, 1959.
In 1965, the year of independence, he became the 1st President of Singapore. He showed moral courage and effective leadership during the early years of nation-building.
During his last term, he was often ill but still assisted the people in need.
Eurasian: Benjamin Henry Sheares (1907 – 1981)
Benjamin Sheares first distinguished himself in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology. He was the first Singaporean to be appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Malaya. He was also appointed as the First Chancellor of the National University of Singapore.
In 1971, Benjamin Sheares became the 2nd President of Singapore. He maintained a humble life despite his new position, and refused a higher salary.
HOKKIEN/Peranakan: Tan Tock Seng (1798 – 1850)
Tan Tok Seng was a renowned philanthropist who contributed generously to charity and covered burial costs for the poor.
His most famous gesture was the donation of $7,000 Spanish dollars to build the Chinese Pauper’s Hospital (later renamed Tan Tock Seng Hospital) in 1844. He was also a founder of the Thiam Hock Keng Temple.
Tan was the first Asian to be made a Justice of the Peace by Governor Butterworth. His role in settling disputes between Chinese immigrants earned him the title “Captain of the Chinese”.
Jewish: David Saul Marshall (1908 – 1995)
In 1955, David Saul Marshall became Singapore’s first Chief Minister. His driving ambition was to give Singapore self-rule.
When he failed to attain self-governance for Singapore from the British in 1956 (mainly due to the bus riots and fears of Communist influence), he resigned from his post. He became an ambassador for Singapore to France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland, and always defended Singapore’s interests abroad.
Hakka: Elizabeth Choy (1910 – 2006)
Elizabeth Choy is famous for being a war heroine. During the Japanese Occupation in World War II, Choy and her husband secretly brought supplies, messages and even radios to British internees. Unfortunately, they were captured by the Japanese.
Despite being imprisoned and terribly tortured, she refused to confess. After the war, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of her valour.
Elizabeth Choy also became Singapore’s first woman in the Legislative Council in 1951 and was recognised as a dedicated educator. She was the first principal of the Singapore School for the Blind in 1956.