Othman Wok always put his country first, family second: Son-in-law

Othman Wok always put his country first, family second: Son-in-law
Mr Munir Shah, who shared anecdotes of Mr Othman during the memorial service, said his father-in-law was a quiet, unassuming person who showed ‘enduring love’ for his family. Photo: MCI
Published: 4:00 AM, April 20, 2017
Updated: 7:42 AM, April 20, 2017

SINGAPORE — Mr Othman Wok always put his country first and his family second, said his son-in-law Munir Shah, as he shared anecdotes that showed a side of the man few people outside their family got to see.

The former minister felt a shared responsibility towards Singapore’s well-being, and “that was something he never shook off”, said Mr Munir during a memorial service at Victoria Concert Hall yesterday.

Recounting how he had quizzed Mr Othman on his relationship with Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Munir said that his father-in-law had displayed an “unflinching loyalty” to Mr Lee because of his utmost respect for him.

While a magazine article had once quoted Mr Othman as saying that he had little time to talk to his children, Mr Munir recounted how the older man had always drilled into his children important values such as humility, and “never to be stuck up”.

At the memorial service, Mr Munir also recounted the time he was courting Mr Othman’s third daughter, Lily, when he was “check-mated at every turn” in trying to impress his future father-in-law.

During a meal with Mr Othman, Mr Munir said he had studied at Raffles Institution, and the older man responded by saying that he went to RI, too.

“I had joined Shell in 1975 and told him that we had a lovely club next to the refinery at Pulau Bukom and started bragging about the facilities there — to which he retorted that he had cut the ribbon at the opening of the club,” he added.

He later told Mr Munir that he could marry Lily only if he behaved himself.

“He was a quiet, unassuming person but he could deliver a killer punch. And I felt that I got away quite lightly,” Mr Munir quipped, drawing much laughter in the audience.

As a father, Mr Othman showed “enduring love” for his beloved four daughters and wife.

A keen foodie, he introduced Diana, his youngest daughter, to Japanese cuisine, starting with teaching her how to appreciate tempura, sushi and sashimi.

Mr Othman and his old friends, such as social service veteran Gerard Ee, would take turns to host dinners regularly.

They would “look up to him to have the final say on the authenticity of any local delicacy” — such as telling them if the “sambal” in the nasi lemak had been watered down, or if the “ayam balado” had been moderated to taste like a Western dish, Mr Munir said.

Looking back at his father-in-law’s life’s journey, Mr Munir said: “This kampung boy never thought in his wildest dreams that he would make such a difference to this nation. But he did.” TOH EE MING