SINGAPORE — When Mr Ng Kok Song first discussed with his fiancee Sybil Lau in late June his intention to run for President, she warned him that she, and specifically the fact that she is 30 years younger than him, might be “a liability”.
That was one of the reasons why they decided to be upfront about their relationship right from the start — on the day that Mr Ng announced he wanted to make a bid for the presidency, Ms Lau gave brief remarks to the media as well, the only one among the presidential hopefuls' partners to do so.
“We decided to be proactive, to tell our story to the people of Singapore and help them to understand that Sybil has been living in Singapore for 18 years, and she is a Singapore citizen,” said Mr Ng, the 75-year-old former chief investment officer of sovereign wealth fund GIC.
He was speaking with TODAY in a quiet condominium function room to offer an initimate look at his life, beliefs and values.
In a frank retelling of their discussion about his plans, he said that Ms Lau also remarked that a presidential campaign would involve some suffering for both of them.
“People want to find out as much as possible, both the positive but also the negative, if they can dig it out. So, I realised that it will involve a huge sacrifice on the part of Sybil.”
The fact that she decided to back him anyway, is what true love is all about, he said.
With pure emotion in his eyes, he said: “To sacrifice because you respect and you want to help the person you love."
He said that Ms Lau, being 45, represents “youthfulness” and in fact has been an asset to his campaign.
“Our relationship has helped me to understand the hopes, concerns and aspirations of younger Singaporeans. And that is very important,” Mr Ng said.
“Instead of it being a liability, it can be an asset.”
A ‘MOMENT OF REALISATION’ WHILE TAKING CARE OF HIS WIFE THROUGH ILLNESS
Before he met his fiancee, Mr Ng had been married to his wife, Patricia Chee, for 33 years, before she died in 2005 from cancer.
The 19 months between his wife’s cancer diagnosis in 2003 and her death in 2005 were the “second most challenging period” of his life, Mr Ng said.
“During that time, I decided that she would be my first priority,” he said. “I want to spend as much time as I can with her, knowing that time is short.”
With that determination, Mr Ng accompanied her to every visit to the doctor, which happened nearly every day during the initial stages after her diagnosis, for various tests and hospital stays.
“I decided that I can’t take over her suffering, but what I can do is accompany her in her suffering by being with her so that she knows that there’s somebody who cares for her, who is by her side,” he said.
On days when she had no medical appointments, he would take her for breakfast, and then they would go to the beach at East Coast Park.
“We would just lie down and enjoy the sea breeze, and talk about our courtship days, about our children, just to keep her cheerful,” he said. “And then after that, I would go to work in the afternoon.”
Having to juggle his work and caring for his wife, and also having to do the household chores soon took a physical and emotional toll on him.
He soon made plans to get a chauffeur who could ferry his wife to and from the hospital and his youngest daughter Georgina, who was 13 at that time, to school.
When he told his daughter about his plans, her response surprised him.
“Georgina said to me: ‘Dad, I do not want a driver. I want you’,” said Mr Ng, watery-eyed.
“That was another moment of awakening, that what my daughter wanted was her father and probably not a driver, and what my wife wanted was a husband, not a driver,” he said.
“In other words, there are certain situations where you are irreplaceable. So sometimes I think we need those moments of realisation to give us added motivation to do what we have to do.”
THE CORE VALUE HE LIVES BY: RESPONSIBILITY
Mr Ng said that the most challenging period of his life was when he was in his late teens.
He had just completed his junior college education and, like many of his friends, had an opportunity to further his studies overseas. But then suddenly he could not do so because his father had lost his job as a fish auctioneer.
“My father said to me that I could not go overseas to study. I have to start working to support the family, and I felt incredibly sad,” said Mr Ng, who was second eldest in a family of 11 children.
“Nonetheless, I said okay, I will do what I can to support the family.”
He gave private tuition to seven or eight students in order to make a few hundred dollars a month to give to his family.
At the same time, he received a bursary from the Singapore Government to study mathematics and physics at the National University of Singapore.
“That was a very difficult moment in my life because I was just running around from class to giving private tuition, taking the bus back to university for my class… perhaps the most challenging period of my entire life,” he said.
But he said that period taught him the value of responsibility.
“Responsibility means our life is not just about me. Right? That we have a responsibility for others,” he said.
“So my responsibility at a very young age was my parents, my brothers and sisters, because I was the second eldest.
“Later on in life when I started working, I realised that wherever I worked, especially when I'm in a leadership position, it is about responsibility.”
“Leadership is not about the exercise of power, to control people, to make them do what you want them to do,” he continued.
“The key quality of leadership is to understand that it is about taking responsibility for the lives of people who depend on you.”
He added that he carried these values with him through life, even when deciding to run for President.
“That is why when I decided to stand for the presidency, I view it as the responsibility I have for the people of Singapore,” he said.