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Many businessmen in S’pore, but few are like Dr Lee Seng Gee: PM

SINGAPORE — Years ago, when he was struggling to meet the costs of restoring Hong San See Temple, Mr Patrick Goh went to Dr Lee Seng Gee, the late chairman of Lee Foundation, for help.

SINGAPORE — Years ago, when he was struggling to meet the costs of restoring Hong San See Temple, Mr Patrick Goh went to Dr Lee Seng Gee, the late chairman of Lee Foundation, for help. 

Mr Goh, honorary chairman of the Lam Ann Association, had hoped for a donation of “a few hundred thousand”. “But he (Dr Lee) took the initiative and asked me how much we lacked, and gave much more than I imagined,” said Mr Goh, who received about S$1 million for the works. The project went on to win a UNESCO award for cultural heritage conservation in 2010.

Mr Goh recounted this incident on Wednesday (May 11) at the wake of Dr Lee, who died on Tuesday at the age of 95. The wake at his home on Meyer Road, which began on Wednesday, drew politicians, Chinese community leaders, academics and students, among them President Tony Tan, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. 

In his condolence letter to Dr Lee’s wife Della Lee, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong credited Dr Lee for continuing the family tradition of giving. Dr Lee was the eldest son of prominent businessman and philanthropist Lee Kong Chian, and the grandson of Tan Kah Kee.

Under his watch, Lee Foundation became the largest private charitable foundation in Singapore, donated close to S$1 billion to causes “regardless of race, language and religion”, and “transformed countless lives”, said PM Lee.

“There have been many successful businessmen in Singapore. But very few are like Mr Lee Seng Gee, who was even more successful as a philanthropist,” said PM Lee. 

“His life reminds us that success is not defined by the wealth you amass, but by your contributions to society ... Mr Lee’s life sets an example for us all.”

ESM Goh said Dr Lee had been a modest and generous man. “Despite the wealth he had, you would never know because he never flaunted it. He channelled his wealth from Lee Rubber and OCBC into needy causes such as education and the poor,” said ESM Goh.

Mdm Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament, acknowledged Dr Lee’s generous contributions to Jamiyah Singapore in supporting the Malay community. 

“It showed the measure of the man, who really believed in supporting members of society to improve themselves,” she said.

The Anglo-Chinese schools (ACS) also sent student leaders and principals from its six schools, and the group sang the ACS anthem as they gathered around the casket of Dr Lee, a former student. 

ACS chairman Richard Seow said the Lee family had been tremendous supporters of ACS. “Many of the Lees have also attended ACS schools, so there’s a multigenerational bond between the ACS schools and the Lee family, something that we’re grateful for,” he added.

Others who attended the wake include Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung, businessman Chua Thian Poh, Dr Lee Suan Yew, former Senior Ministers of State Zainul Abidin and Chng Jit Koon, former Cabinet minister Mah Bow Tan and Member of Parliament (Aljunied GRC) Pritam Singh.

The wake ends with a funeral service on Thursday at 12.30pm, and the cremation to be held at Bright Hill Temple at 3pm.

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