October 4, 2010

The ST has a link to an interview conducted with Mrs LKY exactly 12 years ago.

By Irene Ng

TOGETHER, husband and wife worked on the memoirs. If Senior Minister Lee
Kuan Yew laboured until 4 am on it, his wife would be up until then, too, proof-reading, scribbling corrections and comments on the drafts and sometimes, arguing with him over them.

Her major concern was to ensure that her husband did not unwittingly write
something that would hurt someone, she says in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times. “I would draw his attention to it and let him decide whether or not to delete.”

It was a role that has become second nature to her. This is evident from her
unassuming reply when asked about her role in his memoirs: “I never thought of myself as ‘playing a role in the making of his memoirs’.

“I have been proof-reading and sometimes correcting his speeches from his
earliest 1950 speech to the Malayan Forum in London.”

Since then, she has been checking his speeches in Parliament which have to be proofread for printing in the Hansard, and his speeches for various conferences.

“When he decided to write his memoirs, it was assumed by both of us that I
would continue to do the same for this book.”

Describing her role during the three-year effort to produce the book, she
recounts: “My work was to check and correct it for grammar, spelling, sentence structure and repetition.”

She would write her comments on the margins: “Repetition; do you really want to say this? Delete? Split infinitive; awkward sentence structure, redraft?”

She was also concerned that Mr Lee’s team of researchers were digging up so
much material that the book would get too long, with too much detail.

“No one would read it! We had arguments,” she recalls.

The drafts for his memoirs at one stage ran up to about 1,000 pages. They were crunched down eventually to the more compact 680-page version that was published.

Mr Lee, too, had referred to their “endless arguments” over the drafts of his
memoirs. His wife, a conveyancing lawyer by profession, went over every word he wrote – many times – and demanded precise, clear and unambiguous
language, he noted in his preface.

Mrs Lee reveals she was not alone in setting rigorous standards.

“He (Mr Lee) would check corrections, re-arrange sentences or whole
paragraphs, never satisfied. I would tidy up, making sure he had made the
necessary consequential amendments.”

They worked as a team, as they have done for more than four decades, since the time they were partners in the law firm Lee & Lee from 1955 to 1959. “We did not need to agree on any working arrangement. We worked together and
complemented each other,” says Mrs Lee.

She elaborates: “For his memoirs, he would read a mass of files and documents, then after he had sorted out in his mind what he wanted to use, he would dictate into his tape recorder, referring to his papers as he went along.”

After the tape had been transcribed by his secretaries, this first draft, together with the floppy disk, would be sent to their Oxley Road home. “He would correct and amend this first draft and pass me a clean draft to run through.”

The amended draft went back and forth many times on paper and on floppy disk, she recalls.

And often, they worked into the wee hours of the morning. Her husband, who had to attend to official duties during the day, would stay up till 3 or 4 am labouring on his memoirs.

“If he is working till 3 or 4 am, I will also be up till then. If there are no drafts for me to run through, I will read some book.

“Now he is tightening and polishing volume two, so there is work to do.”

The second volume, on Singapore’s journey from poverty to prosperity, is
scheduled to be published next year.


‘I knew my husband would be dedicating the book to me. I would sometimes
show him dedications in other books and say ‘How about this?’ and we would
laugh and joke about it.

He finally settled for: ‘To Choo, my wife and partner’. The editor must have
thought it would look neater the other way: ‘To my wife and partner Choo’. We left it at that. Of course, I felt as proud as could be when I finally saw it in print.’
– Mrs Lee on her husband’s dedication to her in his memoirs

‘I had one powerful critic and helper, my wife, Choo. She went over every word that I wrote, many times. We had endless arguments. She is a conveyancing lawyer by profession. I was not drafting a will or a conveyance to be scrutinised by a judge. Nevertheless, she demanded precise, clear and unambiguous language. Choo was a tower of strength, giving me constant emotional and intellectual support.’
– Mr Lee in his tribute to HER in the preface of his memoirs


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