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Kwa Geok Choo, wife of Singapore's first prime minister and mother of current premier, dies at 89

October 2, 2010 |  7:17 am

Kwa Geok Choo, the wife of Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and the mother of the island-nation’s current premier, Lee Hsien Loong, died Saturday after suffering a stroke two years ago. She was 89.

Born in 1921, Kwa first met Lee in the late 1930s when they studied in Raffles Institution, where she was the only girl in an all-boys high school. At Raffles College several years later, they competed for the Queen’s Scholarship, which allowed recipients to study at either Cambridge or Oxford universities.

Kwa was the top student in English and economics, besting Lee to his “horror,” he said in the first volume of his memoirs dedicated to her. World War II interrupted their studies, and Lee left Singapore in 1946 to study at Cambridge after the Japanese left. Kwa joined him a year later after she won the Queen’s Scholarship, and they both graduated with law degrees.

She married Lee in December 1947, and they had two sons and a daughter. She was regularly seen accompanying Lee at state events and overseas visits.

Lee said he could afford to give up his career as a lawyer and follow his convictions to enter politics because of Kwa, according to the book “Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas.”

“My great advantage was I have a wife who could be a sole breadwinner and bring the children up,” Lee was quoted as saying. “That was my insurance policy. Without such a wife, I would have been hard-pressed.”

The couple and Lee’s brother founded law firm Lee & Lee in September 1955, according to the legal company’s website. Kwa and her brother-in-law, Lee Kim Yew, ran the firm after Lee became the city’s prime minister from 1959 to 1990.

Their elder son was sworn in as Singapore’s third prime minister six years ago, replacing Goh Chok Tong, who took over as premier in 1990. Lee now has the role of minister mentor.

-- Bloomberg