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Tributes to Mr Ong Teng Cheong


"His genuine concern for the ordinary man, his common touch with the rank and file, the selfless sense of duty with which he devoted himself to the workers who placed their trust in him - these qualities marked him as an outstanding leader in the labour movement that he led and transformed... For those of us who had the privilege of knowing Teng Cheong, his indefinable personal touch, his many varied talents with his warm friendship will always remain in our memory... As always, Teng Cheong was a man of quiet strength, dignity and grace. For the contributions he made to Singapore, he deserves our utmost praise and gratitude."

- President S.R.. Nathan, in a letter addressed to Mr Ong Tze Guan, eldest son of the late Mr Ong (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"Singapore and its people have lost a very good citizen. He had contributed so much to our state and our society. I will miss his company and his friendship."

- Mr Wee Kim Wee, former President (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"Your father was a courageous man, at work and in his personal life. He held fast to his beliefs and ideals, and was never daunted by opposing views or difficult odds. He was also stoical. After he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1992, he determined to go on as normally as he could, and live life to the full. He refused to let his illness stand in the way of his duties to his family or to the nation..... The PAP, NTUC, MRT, workers, labour-management relations, unions' co-operatives and recreational facilities, the arts, charities - all have benefitted from his vision and hard work... Teng Cheong was a key member of the team of second-generation ministers who succeeded the Old Guard. We worked well together. He was fully supportive of me as a colleague and as Prime Minister. I shall always remember his comradeship..... He was a devoted family man, upright, caring and gracious. He was a Confucianist scholar, a mandarin, a righteous and accomplished man... Singapore has lost a fine son, a national leader who has devoted much of his life to public service."

- Mr Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister, in a letter addressed to Mt Ong Tze Guan, eldest son of the late Mr Ong (TODAY, 9 February 2002)


"Ong Teng Cheong's greatest service to Singapore was as Secretary-General of the NTUC. At a critical time, he renewed the leadership and infused new energy into the organisation. He also broadened the objectives of the trade union movement beyond industrial issues by adding a social dimension to NTUC activities, providing union members with a wide range of leisure and recreational facilities, so that they do not lag behind the middle-class Singaporeans who were upgrading their leisure pursuits. He made a difference."

- Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Senior Minister (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"It's very sad. As colleagues, we worked well together even on quite different matters. For example, I was in MTI and he in NTUC. In the 1985 recession, when we had to sell the CPF cut and urge restraint, without his help, I would have had a difficult job. We worked together for many years and also, we both had lymphoma at the same time. I think he's had a difficult time with his illness. My heart goes out to his family."

- Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"Mr Ong Teng Cheong's passing away is a very sad loss, not only to his family, but also to the nation. I've had the privilege of knowing Mr Ong for the past 23 years, ever since I entered politics in 1979. He was a good friend. He was always committed to Singapore, and the people of Singapore. He was a staunch and loyal colleague."

- Dr Tony Tan, Deputy Prime Minister (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"I have known him for many years, including working with him during his tenure as secretary-general of NTUC. I've seen for myself how passionately he cared for workers, and how he led the labour movement in a decade of change and growth... Comrade Ong was an approachable leader, always ready to listen to workers' problems and help resolve them. His rapport with workers endeared him to the many workers and leaders in the labour movement. In particular, he took a deep personal interest in the lives of low-income workers. He was remembered to have visited workers in their workplaces overnight, so that he could meet them personally and discuss with them their concerns. "

- Mr Lim Boon Heng, NTUC Secretary-General and Minister-without-Portfolio (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"I've known Mr Ong since 1984 when I went to Parliament. He was a very earnest person, he had very good ideas, and he made significant contributions to the labour movement, particularly in providing workers with services and facilities which are comparable to what people would enjoy in private clubs. As a president, he has definitely performed his role well too. I've lost a friend. We will miss him."

- Mr Wong Kan Seng, Minister for Home Affairs (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"He felt very passionate about things. One example is the Singapore dress. He was the one who really pushed for it, and it became the national dress, as it were. He was very passionate, very caring. He belonged to the Old Guard... so, in that sense, we have lost a part of our history."

- Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, Minister for Community Development and Sports (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"As a Cabinet colleague when he was Deputy Prime Minister, I always found him to be unfailingly courteous. He never lost his temper, never used harsh words, and was always very deliberate and considerate of others' attitudes. My great sadness is that he has not lived to see the opening next year of the Esplanade, because there are so many details in it that received his personal attention. Whenever I see the Esplanade and visit it, I will remember him."

- B.G. (NS) George Yeo, Minister for Trade and Industry (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"I first met the former President, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, 25 years ago... Mr Ong came across to me as a person who was very clear in his vision. He was one of the strongest proponents of the MRT system and, looking back today, I would say that it is quite clear that his vision, his idea of implementing the MRT system, has changed the way that the public-transportation network works in Singapore."

- Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Environment (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"I had been working with him quite closely in promoting Chinese culture and Chinese community. When we had problems, he was often able to lead the way and shed light on them."

- Mr Ch'ng Jit Koon, former Senior Minister of State (The Straits Times, 11 February 2002)


"Mr Ong was a very likeable person, soft-spoken, but very firm."

- Mr Sidek Saniff, former Senior Minister of State (TODAY, 11 February 2002)


"He's a real gentleman. Dignified, honourable, honest, straight-talking and polite - a fantastic combination."

- Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of State for National Development (The Straits Times, 11 February 2002)


"He was a gentle man and he would stand up for what he believed in... He always told us that life is short, so in whatever we do, we must always give it our best."

- Mr Zainul Adidin Rasheed, Mayor of North East Community Development Council (TODAY, 11 February 2002)


"I knew him when I entered Parliament 18 years ago. He was a minister then. I found him to be very approachable and personable. He wanted to be a president known for charity work. So, in that sense, he left a very strong mark. The people liked him, and his death is a great loss to us."

- Mr Leong Horn Kee, Member-of-Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"Mr Ong had a great sense of contribution and a strong sense of purpose to improve people's lives... I don't know why he joined politics, but that must be his motivation as well... He told me: 'Halimah, when the opportunity comes to you and you feel that the time is right to serve, you should consider it'."

- Madam Halimah Yaacob, Member-of-Parliament for Jurong GRC (TODAY, 9 February 2002)


"Although he attained high positions, he did not lose the common touch. We have lost a good and a great union and national leader. We will miss him."

- Mr Heng Chee How, NTUC deputy secretary-general (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"He was a devoted husband and a caring father. He was a good employer and a friend to everyone. He was a jun zi - a moral gentleman in his dealings with people."

- Mr Lawrence Sia, former NTUC deputy secretary-general (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"When he was at the helm of the NTUC, his genuine care for the welfare of the workers touched our hearts deeply... The renaming of the Singapore Institute of Labour Studies to the Ong Teng Cheong Institute of Labour Studies will allow us to remember his many contributions to the labour movement in Singapore."

- Mr John De Payva, NTUC president (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"He was very friendly to everybody he met, from ordinary union members to union leaders to people at a very high level. He was a very creative and innovative person, both in the arts and in the way he did things. The President's Star Charity was his idea."

- Mr Tan Kin Lian, CEO of NTUC Income (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"He was a very humble person, and I liked him very much. That's why I had to come, to represent my family."

- Mr Thareq Habibie, youngest son of former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie (The Straits Times, 11 February 2002)


"He was such a thoughtful and humble man, he had no airs. He was cultured and a true gentleman."

- Madam Lee Howe, former music teacher of Mr Ong (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"I think he looked somewhat shy in conversation but he had a great mind. He thought through things very critically and analytically. When we did projects, he always told us: 'Let others go ahead first and we wait and learn from their mistakes. We don't have to try to beat the rest'. He was a very philosophical man."

- Mr Yee Fook Hong, former vice-chairman of Kim Keat CCC (TODAY, 9 February 2002)


"Whenever he wanted me to do some work for him, he did not call me into his office. He brought the files to my desk and asked me nicely if I could do some things for him. He was such a gentleman and that was how I got to know him."

- Mr Paul Tan, a former clerk at MND, where Mr Ong worked in 1967 (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"He was always on the side of labour without overlooking the wider national interests. I was president of the Economic Society and was at one annual dinner when he announced the setting up of the Institute of Labour Studies. I am glad the NTUC has decided to call the institute the Ong Teng Cheong Institute of Labour Studies."

- Professor Lim Chong Yah, former chief of the National Wages Council (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"He treated the NTUC like a big family and he always had the workers' interests at heart even when he was the President. He thought of the Orchid Country Club, for workers to play golf. It was a revolutionary idea."

- Mr Stephen Lee, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"He was always looking to improve the standard of the arts here. He put in a lot of effort to get Singaporean arts recognised elsewhere. He would play the piano, he sang quite well. Sometimes after a long day at Parliament, we sang together."

- Mr Ho Kah Leong, principal of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"We are deeply saddened by the sudden death of our former President, Mr Ong Teng Cheong. He was a remarkable individual. Not only was he a leader, a distinguished gentleman and scholar, but he was also a friend to everyone who knew him. He will always be remembered as a patron of the Chinese community and was definitely a source of inspiration, giving his constant encouragement and earnest support to all our activities and endeavours. Mr Ong's death is a great loss to Singapore, particularly to the Chinese community."

- Mr Kwek Leng Joo, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (The Sunday Times, 10 February 2002)


"Mr Ong has always been very supportive of his alma mater. He loved the school very much and spent a lot of time doing things for the school. He always attended our Founders' Day on March 21. His death is a real loss to the school and the country. He was such a friendly man."

- Mr Koh Yong Chiah, principal of The Chinese High School (The Straits Times, 9 February 2002)


"When we invited him in January 2001 to last year's Founder's Day dinner, he replied in Mandarin, 'If I'm not at Chinese High on March 21, where else can I be?' "

- Mr Ng Kit Kiew, secretary of the Chinese High Alumni (The New Paper, 9 February 2002)


"I've known Mr Ong for 15 years, when he was the secretary-general for NTUC... He was a good man... Whenever we meet, we would talk about music.. I admire his musical talents."

- Ms Cai Qin, Taiwanese singer (Streats, 11 February 2002)


"He's a very kind, very generous man. It's very sad, he's so young. I hope people would appreciate what he has done for us."

- Mrs Elizabeth Choy, Singapore's pioneer woman politician (TODAY, 11 February 2002)


"He always reminded us to treat him as we would treat other customers. He didn't mind waiting for his food, and when other customers wanted to take pictures with him, he would oblige."

- Mrs CP Lee, whose husband is a partner in a seafood restaurant in East Coast (The New Paper on Sunday, 10 February 2002)


"I was helping to organise a song-writing competition. There was a song which many of us liked, but we were not sure as its lyrics were sensitive. Some people might have read it as a criticism of the political leadership. But when the President heard the song, he said: 'No, the simplest things are the most moving'. He promoted the song widely, and it is now a song everyone is familiar with - Xiao ren wu de xin sheng."

- Mr Billy Koh, music producer (The Straits Times, 11 February 2002)


"Whenever I asked him what he would like in the menu, he would say, 'Do as you deem fit'. He was a very good man, who would ask me how my kids were, as if we were friends. Also, when we meet, he would ask, 'May I get you a drink?'"

- Mr Sand Koon Sang, chef (The Straits Times, 11 February 2002)


"He had a heart for the people and was very concerned about our welfare... He had no airs about him and was very endearing."

- Mr and Mrs K K Tay, who turned up at the wake to pay their respects to Mr Ong (TODAY, 11 February 2002)


 

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