Ex-NS mates remember ‘a humble man, an inspiration’

Ex-NS mates remember ‘a humble man, an inspiration’
Mr Toh Weng Chong, who trained under the then Social Affairs Minister during NS, with Mr Othman’s family after the service. Photo: Jason Quah
Published: 4:00 AM, April 20, 2017
Updated: 7:42 AM, April 20, 2017

SINGAPORE — The late Mr Othman Wok had a jovial nature and would constantly crack jokes with his comrades in the People’s Defence Force (PDF) when he was doing National Service, as one of several political officeholders who volunteered for the military to set an example.

But once training began, Mr Othman would take a no-nonsense approach and expect nothing but the best from those under him, said several of his ex-comrades who yesterday attended a memorial service for the Old Guard minister.

Mr Othman was among the first batch of officers in the PDF, and Mr Toh Weng Chong, 76, recalled what it was like training under him.

Describing Mr Othman — who had just been promoted to Second Lieutenant at that time — as a strong and fit leader, Mr Toh said: “When he starts training you, you better be fit, no fooling around. He takes his job very seriously ... You slack a bit, he’s right behind you.”

Speaking to reporters after the service, Mr Toh and others who had served in the army with Mr Othman attested to the camaraderie which they shared during military training.

Despite Mr Othman being the Social Affairs Minister at the time, he had no airs at all and was an inspiration to the rest, they said.

“He was just one of us ... Here was somebody who was a Minister and he got the same tongue lashing and shouting (from superiors),” said Mr Tien Chao Heng, 70, who was in the PDF’s pioneer batch of soldiers together with Mr Othman.

“He was an inspiration. If he can take it, who are we ... And mind you, those Enciks and Officers back then were tough.” Mr Tien added that he and Mr Othman shared many light-hearted moments together, and the latter “never talks down” to others despite his status.

Mr Abbas Abu Amin succeeded Mr Othman as the Member of Parliament for Pasir Panjang. But the two also served in the same military unit, with Mr Abbas holding the higher rank of Major. Despite the fact that Mr Othman was a political mentor to him, the former Cabinet Minister would salute him whenever they saw each other in a military setting — a reflection of his humble demeanour, Mr Abbas said.

Former Jurong MP Ho Kah Leong, 80, who was also in the PDF’s pioneer batch, told reporters that Mr Othman was a joyous, friendly man who likes to crack “a lot of jokes”.

When asked what they would miss most about Mr Othman, Mr Toh said: “I will miss his friendship, sense of humour and love of food.”