7 #FTW moments from Dr Toh Chin Chye
Posted: 02 Feb 2017, 1000 hours (GMT +8)
Written by Nicole Lee
Known for his horn-rimmed spectacles, small stature and scholarly nature, one would not expect Dr Toh Chin Chye to be nicknamed a "fighter" and the "Iron Chancellor". But that he was. And throughout his life, he demonstrated intellect, grit and an overwhelming sense of duty to Singapore.
Dr Toh (left) walking with Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the rest of the Legislative Assembly to Parliament House in 1961. (Source/National Archives of Singapore)
It is no exaggeration to say that without Dr Toh, there would be no People's Action Party (PAP), no revolution, nothing. When he was in London studying Physiology, he joined the Malayan Forum, an anti-colonial student body that discussed current events and political affairs of Malaya. The Malayan Forum was then chaired by Dr Goh Keng Swee, another notable Singapore pioneer leader.
This question led to the formation of the PAP on 21 November 1954, and their fight for Singapore's independence began. #TohChinChyeFTW
Dr Toh, then the Deputy Prime Minister, entering Assembly House (former Old Parliament House) with then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1959. (Source/National Archives of Singapore)
Dr Toh was Chairman of the PAP from 1954 to 1981, a whopping 27 years! In the PAP's fledgling years, he steered the party with a calm but firm hand. The PAP formed the government in 1959 after winning the majority number of seats in the Legislative Assembly, Mr Lee became the first Prime Minister of Singapore and Dr Toh the first Deputy Prime Minister (DPM). In 1961, the PAP lost two consecutive by-elections, one to the left-wing Ong Eng Guan and then to David Marshall's Workers' Party. At this point, Mr Lee Kuan Yew submitted his resignation letter to Dr Toh. Dr Toh recalled in the book Leaders of Singapore that after the second loss, Mr Lee had said, "What to do"? Dr Toh then drily knocked sense into him saying "Hang on! I mean you are still the government, you lose two seats, but it doesn't mean the end of the world".
During the six weeks that Mr Lee stayed at a government bungalow in Changi, Parliament did not meet as Dr Toh did not have the power to summon Parliament. He had to fend off questions from the opposition about why Parliament did not sit to discuss Singapore's future. He had to reassure members of the PAP like Dr Goh and Mr Lim Kim San who repeatedly asked about Mr Lee's condition and what the constitutional position on an absent PM was. He had to keep the government together to keep Singapore running in those uncertain days after separation from Malaysia. Through this murky period, Dr Toh had to hold the fort, and as historian Melanie Chew observed and wrote in Leaders of Singapore, "It seemed like business as usual." #TohChinChyeFTW
Singapore's National Flag being unfurled for the first time by Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak in 1959. (Source/National Archives of Singapore)
With full internal self-government granted by the British in 1959, Singapore needed its own flag to replace the Union Jack. Dr Toh led a committee to design a new state flag for Singapore in 1959. He paid careful attention to Singapore's multi-racial composition and wanted the flag to be as inclusive as possible. Together with the red that symbolised prosperity and happiness, white was chosen to symbolise the unity of the different races because when all seven colours of the rainbow are mixed together, white is formed.
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore, Dr Toh Chin Chye, at the University's Convention in 1973. (Source/National Archives of Singapore)
In the years after independence, the pioneer leaders knew that to grow Singapore's economy, the country would need a well-educated workforce with technical and practical skills. Dr Toh was the perfect person to build this workforce. Before he joined politics, Dr Toh was a lecturer at the Singapore campus of the University of Malaya, which eventually became the University of Singapore (UOS) in 1962 and then the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1980. To lead the drive to shift tertiary education towards Singapore's developmental needs, Dr Toh stepped down as DPM in 1968 to concentrate on being the vice-chancellor of the University, a position he held from 1968 to 1975. Concurrently, he was also Minister for Science and Technology and Chairman of Singapore Polytechnic.
Minister for Health Dr Toh Chin Chye with residents of Rochore constituency in 1980. (Source/National Archives of Singapore)
After his stint as Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Toh took on the role of Minister for Health on 2 June 1975. He was deeply concerned with issues plaguing the elderly and the destitute. He tasked the Health Ministry to strengthen specialist care in government hospitals and established the Home Nursing Foundation, which provided home-based care for bedridden elderly.
Dr Toh Chin Chye arriving at Parliament House for the 1980/1981 Budget Debate. (Source/National Archives of Singapore)
At Dr Toh's wake in 2012, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told reporters that Dr Toh was famous for being "one of the ministers who would dare challenge (then) Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew whenever they disagreed". However, he also said that Dr Toh would never critique senselessly, and all his comments were "for the good of the party and the country".
Dr Toh Chin Chye at Lee Kuan Yew's 79th Birthday in 2003 (Source/National Archives of Singapore)
Dr Toh retired from politics in 1988 and chose to spend the rest of his days living quietly with his family. However, he was brought back into the limelight in January 1991 when The New Paper sensationally, but erroneously, published a front-page article headlined "Hit-and-run accident case: Ex-DPM Toh Chin Chye arrested" along with his photo. Soon after the papers hit the stands, The New Paper realised that it was the wrong Toh Chin Chye, and the suspect was a 33-year-old salesman! The paper immediately attempted to recall the papers and published a second edition with an apology, but the damage was done. Dr Toh indicated his intentions to sue the paper and three days later The New Paper published another front-page apology saying, "We have agreed to pay Dr Toh damages and to indemnify him for all legal costs incurred. We would also like to apologise to all Singaporeans for besmirching the name of one of our founding fathers."