Monday was exceptionally blue yesterday (Apr 17) with the news that Singapore’s first Minister for Social Affairs, Othman Wok, had passed away at the age of 92.
Tributes poured in, from the broadsheets, news sites, and even from political leaders on Othman’s passing.
Well, the best way to really know someone is to listen to the stories of them told by others.
Here, we compile the stories of Othman posted online:
1. He wrote horror stories:
Bet you didn’t know Othman was a prolific writer who started writing as a student in Raffles Institution.
He was particularly interested in ghost stories, which he heard as a child.
While working as a journalist for Utusan Melayu and Mastika, Othman also published stories about the weird and supernatural.
Fun Fact: Yusof Ishak, the first president of Singapore, was Othman’s boss back when both were working at Utusan Melayu.
These stories were later compiled and published as a collection in Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales from Singapore and Malaya (1991), Kisah-kisah Seram dan Misteri (1995) and Unseen Occupants and Other Chilling Tales (2006).
Some of his selected bibliography can be found on Infopedia.
2. He was part of the Old Guard
Many of the online tributes refer to him as a member of the Old Guard – the collective term used to refer to the first generation of political leaders that led Singapore post-independence.
He was part of a team who were, according to Lee Kuan Yew, ‘able men determined to pursue…shared goals’ and at the same time helped Lee stay ‘objective and balanced’.
Othman was also one of the 10 Singapore leaders whose signature can be found in our separation agreement with Malaysia. The other signatories are Jek Yeun Thong, Ong Pang Boon, Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee, E.W. Barker, S. Rajaratnam, Yong Nyuk Lin, Lim Kim San, and of course, Lee.
3. He continued to lead and serve despite receiving death threats.
Five days after Singapore’s merger with the Malaysia, the government held the 1963 General Election.
It was a particularly tumultuous political event in Singapore’s history that saw three strong parties – the People’s Action Party (PAP), the Barisan Socialis (BS) and United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
During the election, UMNO extremists sowed tensions between Singapore’s Malay and Chinese communities, which would result in the 1964 racial riots in Singapore.
UMNO politicians also denounced Malay PAP candidates, such as Othman and Haji Ya’acob bin Mohamed, labelling them as traitors to the Malay-Muslim community.
Othman, and the Malay PAP candidates he led, soldiered on unwaveringly. The PAP won the majority of seats in 1963, including those in predominantly Malay communities, such as Othman’s Pasir Panjang constituency.
Despite, winning the election, Othman continued to receive death threats, but he never wavered.
4. He was the unofficial ‘Sports Minister’
Othman was adamant that sports should be “accessible to everyone”.
To that end, a Sports Division was created in the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Othman was also the one who pushed for the construction of the old National Stadium, which has since been replaced by the Singapore Sports Hub.
According to football legend Quah Kim Song, the Minister for Social Affairs often headed down to the stadium to support the football players during their practice.
Top photo adapted from Grace Fu Facebook page and Facebook.