Lee Chin Koon

Lee Chin Koon (b. 1903 Semarang, Indonesia  d. 12 October 1997 Singapore) was a storekeeper and depot manager for the Shell Oil Company, and father of Singapore's First Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Early life and education
Lee was born in the Indonesian town of Semarang to Lee Hoon Leong and Ko Liem Nio. When Lee was a baby, his parents brought him to Singapore, where his father hailed from. He was educated at St Joseph's Institution, and left school with a Junior Cambridge Certificate.

His father, Hoon Leong, was a purser who worked with the Heap Eng Moh shipping line for tycoon Oei Tiong Ham. He rose in Oei's estimation, until he was afforded power of attorney over the tycoon's assets in Singapore.

Lee recalled his childhood in a wealthy family, and a time when he was allowed a "limitless account" at Robinsons and John Little, two high-end department stores in Raffles Place. However, the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s hit the family hard, and their fortunes suffered.

Marriage and career
Lee took a job as a storekeeper with the Shell Oil Company, and at the age of 20 married 15-year-old Chua Jim Neo in an arranged union on 20 May 1922. Jim Neo was the eldest child of wealthy Hokkien-Chinese businessman Chua Kim Teng and Neo Ah Soon, a Hakka (family) from Pontianak in Dutch Borneo. Their eldest son, Lee Kuan Yew, was born the year after their marriage. They would have three other sons, Suan Yew, Dennis and Freddy and a daughter, Monica.

Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his autobiography that his father was a disciplinarian who showed flashes of violent temper occasionally. When the younger Lee was four years old, he broke an expensive jar of brilliantine belonging to his father. In a rage, Lee dragged his son outside and held him by his ears over a well. Lee's forceful ways had a profound effect on his eldest son and turned him against using physical force. The younger Lee chose not to physically punish his three children when they were disobedient, preferring instead to use stern rebukes.

Lee's gambling habit put strains on his relationship with his wife. He would gamble at the Chinese Swimming Club and at times return home in an angry mood, demanding jewellery from his wife to pawn for more funds to continue. But Jim Neo was a strong woman who resisted these attempts.
Despite showing occasional bouts of violent temper, Lee has been described as a friendly, jovial man who loved music and got along well with friends and family. He was also a competitive swimmer who swam regularly well into his 80s, and was the first honorary secretary of the Chinese Swimming Club.
At the onset of World War II, Lee was working at the Shell depot at Batu Pahat. As the Japanese invaded Malaya, he was evacuated and returned to Singapore in his Baby Austin car before the Causeway was destroyed.

Lee Kuan Yew wrote that the difficulties of the Japanese Occupation "sobered (his father) and he became more responsible in hard times". Lee took a job with the military department dealing with oil supplies, and found his eldest son his first job, as a clerk.

After the war, Lee resumed his job with the Shell Oil Company. He was a manager in charge of the depots at Pasir Panjang in Singapore and would later work at depots in Stulang and Johor Bahru in Malaya. After his retirement from Shell, Lee worked at B P De Silva Jewelers, a shop in Singapore's High Street selling jewellery and watches.

Influence on Lee Kuan Yew
It was Lee's lifelong lament that he did not further his education and learn a profession. At the urgings of both Lee and his wife as well as family friends, his eldest son was persuaded of the benefits of getting a university education and set his mind on pursuing a career in the legal profession. Lee's regret about the consequences of his "misspent youth" instilled a deep reverence for education in Lee Kuan Yew. As a father, the younger Lee regarded the education of his three children to be an important responsibility and was satisfied when they won their own scholarships.

After Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore's first Prime Minister in 1959, the elder Lee declined press interviews, telling a relative that he "did not like publicity". He was described by a Filipino reporter in 1971 as "a master at politely withdrawing from journalists, as if from the plague".

Lee passed away on 12 October 1997, his wife Jim Neo having died in 1980. There were donations of more than S$300,000 at his funeral, which were channelled to five charities.

Father: Lee Hoon Leong
Mother: Ko Liem Nio
Wife: Chua Jim Neo
Sons: Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Suan Yew, Dennis Lee, Freddy Lee
Daughter: Monica Lee Kim Mon 

Alvin Chua

Han, F.K., Tan, S., & Fernandez W. (1997). Lee Kuan Yew: The man and his ideas (pp. 22-23, 236)   Singapore: Times Editions; Singapore Press Holdings. 
(Call no.: RSING 959.57092 HAN -[HIS]) 

Lee, C. K. (2006). In Encyclopedia of Singapore (pp. 126). Singapore: Talisman Publishing
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR -[HIS]) 

Lee, K. Y. (1998). From Third World To First. The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 (p. 748). Singapore: Times Editions; Singapore Press Holdings.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE -[HIS]) 

Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (pp. 25-26, 34, 38, 46, 62). Singapore: Times Editions; Singapore Press Holdings.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 LEE -[HIS]) 

Lianhe Zaobao. (1994). Lee Kuan Yew: A Pictorial Biography (pp. 10-13, 18-19, 89). Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings and Federal Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5705 LEE -[HIS]) 

Manila paper marvels at shy Lee family [Microfilm: NL6672]. (1971, January 10). The Straits Times, p.8. 

Pang, G. C. (1997, October 30). $300,000 collected in donations goes to charity (1997, October 30). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 28, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Singapore Chinese Swimming Club. (1998). Singapore Chinese Swimming Club: Eighty-eight Years and Beyond (pp. 34, 54). Singapore: Singapore Chinese Swimming Club.
(Call no.: RSING 797.21095957) 

SM Lee's father dies at 94 (1997, October 13). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 28, 2011, from NewspaperSG. 

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.   

People and communities
Fathers of prime ministers--Singapore--Biography
Lee, Chin Koon, 1903-1997
Prime ministers--Singapore--Biography

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