Singapore is not Singapore if not for Lee Kuan Yew, who is credited from turning the small city port into one of the wealthiest nation-states in the world.
In 2009, Lee met with U.S. Pres. Barack Obama at the White House, after which Obama called him "one of the legendary figures of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries."
Under Lee's regime, Singapore rapidly transformed from a British colonial backwater into a gleaming metropolis known for its global investments, world-class infrastructure, a highly efficient civil service, and an educated and wealthy workforce.
Lee ruled as Singapore's Prime Minister for three decades. While he was praised for his efficiency and economic policies, he was also criticized for his iron-fisted rule on matters concerning the media and his opponents, even forcing lawmaker JB Jeyaretnam, one of the most vocal oppositionists, into bankruptcy through the courts.
To accomplish his feats, Lee needed the strong personality he had, which allowed him to captivate his audience when speaking to them. The following are some of Lee's most memorable quotes said at various times of his life.
"...the old mechanisms had gone and the old habits of obedience and respect had also gone because people had seen them run away... they packed up. We were supposed, the local population was supposed to panic when the bombs fell, but we found they panicked more than we did. So it was no longer the old relationship."
- On Britain's fleeing when the Japanese attacked
"For me, it is a moment of anguish because all my life... I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know, it's a people connected by geography, economics, and ties of kinship. Would you mind if we stop for a while? [An emotional Lee tries to regain his composure.] There is nothing to be worried about it. Many things will go on just as usual. But be firm, be calm. We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore... Everybody will have his place; equal; language, culture, religion."
- On Malaysia's decision to expel Singapore
"Here in Singapore, you didn't come across the white man so much. He was in a superior position. But there you are (in Britain) in a superior position meeting white men and white women in an inferior position, socially, I mean. They have to serve you and so on in the shops. And I saw no reason why they should be governing me; they're not superior. I decided when I got back, I was going to put an end to this."
- On living in Britain as a law student
"Let me be frank; if we did not have the good points of the West to guide us, we wouldn't have got out of our backwardness. We would have been a backward economy with a backward society. But we do not want all of the West. Let me give you an example that encapsulates the whole difference between America and Singapore. America has a vicious drug problem. How does it solve it? It goes around the world helping other anti-narcotic agencies to try and stop the suppliers... Singapore does not have that option. What we can do is to pass a law which says that any customs officer or policeman who sees anybody in Singapore behaving suspiciously... can require that man to have his urine tested. If the sample is found to contain drugs, the man immediately goes for treatment. In America, if you did that it would be an invasion of the individual's rights and you would be sued."
- On America
"So when the graduate man does not want to marry a graduate woman, I tell him he's a fool, stupid. You marry a non-graduate, you're going to have problems, some children bright, some not bright. You'll be tearing your hair out, you can't miss."
- On Singapore's attempt to matchmake university graduates.
"I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn't be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn't be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters - who your neighbor is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think."
- On the role of the state in citizens' private lives
"The mass media can help to present Singapore's problems simply and clearly and then explain how, if they can support certain programs and policies, these problems can be solved. More important, we want the mass media to reinforce, not to undermine, the cultural values and social attitudes being inculcated in our schools and universities. Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government."
- On the media
"If you are a troublemaker... it's our job to politically destroy you. Put it this way. As long as JB Jeyaretnam stands for what he stands for - a thoroughly destructive force - we will knock him. Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac."
- On his political opponents
"You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government. You get that alternative and you'll never put Singapore together again; Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again... my asset values will disappear, my apartments will be a fraction of what they were, my ministers' jobs will be in peril, their security will be at risk and their women will become maids in other people's countries, foreign workers. I cannot have that!"
- On criticism of his authoritarian leadership
"Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up. Those who believe that after I have left the government as prime minister, I will go into a permanent retirement really should have their heads examined."
- On his role in shaping Singapore's future
"At the end of the day, what I cherish most are the human relationships. With the unfailing support of my wife and partner I have lived my life to the fullest. It is the friendships I made and the close family ties I nurtured that have provided me with that sense of satisfaction at a life well lived, and have made me what I am."
- On the most important thing
"Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life... I should find solace in her 89 years of a life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief."
- On the death of his wife, Kwa Geok Choo
"If Singapore is a nanny state, then I'm proud to have fostered one."
- On his legacy
"The final verdict will not be in the obituaries. The final verdict will be when the PhD students dig out the archives, read my old papers, assess what my enemies have said, sift the evidence and seek the truth. I'm not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose."
- On why he did what he did
"If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana."
- On Singapore's famous ban on chewing gum.