Condolence Letter from President Tony Tan Keng Yam on the passing of Mr Othman Wok
17 April 2017
Mary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of your beloved husband Mr Othman Wok.
Othman started his career at the Utusan Melayu in the mid-1940s, and was elected secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees’ Union in 1951 to fight for better working conditions for workers. Supporting the vision of a multi-racial Singapore that served the needs of all people regardless of race, language and religion, he joined politics in 1963 and was elected Assemblyman for Pasir Panjang Constituency when Singapore was part of Malaysia. During the racial riots in 1964, Othman was one of the Malay community’s strongest advocates of racial and religious reconciliation, and did not waver despite enormous pressure from UMNO Malay extremists.
After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965, Othman became our first Malay Minister in the Cabinet. He worked hard to ensure that the Singapore Malay community integrated with other races in housing, schools, at the workplace and other spheres of their daily life. He helped set up the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) to look after the welfare of the Muslims in Singapore, and established the Mosque Building Fund (MBF) scheme to collect funds for the building of new mosques in new housing estates. Over the years, the MBF has played a significant role in ensuring that mosques are built in every major housing estate in Singapore.
As the Minister for Social Affairs, Othman actively promoted the development of the local sports scene by introducing programmes such as “Sport for All” and Pesta Sukan, and forming the Singapore National Olympics Council (SNOC). He officiated the ground-breaking of the National Stadium in 1966, which served as an iconic venue for many sports, cultural and entertainment events including two Southeast Asian Games, numerous Malaysia Cup football matches, and 18 National Day Parades before the stadium closed more than 40 years later in 2007.
Othman retired from politics in 1977 and was appointed Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia, helping to develop a better understanding between the two governments and the peoples of Singapore and Indonesia.
Even after his retirement from politics, Othman had always encouraged Malays to work and compete on the basis of meritocracy in multi-racial Singapore. Today, the Malay community in Singapore is doing well and can be proud of their accomplishments, mainly because of the strong foundations that Othman had helped established.
Singapore owes its success to the sacrifices and hard work of our founding fathers such as Othman. Othman made many significant contributions to the social development of Singapore and the welfare of the Singapore Malay and Muslim communities. He was steadfast in his beliefs during a difficult and crucial period of Singapore’s history. His passion and commitment in helping others, and his impartiality and integrity in serving one and all, are traits that we remember and admire in him.
Othman will be remembered for his sincerity and personable nature. When Mary and I visited him during the annual Hari Raya gatherings at his residence, we were always very touched by his graciousness and warm hospitality. Today, we have lost a dear friend.
On behalf of the people of Singapore, Mary and I offer our sincere condolences to you and your family during this time of mourning.
TONY TAN KENG YAM