Mr Lee Kuan Yew's maid for 40 years says of the Lee family: 'They had no airs'
Barely out of her teens, a girl from China left home to come to work as a maid in Singapore.
She worked at the home of Chinese businessman and philanthropist Tan Kah Kee for nine years, but then moved to her neighbour's home to work after that.
That neighbour was the parents of a young Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Madam Ouyang Huan Yan ended up working for the Lees for more than 40 years, before deciding to return to her home in Guangdong in 1986.
The Apple Daily tracked down Madam Ouyang, now 98, at her hometown.
She was unaware that Mr Lee had died on March 23.
She said she felt sad that her old boss had died and wished that his children would not grieve too much and take care of their own health.
When Madam Ouyang first joined the Lees, Mr Lee was still studying in Cambridge, but he returned home a year later.
She got to witness his wedding to Madam Kwa Geok Choo, which Madam Ouyang described as a "simple affair" attended by only relatives and close friends.
She took care of Mr Lee's three children
Madam Ouyang was initially tasked with normal household chores but started taking care of Mr Lee's children when they were born.
She looked after Singapore's current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as well as his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.
Madam Ouyang said the children were always "courteous, respectful and obedient" as a result of their parents' strict discipline.
And unlike other children born in a well-off family, the three children had to seek their parents' approval to buy anything, she added.
Madam Ouyang recounted going on outings with the family as they did not want her to be cooped up at home.
She remembers watching Mr Lee hold his children’s hands, and felt that he was more like a friendly friend, a patient father, and “someone you can trust and be at ease with”.
Even though Madam Ouyang was seven years older than Mr Lee, she addessed him as "Master".
She said Mr Lee had no airs about him and was friendly and humble to the servants.
Even after Mr became Prime Minister in 1959, he remained a modest and simple man, said Madam Ouyang. She remembers how had stuck to his breakfast of a glass of Ovaltine, two pieces of bread and two eggs.
Madam Ouyang said Mrs Lee, who worked as a lawyer then, was especially kind to the maids. She once told them: “We’re busy in the office and will arrive home late, so please have your meals first and do not go hungry. You can prepare the dishes after we get home from work. Everyone will not be inconvenienced this way. Is it all right?”
So it was customary for the workers in the Lee household to eat before the employers.
Especially close to Wei Ling
Above: Madam Ouyang (left) was particularly close to Mr Lee's only daughter, Wei Ling.
When Mr Lee became Prime Minister, Madam Ouyang started calling Wei Ling as "Da Xiao Jie" or "employer's eldest daughter" in Mandarin.
But she told the maid: “It’s my father who’s the prime minister, not me. So please address me by my name.”
Returned home to look after sick sister
In 1986, Madam Ouyang's older sister back in her hometown fell ill and she had to return to help take care of her.
Mr and Mrs Lee tried to persuade her to stay but she had to reject them.
Dr Lee also wrote several letters to her, asking her to return.
In 2005, Dr Lee found Madam Ouyang's address and sent her some clothes and a photograph of the Lee family.
On the back of the photo, she wrote in Mandarin: "This is our family portrait for memory’s sake. You were a wonderful memory in the stages of us growing up and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you. I also wish you good health, and may things go your way.”
Madam Ouyang said that in July 2014, Mr Lee Hsien Loong sent a representative to deliver a box of bird's nest to her and took a photo of her to bring back to Mr Lee.
To date, she still keeps a large collection of photographs of the Lee family.
Some were of her and the Lee children, and others were of Mr and Mrs Lee in their later years. Although most of the photographs have turned yellow, Madam Ouyang still values them and have been kept in good condition.
Source: Apple Daily