Crowds brave torrential downpour as Othman Wok is laid to rest
SINGAPORE — Despite a torrential downpour on Tuesday (April 18), many Singaporeans turned up to bid farewell to the late
Mr Othman Wok, as they paid their last respects at a private wake. Others gathered outside Sultan Mosque, where a prayer service was conducted, and lined the streets while the cortege made its way to Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery.
Mr Othman, a former Old Guard Cabinet Minister who died on Monday at the age of 92 after a long battle with cancer, played a pivotal role in the country’s fledgling post-independence years, when racial tensions were high.
From 8am on Tuesday, a steady stream of people visited the wake, which was held at Mr Othman’s Kew Avenue home.
Among them was former national hurdler Osman Merican. Speaking to the media, the 78-year-old recalled how Mr Othman — who had championed local sports during his time as Social Affairs Minister from 1963 to 1977 — had always shown support for athletes.
People’s Action Party (PAP) stalwarts, former Senior Parliamentary Secretary Chan Chee Seng and former Senior Minister of State Ch’ng Jit Koon, also made their way down.
Mr Chan said: “The PAP (was able to) win all the elections and ... he was one of the main persons to (get) the support from the public.” He recounted that Mr Othman had taught him the Malay language.
“I miss him and I learnt a lot from him,” he said.
At about noon, a private hearse carrying the casket made its way from his residence to Sultan Mosque at North Bridge Road for funeral prayers.
By then, a crowd — including some who arrived as early as 10am — had gathered to say their goodbyes.
Speaking to reporters outside the mosque, retiree Billy Lee, 69, who was one of Mr Othman’s golfing buddies, recounted a golfing trip to Indonesia. He said about 20 of them had to squeeze into a 10-seater minibus as they travelled from Jakarta to Bandung, with some having to sit on the floor.
Describing Mr Othman as a jovial character, Mr Lee recalled how he was constantly cracking jokes throughout the three-hour journey.
On Mr Othman’s golfing skills, Mr Lee quipped: “He thinks he’s good, but we all like to tease him about it. Whenever he hits the ball, we will wait to see where the ball goes.”
After the hearse arrived at the mosque at about 12.30pm, the casket was carried into the main prayer hall by Mr Othman’s male family members, friends and community leaders including Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, and former Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed. Mr Othman’s wife, Lina Abdullah, and other family members followed behind.
As members of the Muslim community filled the prayer hall, Mr Zainul Abidin called on the congregation to recite prayers for Mr Othman. Some 2,000 congregants were at the mosque for the prayers, including former Senior Minister of State for Education and Environment Sidek Saniff.
After the Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, led the last rites, several congregants — including consultant Mohd Ali Roslan, 42 — rushed forward to carry Mr Othman’s casket to the holding area for the flag draping ceremony, getting drenched in the downpour in the process.
Mr Mohd Ali, who travelled from his workplace in Serangoon, said he wanted to be at the funeral service to show his appreciation for Mr Othman’s efforts to further the progress of the Malay-Muslim community.
In the presence of Mr Othman’s family members, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as well as other members of the Cabinet, the State Flag was draped over Mr Othman’s casket, before it was carried into the ceremonial gun carriage for the journey to the cemetery.
The carriage passed through North Bridge Road, North Boat Quay, River Valley Road as well as the heartlands of Alexandra Road, Commonwealth Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue West and Clementi Avenue 6.
Mr Adam Rosli, 29, who was having lunch at Zam Zam Restaurant along North Bridge Road, was among those who rushed to the roadside to bid farewell to Mr Othman.
“It’s sad to see another funeral of an Old Guard minister. I hope we can continue to be inspired by what our founding fathers have done for the country,” said the sales executive.
On Wednesday night, a memorial service will be held at Victoria Concert Hall, where six eulogies will be delivered by speakers including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Dr Yaacob, former Pasir Panjang Member of Parliament Abbas Abu Amin and Mr Othman’s son-in-law, Mr Munir Shah.
More than 600 invited guests — including Mr Othman’s friends and family, Old Guard colleagues, grassroots leaders from Pasir Panjang and representatives from religious and community groups — are expected to attend the service, organised by OnePeople.sg.
In a statement made on Tuesday, OnePeople.sg chairman and Minister of State (Education and Communications and Information) Janil Puthucheary called Mr Othman “a beacon for multiracial ideals, and along with our pioneers helped lay the foundations of peace and harmony in Singapore”.
Dr Puthucheary, who will also be delivering a eulogy at the service, said: “We remember his life and his work as an inspiration to all Singaporeans.”