Jek Yeun Thong passed away on June 3, 2018, at the age of 87.
He was a founding member of the People's Action Party and part of Singapore's first Cabinet.
He was also one of the 10 ministers who signed the Separation Agreement in 1965.
On June 6, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement extending its "deep condolences to the family of the late Jek Yeun Thong".
PM Lee's letter
PM Lee also wrote a condolence letter to Jek's wife.
In his letter, he shared his late father's initial encounters with Jek and the backdrop of Jek's entry into politics.
It was in the 1950s, after the PAP was formed, that Jek came to know of Lee Kuan Yew.
When Lee stood for election in Tanjong Pagar in 1955, Jek helped him with his Chinese speech and "spent several hours coaching [him] to read a speech that took only three minutes to deliver."
In 1957, Jek was arrested briefly due to left-wing sympathies. At that time, the Communist United Front dominated the labour and student unions, and the PAP itself had many Communists among its members.
After his release, Jek was appointed Political Secretary in 1959, and also went on to contest in the Hong Lim by-election in 1961.
When the pro-Communists split from the non-Communists in the PAP in 1961, Jek stood firmly with the non-Communist leadership.
He went on to help mobilise the Chinese-speaking ground to support the PAP’s vision of a non-Communist, multiracial Singapore.
PM Lee also acknowledged the numerous political contributions of Jek during Singapore's formative years.
- In the 1963 General Election, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, and immediately made Minister for Labour where he helped built trust with the Chinese-speaking unions.
- As key member of the PAP Old Guard, he was one of the 10 Ministers who signed the Separation Agreement in 1965.
- In the Cabinet, he served in various capacities as Minister for Labour, Culture, and Science and Technology, from 1963 to 1980.
- He helped draft and win support for the 1968 Employment Act - a key milestone in building harmonious labour relations in Singapore that facilitated investments and rapid industrialisation in the 1970s.
- He was High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (1977-1984) and concurrently Ambassador to Denmark (1978).
- In 1990, he was conferred the Order of Nila Utama (2nd class) to recognise his political, economic, diplomatic and social contributions to Singapore.
With his death, Ong Pang Boon is the last surviving member of Singapore's first Cabinet.
This is PM Lee's full letter:
Dear Mrs Jek
Please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your husband, Mr Jek Yeun Thong.
Mr Jek was a key member of the PAP Old Guard. He was one of the ten Ministers who signed the Separation Agreement in 1965. In the Cabinet, he served in various capacities as Minister for Labour, Culture, and Science and Technology, from 1963 to 1980. He was also High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and concurrently Ambassador to Denmark. Throughout his years in public service, Mr Jek made notable contributions, and demonstrated a strong sense of dedication to the nation.
Mr Jek came to know Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the 1950s, after the PAP was formed. When Mr Lee first stood for election in Tanjong Pagar in 1955, Mr Jek helped him with his first Chinese speech. As Mr Lee recounted in his memoirs, “A friendly Sin Pao reporter called Jek Yuen Thong drafted two paragraphs for me, and then spent several hours coaching me to read a speech that took only three minutes to deliver. But the crowd was with me, and they cheered me for the effort.”
This was a period when the Communist United Front dominated the labour and student unions, and the PAP itself had many communists among its members. Mr Jek himself had left-wing sympathies and was arrested briefly in 1957, but came around to the non-Communist side. Mr Lee subsequently appointed him as his Political Secretary in 1959. In the Hong Lim by-election in April 1961, Mr Jek was fielded as the PAP candidate, but lost. A few months later, in July 1961, the pro-Communists split from the non-Communists in the PAP. Thirteen Legislative Assemblymen left the party to form Barisan Sosialis, taking their party followers with them. Mr Jek stood firmly with the non-Communist leadership of the PAP. He went on to help mobilise the Chinese-speaking ground to support the PAP’s vision of a non-Communist, multiracial Singapore. This was one of his biggest political contributions.
In the 1963 General Election, Mr Jek was elected to the Legislative Assembly, and immediately made Minister for Labour. He was instrumental in building trust with the Chinese-speaking unions and helping the National Trades Union Congress wrest control of them from the Communist United Front. Another signal contribution by Mr Jek during this period was to help draft and win support for the 1968 Employment Act. This was a key milestone in building harmonious labour relations in Singapore, without which we could not have attracted investments and industrialised rapidly in the 1970s.
As Minister for Culture from 1968 to 1979, Mr Jek raised the profile of cultural activities in Singapore. He believed that art transcended barriers of race, language and culture, and that traditional art could help keep Singaporeans grounded at a time when the country was quickly modernizing. Through his concurrent appointment as Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association, he actively promoted photography competitions, art exhibitions and calligraphy contests. These activities helped to expand our common space and strengthen our grassroots communities.
When I first entered politics in 1984, Mr Jek was still a member of Parliament for Queenstown constituency. He was friendly and generous to us young MPs, a whole generation younger than him. After he retired as MP in 1988, he continued to stay in touch with old comrades, and I was always happy to see him at reunions and gatherings. I was particularly happy that he was able to attend the PAP’s 60th anniversary celebration at Victoria Concert Hall in November 2014, and the SG50 National Day Parade in August 2015, even though by then he was quite frail.
In 1990, when Mr Lee Kuan Yew retired as Prime Minister, Mr Jek was conferred the Order of Nila Utama (2nd class) to recognize his political, economic, diplomatic and social contributions to Singapore.
Mr Jek’s passing is a deep loss to the nation. To honour his memory and ask a mark of respect, I have ordered all state flags be flown at half-mast tomorrow, 7 June 2018.
My thoughts are with you and your family during this time of sorrow.
With my deepest sympathies,
Lee Hsien Loong
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