Catherine Lim was 'looking forward' to meeting Goh Chok Tong, but had to stay home due to medical reasons

Somewhat long history.

Tanya Ong | May 09, 2021, 02:17 PM

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's new book, Standing Tall: The Goh Chok Tong Years, was officially launched on Friday (May 8).

And Singaporean author Catherine Lim had confirmed that she intended to attend the launch in person.

The book launch event was a special one, as it included many of Goh's "former Cabinet colleagues, Principal Private Secretaries and Press Secretaries" who have worked with him during his premiership.

Lim, unfortunately, could not make it for the event due to medical reasons.

If they had met at the book launch, it would be the first time that Lim and Goh would be crossing paths in nearly two decades.

A long history

The story of Lim and Goh go way back to the early 1990s, when Goh had been serving as Prime Minister.

In 1994, Lim published two commentary pieces in The Straits Times, "The PAP and the people — A great affective divide" and "One government, two styles", published three months later.

Following the second article, the two plunged into a colourful exchange on politics, with then Prime Minister Goh publicly criticising a Singaporean, who is not a politician, regarding her comments.

Goh told Lim that he had deemed what she had written about the government as disrespectful, and "out of bounds". Lim was also told to join a political party should she want to regularly comment on politics in public.

Reflecting on the incident that took place nearly 30 years ago, Lim told Mothership that she doesn't regret her comments in that piece.

"I was writing about what I sincerely felt was the truth, and wanted to share my convictions with fellow Singaporeans."

She also wished that Goh was "less reactive about criticism" back then, but was also quick to acknowledge that his behaviour was "understandable".

Her impression of him, as an "honest, earnest, hardworking leader impelled by the highest motives  of serving society", has also remain unchanged, she said.

What happened after that?

Those with a copy of Goh Chok Tong's recently-published book, Standing Tall: The Goh Chok Tong Years, would learn that Lim privately apologised to Goh in a handwritten note afterwards.

Some years later after the incident, they also crossed paths in 2005.

At a dinner event marking the completion of Discovery Asia's documentary on the history of Singapore, Lim hoped to initiate a conversation with Goh, but was unsuccessful.

In an interview for the book, Lim said that she would like to meet him and chat, with the message subsequently delivered to Goh.

His response? "You can say that I would love to meet her too."

After Lim heard about this, she told Mothership, "Did he really say "You can say that I would love to meet [Catherine Lim] too"? That's sweet!"

Catherine Lim: "Nothing that I'm hoping for"

When asked about how she felt after receiving the invitation to the launch, Lim shared that she was "very pleased" and was "looking forward" to the event.

She has always found it a pleasure to "meet fellow writers and exchange views", and was looking forward to meeting and congratulating ESM Goh.

Speaking about the dinner event in 2005 when they'd last crossed paths, Lim recalled how she would have wanted to make use of that event to initiate a "friendly chat" with him.

She was hoping for Goh to notice and acknowledge her, by a smile or a wave, so she could walk up to him to say hello.

"But there were just so many people around that he probably didn't notice my presence," Lim said. "I remember that it was a very busy occasion, in a very crowded room, with my table some distance from Mr Goh's."

Speaking about the opportunity to finally meet him, she said that there's really "nothing that I'm hoping for when we eventually meet".

She did mention, however, that she hopes for a "genuine pleasure on both sides" and a "readiness to engage in friendly chat".


Top photo via MParader/FB, photo by Joshua Lee.