Wee Kim Wee



Wee Kim Wee (Dr) (b. 4 November 1915, Singapore–d. 2 May 2005, Singapore)1 was the fourth president of Singapore, serving eight years in office from August 1985 to August 1993.2 The Straits-born Chinese had established himself as a diplomat and a journalist before his presidency and is often remembered as a “people’s president”.3

Early life
Wee had a humble beginning as his family was relatively poor.4 He lost his parents at a young age – his father when he was only eight5 and his mother when he was 19.6 Wee lived with his family in a rented house on Holland Road and they subsisted on rearing poultry and the fruit trees that were grown in the home’s compound. Wee attended Pearl’s Hill School, Outram School and Raffles Institution, but halted his education in 1929 at the age of 15 to supplement his family income through work.7


Career
Journalist
Wee’s uncle, Tan Kok Tiong, recommended Wee for a position at The Straits Times newspaper. Thus began Wee’s career with the daily broadsheet in 1930.8 He first worked there as a clerk in the circulation department and was later transferred to the advertising department. His break into journalism came when he was called upon to report on sports outside office hours. In 1941, he resigned from The Straits Times and joined the United Press Association (UPA), an American news agency. When the Japanese invaded Malaya (1941–42), Wee served in the Air Raid Precautions unit.9 During the Japanese Occupation (19421945), he sold miscellaneous goods in front of the Singapore Harbour Board quarters in Kampong Bahru.10

After the war ended, Wee rose through the ranks in UPA. He became the chief correspondent and office manager for Singapore, Malaya, Borneo and Brunei in the 1950s. He rejoined The Straits Times in 1959 as its deputy editor and was promoted to the position of editorial manager in 1970.11 In 1966, he was credited with bringing the first word that Indonesia was keen on ending Confrontation with Singapore when his interviews with Indonesia’s new leaders Suharto and Adam Malik, the first by a local journalist, were published.12 In 1973, he retired from The Straits Times.13

Diplomat
In 1973, then Minister for Foreign Affairs S. Rajaratnam asked Wee to serve as a diplomat. Wee subsequently served as the high commissioner to Kuala Lumpur from 1973 to 1980, and ambassador to Japan and the Republic of Korea between 1980 and 1984.14

Presidency
Wee was sworn in as the fourth president of Singapore on 30 August 1985.15 In 1989, he had a major operation for cancer but recovered sufficiently to resume his appointment as Singapore’s president.16 He also briefly enjoyed the new powers of an elected president that came into effect on 30 November 1991,17 before he retired at the age of 78 in August 1993 after two successful four-year terms.18

Other accomplishments
An all-rounded sportsman, Wee excelled particularly in badminton. He founded the Useful Badminton Party in 1934 and was also the president of the Singapore Badminton Association and of the Badminton Association of Malaya.19 In 1937, he was the junior singles badminton champion.20

During his illustrious career, Wee served on six statutory boards: Rent Control Board, Films Appeal Committee, Land Acquisition Board, Board of Visiting Justices, National Theatre Trust and Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.21 He was also on the boards of several charitable organisations including the Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association.22

Wee was Singapore’s chief scout during his presidential years from 1985 to 1993.23 He was also the fifth Singaporean to be made an honorary member of the Singapore Recreation Club in 1994.24 The Wee Kim Wee Professorship in Communication Studies at the Nanyang Technological University was established on 4 November 1995 on his 80th birthday.25

Death
On 2 May 2005, Wee passed away at home at the age of 89 from complications due to prostate cancer.26

Timeline27
1930–1941: Clerk in The Straits Times circulation department; later promoted to reporter
1941: Office manager, UPA
1945: Sub-editor, UPA
1947–1959: Chief correspondent and office manager, United Press International
1958: President of Singapore Badminton Association (1958-1962)28
1959: Deputy editor, The Straits Times29
1966: Appointed as a justice of the peace
1970–1973: Editorial manager, The Straits Times
1973: President, Singapore Press Club30
1973–1980: High Commissioner, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia31
1980–1984: Ambassador to Japan and Republic of Korea
1984–1985: Chairman, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation32
1985–1993: Chancellor, National University of Singapore33
1985–1993: President of Singapore
1993: Appointed as deputy registrar of marriages34
1999: Director, Cathay Organisation Holdings

Awards35
1963: Public Service Star36
1973: Public Service Star
1979: Meritorious Service Medal37
1989: Honorary Knight Grand Cross, Order of Bath
1990: Laila Utama (Most Esteemed Family Order), Brunei38
1993: Order of Temasek (First Class)
1994: Honorary Doctor of Letters degree, National University of Singapore39
1996: Special award for distinguished service to journalism, Singapore Press Club40
1998: Distinguished Service Award, Asia-Pacific Region Scout Committee41

Family
Father: Wee Choong Lay, a cargo clerk who became blind at the age of 4542
Mother: Chua Hay Luan alias Tak Poh
Wife: Koh Sok Hiong (m. 1936)43
Children: One son and six daughters44



Authors

Sharon Teng & Jenny Tien



References
1. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Wee Kim Wee. Retrieved 2016, March 24 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-wee-kim-wee
2. Singapore chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore. (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, pp. 52–54. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
3. Chua, M. H. (2005, May 3). Nation mourns death of people’s president. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. A man without pretensions. (1985, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Former President Wee Kim Wee dies. (2005, May 3). The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tuminah Sapawi. (1996, September 2). Ex-president on 2 Mums who shaped his life. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. A man without pretensions. (1985, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. A man without pretensions. (1985, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Wee Kim Wee. Retrieved 2016, March 24 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-wee-kim-wee
10. A man without pretensions. (1985, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Jacob, P. (2005, May 3). A father figure for the S’pore family. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Peh, S. H. (2005, May 3). Journalist who got world scoop. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. A man without pretensions. (1985, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Wee Kim Wee. Retrieved 2016, March 24 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-wee-kim-wee
15. Who’s who in Singapore. (2000). Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 280. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
16. ‘Never shun the common people’. (1993, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Teo, A., & Chuang, P. M. (1993, September 1). House pays tribute to outgoing president. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. He was a true S’porean, says PM. (2005, May 3). The Straits Times, p. 5 Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Rajendran, J. (1985, August 28). Badminton champ in his youth. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Singapore Chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore. (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, pp. 52–54. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
21. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Wee Kim Wee. Retrieved 2016, March 24 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-wee-kim-wee
22. Portrait of Mr. Wee Kim Wee, chairman of Singapore Anti-Tuberculosis Association. (n.d.). Retrieved from BookSG.
23. Portrait of Mr. Wee Kim Wee, high commissioner of Singapore to Malaysia. (n.d.). Retrieved from BookSG.
24. Former President Wee made honorary member of SRC. (1994, January 16). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Birthday wishes and professorship for Kim Wee. (1995, Nov 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Koh, J. (2005, May 3). Former President Wee Kim Wee dies, 89. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27.  Who’s who in Singapore. (2000). Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 280. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
28. Dr Wee Kim Wee (2005, May 4), The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Peh, S. H. (2005, May 3). Journalist who got world scoop. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Kim Wee is new Press Club president. (1973, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Gentleman who was a natural diplomat  (2005, May 3). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Wee Kim Wee to be SBC’s new Chairman (1984, February 8).  The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Our chancellors: Speeches and biographical sketch. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, April 13 from National University of Singapore website: http://www.lib.nus.edu.sg/nusbiodata/bioweekw.htm
34. Wee Kim Wee made a deputy registrar of marriages (1994, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35.
Portrait of Mr. Wee Kim Wee, 1940s [Image of Photograph], [Online]. (1995). In  150 years of newspapers: The Straits Times July 15, 1995. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 153. Retrieved from BookSG. 
36. S’pore National Day honours for 424 residents. (1963, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Ministry of Communications and Information (1985–1990). (1985, August 30). Speech by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in moving the motion on the election of Mr Wee Kim Wee as president of the Republic of Singapore on 30 Aug 85 in Parliament. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
38. Who’s who in Singapore. (2000). Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 280. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
39. Our chancellors: Speeches and biographical sketch. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, April 13 from National University of Singapore website: http://www.lib.nus.edu.sg/nusbiodata/bioweekw.htm
40. Former President Wee receives prestigious journalism award. (1996, January 28). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Wee Kim Wee conferred scout award. (1998, June 20).The Straits Times, p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. ‘Never shun the common people’. (1993, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Ministry of Communications and Information (1985–1990). (1985, August 30). Speech by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in moving the motion on the election of Mr Wee Kim Wee as president of the Republic of Singapore on 30 Aug 85 in Parliament. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
44. Who’s who in Singapore. (2000). Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 280. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

 

Subject
Politicians
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership
Presidents--Singapore--Biography
Journalists--Singapore--Biography
Wee, Kim Wee, 1915-2005
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders