Social reformer and clergyman Henry Ward Beecher once said, "He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has.”
By this measure, Dr Lim Hock Siew could have been Singapore’s richest man.
In reality though, he was Singapore’s second-longest serving political prisoner, having been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for more than 19 years, from 1963 to 1982.
On Monday night, the founding member and leader of Barisan Sosialis, the party formed by a splinter group of the People’s Action Party in 1961, died of renal failure at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife, their only son and daughter-in-law, and their grandson.
Born the second child of four boys, Lim was regarded by his peers as a leader who was steadfast in his conviction, and who always stayed true to his political principles.
He did not waver even when those beliefs landed him in trouble with the authorities during Singapore’s pre-independence days.
On 2 Feb, 1963, Lim was among 110 suspected communists arrested and imprisoned under a government security exercise called Operation Coldstore.
He remained in detention without a trial until he was finally released on 6 Sept, 1982.
Yet, despite his brushes with the authorities, to his family, Lim was simply a man who loved and is dearly loved.
His son Yue Wen, 50, a senior administrator, said his father’s last days were happy and peaceful.
The younger Lim’s wife, Jenn Lui, who is in her 40s, described her father-in-law as independent despite being diagnosed with kidney failure in 2009.
The couple spoke to Yahoo! Singapore at the family’s terrace house in Joo Chiat, where the funeral was held.
Who was Dr Lim Hock Siew?
It was not just family members who were there to pay their last respects. Friends, many of whom had known Lim for years, were there too.
Among them was his close comrade, Tan Mui Hua, 70, who met Lim in jail in the 1960s. Tan is a former Barisan Sosialis detainee who was arrested three years after Lim.
Dressed in a sombre white shirt and black pants, Tan sat quietly at the front of the wake, as he reminisced about his friend.
“He [Lim] was a leader, and a true inspiration to all of us who believed in the cause. He never wavered in his conviction, never. He’s 81 already, and still believes in what he believed in back then,” Tan said.
Lim’s nephew, Lim Yee Ming, 42, also attested his uncle’s unwavering political beliefs. “I think until the day he passed away, he still believed strongly that what he had done previously is something that’s right.”
Yee Ming described Lim as a “calm and optimistic man,” who had a heart for the poor.
“As a doctor, sometimes when his patients have no money to pay, he’s actually even willing to fork out his money to let them take transport,” he recalled.
A huge loss to Singapore
Lim’s fourth brother, Hock Khiang took the death especially hard.
“I was his brother, and also his comrade,” the 73-year-old said in between tears.
Recalling how he would make weekly visits to his brother during his incarceration, Hock Khiang added wistfully, “Such a wrongful imprisonment, and for so long.”
But his mood lightened considerably when he saw the number of young Singaporeans who came to pay their respects. Turning to this reporter, he remarked, “I never expected young people to know my brother’s story.”
Jarrod Luo, 27, a consultant, was among the younger generation of Singaporeans who attended the wake after finishing work on Tuesday.
Asked why he was here, Luo said Lim’s death is a loss to Singapore. “The loss began long ago when he was on the receiving end of the political crackdown. He was lost when the incumbent refused to accept his contributions,” he added.
Rachel Zeng, an activist, too, felt Lim’s passing is to the country’s detriment. She added that she had researched about Lim after hearing about his story from from friends five to six years ago.
“I believe I came across his name in the history textbook before. But at that time I just thought he’s just one of those troublemakers… But I felt terrible because even our own history textbooks are lying to us. In a way, it was a realisation that something’s not right with our history,” she said.