The life & love of Yusof Ishak , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

The life & love of Yusof Ishak

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The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies was renamed Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute yesterday on the 105th anniversary of the birth of S'pore's first President. His portrait is on the currency note, but who is the man? CELESTINO GULAPA and FADZIL HAMZAH trace the milestones in his life

He was a president for all Singaporeans... Encik Yusof showed that, in Singapore, you can rise to the top if you work hard.

- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paying tribute to Singapore's first President

1 Birth

Mr Yusof Ishak was born in Perak, Malaysia, on Aug 12, 1910, the oldest of nine children. His father, civil servant Ishak Ahmad, was transferred to Singapore in 1923 to be assistant inspector of the Fisheries Department.

2 Schools

He attended Victoria Bridge School for his primary education before joining Raffles Institution (RI), where he was one of the thirteen students and the only Malay in the Queen's Scholarship class.

3 Sportsman

He represented RI in many sports, including hockey, cricket, swimming and basketball. He was also a champion in boxing, winning the Aw Boon Par cup in 1932. He was the national lightweight champion in 1933.

4 Journalist

In 1938, he started Utusan Melayu with 20 Malay leaders in Singapore. The newspaper championed the Malay community's need to modernise and focus on education.

5 Friends

Utusan Melayu became known as the newspaper that sincerely fought for the rights of all races and its office attracted many young idealists. Some of them became nationalist leaders who led the fight for justice and freedom in Singapore and Malaya. One of them was a young, fiery lawyer named Lee Kuan Yew, who became Utusan Melayu's legal adviser.

6 Marriage

In 1948, Yusof married Noor Aishah Mohd Salim in an arranged marriage. She was 16 years old while he was 39. They had two daughters and a son.

7 KL & back

In 1957, Mr Yusof moved from Singapore to live in Kuala Lumpur. Utusan Melayu also moved its headquarters there.

In 1959, he resigned from the newspaper and left KL to be the chairman of the Public Service Commission of Singapore, at the invitation of the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

8 Head of State

After the PAP won the 1959 election and Singapore achieved self-government, Mr Yusof was appointed the Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore, or Head of State.

9 President

When Singapore gained independence on Aug 9, 1965, he became the first President of the Republic of Singapore.

As president of the newly independent country, he reached out to the people to reassure citizens stunned by the country's separation from Malaysia.

10 Death

In 1968, he was hospitalised for heart trouble and other illnesses. He died of heart failure in Nov 23, 1970, during his third term in office, and was buried at the Kranji State Cemetery.


No man need feel that to belong to a particular religion puts him at a disadvantage or gives him an advantage... Only in this way can a multiracial society like Singapore live in peace and prosperity.

- President Yusof Ishak, in his 1968 New Year's message



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