Ong Pang Boon, last surviving Old Guard leader of S'pore's 1st Cabinet, celebrated his 90th birthday

PM Lee was the guest of honour and paid tribute to Ong's many contributions to S'pore.

Martino Tan | March 25, 2019, 12:02 AM

Ong Pang Boon, an Old Guard leader and a minister in the first People's Action Party (PAP) government in 1959, celebrated his 90th birthday on March 23, 2019.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is PAP's Secretary-General, together with 100 guests celebrated Ong's birthday at the Parliament House.

We the citizens of Singapore

The guests included Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan.

Chan happens to be the niece of Ong's late wife, former MP Chan Choy Siong, who died in 1981.

PM Lee paid tribute to Ong's contributions, calling Ong "one of the Old Guard who laid the basis for Singapore's survival, sovereignty and eventual success".

PM Lee also highlighted a little-known fact regarding one of Ong's many contributions.

It was Ong who came up with the idea of a loyalty pledge to be taken by students, to inculcate national consciousness and patriotism.

This was later developed into the National Pledge, of which Ong produced the final Chinese version.

Who is Ong Pang Boon?

Source: People's Action Party Facebook.

Ong, who was born on March 28, 1929, in Kuala Lumpur, was among the 10 ministers who signed the Independence of Singapore Agreement in 1965.

Ong was PAP's first Organising Secretary and its first full-time employee.

Ong was only 30 when he first became a minister.

He held key portfolios: Home Affairs (1959-63), Education (1963-1970), Labour (1970-1980) and Environment (1980-1984).

Ong also served as the election agent for Lee Kuan Yew when he first contested the Tanjong Pagar constituency during the 1955 Legislative Assembly election.

Ong: "It has been my good fortune to be at the right place at the right time"

Source: People's Action Party Facebook.

Ong spoke after PM Lee, thanking the prime minister for graciously hosting the dinner for which he was "deeply touched and highly honoured".

"It is the environment that shapes the man," he said, quoting a Chinese saying (时势造英雄).

Ong added that it "has been my good fortune to be at the right place at the right time".

Importance of renewal

Ong said he accepted Lee Kuan Yew's job offer to be the first full-time PAP employee, because he believed in the PAP's leadership and its vision for the country.

As PM Lee revealed earlier in his speech, Ong took a pay cut with a better job prospect in KL to work for PAP for $450.

Ong spoke about the topic on leadership renewal, noting that he stepped down from the Cabinet in 1984 as part of the leadership renewal process.

Ong added:

"I believe that leadership renewal is crucial to the success of all organisations, including political parties.

But I also believe that, like the orderly waves of the Yangtze River, the renewal process must be well paced and sensitively executed, so as to avoid unnecessary unhappiness among the older members".

Top photo from People's Action Party Faceboook page