Kwa Geok Choo

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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Kwa (Chinese: ; pinyin: ).
Kwa Geok-Choo
Kwa Geok-Choo (furthest right) with her husband Lee Kuan Yew (furthest left) in 1985, alongside US President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan
Spouse of the Prime Minister of Singapore
In office
5 June 1959 – 28 November 1990
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Tan Choo Leng
Personal details
Born (1920-12-21)21 December 1920
Died October 2, 2010(2010-10-02) (aged 89)
Political party People's Action Party (1959-1990)
Spouse(s) Lee Kuan Yew
Children Lee Hsien Loong
Lee Hsien Yang
Lee Wei Ling
Parents Kwa Sioe Tie & Wee Yeow Nio
Alma mater Methodist Girls' School[1]
Raffles Institution
Raffles College
University of Cambridge
Occupation Lawyer[2]

Kwa Geok Choo (Chinese: 柯玉芝; pinyin: Kē Yùzhī; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Kua Gio̍k-tsi; 21 December 1920 – 2 October 2010)[3] was the wife of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, and the mother of Lee Hsien Loong, the third and current Prime Minister.[4] She was also a partner in the law firm Lee & Lee. Kwa was a former student at Methodist Girls' School, Raffles Institution, and Raffles College. She read law at Girton College in the University of Cambridge, where she was a Queen's Scholar from Malaya.[5]


Kwa Geok Choo attended Raffles Institution and Raffles College, and according to Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs, by 1939, Kwa and Lee were both top students, often coming first and second in exams.[6] They continued their courtship during the Japanese occupation, and after the war when Lee was in Cambridge, he petitioned for Kwa to be admitted to Girton College, saying she was "a very bright girl, brighter than I was".[6] Kwa married Lee in secret in London in 1947 and then remarried in Singapore on September 30, 1950. They had two sons – Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Hsien Yang – and a daughter – Lee Wei Ling. Her brother, Kwa Soon Bee, served as a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health. She had three sisters: Mrs Cheah, a teacher at Methodist Girls' School; Mrs Yong, the wife of Yong Nyuk Lin; and Mrs Earnest Lau, who was also a teacher at Methodist Girls School.[7]

During Lee's years as Prime Minister and Senior Minister, Kwa was frequently seen with her husband, especially on diplomatic trips and meetings with other foreign ministers. After suffering two strokes in May and June 2008, she was bedridden and unable to speak, but remained conscious and able to understand speech.[8]

Contributions to Singapore[edit]

When Singapore separated from the Malaysian Federation, Kwa drafted the clauses in the Separation Agreement for the guarantee of the water agreements between the Malaysian state of Johor and Singapore. This guarantee was done via an amendment to the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.[10]

It is also notable that before Singapore's merger with Malaysia, Kwa had told Lee Kuan Yew that she did not feel positive about the merger. Her gut feelings were later proven true when the merger fell through shortly after it was passed.

Kwa was also a pioneer advocate of women's rights in Singapore.[11]


Kwa died in her sleep at home, following a long illness on 2 October 2010 around 0540 hours SST.[3] She was given a state funeral and cremated at Mandai Crematorium on 7 October 2010.[12]


In 2011, the Singapore Management University named its new law library,[13] a new scholars programme and a top law graduate award after Kwa. In the same year, the National University of Singapore established a professorship in property law, a distinguished visitors programme, bursaries and scholarships in her honour.[14] Nanyang Girls' High School also unveiled a bust of Kwa at its Yu Zhi Library, which is named after her.[15]

Singapore's Peranakan Museum currently displays Kwa's barrister wig on its third floor.[16]

Cultural depictions[edit]

In 2011, former Far Eastern Economic Review comic artist Morgan Chua released In Memory of Kwa Geok Choo (1920-2010), a book of sketches and political cartoons in tribute to her.[17]

In October 2014, the Madame Tussauds Singapore museum unveiled wax figures of Kwa and Lee Kuan Yew seated and smiling together against a backdrop of red flowers formed in the shape of two hearts. The statues were created based on a photograph that was taken by Kwa's niece, Kwa Kim Li, of the pair on Valentine's Day in 2008 at Sentosa.[18][19]

In the same month, Cultural Medallion recipient Tan Swie Hian completed a painting of Kwa and Lee Kuan Yew entitled A Couple. The painting, which took Tan five years to complete, was partially damaged by a fire in 2013. It depicts Kwa and Lee in their youth, is based on a 1946 black-and-white photograph of the couple in the University of Cambridge, and incorporates in its background Tan's poem written in memory of Kwa. Tan said, "I have always felt [Madam Kwa] was a great woman who, despite her intelligence and capability, was also a humble and dedicated wife." A Couple was purchased by art collector Wu Hsioh Kwang.[20]

Honours and awards[edit]

  •  Philippines: Golden Heart Presidential Award (15 January 1974)


  1. ^ "Orbituary of Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, 1920 – 2010". Archived from the original on 8 January 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Kwa Geok Choo". Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO). Archived from the original on 23 March 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Mrs Lee Kuan Yew dies at age 89". MediaCorp Channel NewsAsia. 2 October 2010. Archived from the original on 3 November 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  4. ^ "Goodbye Mrs Lee Kuan Yew (Madam Kwa Geok Choo), we shall miss you dearly.". Mathew's Photography Singapore. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "Public service commission scholarships – History & Evolution – The 1950s". Government of Singapore. 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Lee, Kuan Yew (1998). The Singapore Story - Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Times Editions. pp. Ch 2–4. ISBN 978-9812049834. 
  7. ^ "The patriarch: Kwa Geok Choo's father". Veritas. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Government of Singapore (1 September 2010). "Lee Kuan Yew's interview with Seth Mydans" (PDF). SG Press Centre. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c d
  10. ^ "Special Tribute to Madam Kwa Geok Choo". Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies. 5 October 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  11. ^ "Remembering Madam Kwa Geok Choo". Archives Online. National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Heroine's funeral for wife of Lee Kuan Yew". Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  13. ^ "Kwa Geok Choo Library". 
  14. ^ "SMU and NUS to Pay Tribute to the Late Madam Kwa Geok Choo". Newshub - NUS' News Portal. NUS. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Founder's Day 2011 and the Unveiling of the Bust of Late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew". Nanyang Girls' High School. Archived from the original on 29 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  16. ^ Khong, Swee Lin. "Holding Court Beyond the Kitchen" (PDF). PASSAGE. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  17. ^ "In Memory of Madam Kwa Geok Choo". BooksActually Blog. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  18. ^ Singh, Bryna (23 October 2014). "Wax figures of Lee Kuan Yew and his late wife unveiled at Madame Tussauds Singapore". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits TImes. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  19. ^ "Kuan Yew & late wife immortalised in romantic tribute at Madame Tussauds". The Malay Chronicle. 23 October 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  20. ^ Ang, Benson (27 October 2014). "Damaged portraits of Mr and Mrs Lee completed". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 

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