Mr Jek Yeun Thong, a founding member of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and a member of Singapore’s first cabinet, used to draft parts of Mr Lee’s Mandarin speech and coached him on the language delivery.
A journalist with a Chinese language newspaper, Sin Pao, he also wrote the speech for Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew when the latter spoke in Mandarin for the first time at a political rally in 1955.
In 1959 after the PAP won the general election for the Legislative Assembly, Mr Jek was appointed Mr Lee’s political secretary, a position he held until 1963 when he contested the Queenstown seat successfully. He served as a Member of Parliament for Queenstown for 25 years till 1988.
Mr Jek was also among the 10 ministers who signed the Independence of Singapore Agreement in 1965.
Mr Jek held several Cabinet portfolios including Labour, Culture as well as Science and Technology. As Minister for Labour, Mr Jek was instrumental in building trust with the Chinese-speaking unions. He also helped to draft the 1968 Employment Act that laid the groundwork for harmonious labour relations paving the way for Singapore’s industrialisation.
Mr Jek was also known as the “Chingay man”. As the Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association from 1971 to 1977, he led the People’s Association to organise the first-ever Chingay Parade on 4 February 1973. The vibrancy of the Parade added to the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, and Chingay today has grown to become a national celebration of our racial harmony.
Mr Jek passed away at the age of 87 on 3 June 2018.