SPEECH DELIVERED AT ‘DAVID MARSHALL – HIS LIFE AND LEGACY, A SYMPOSIUM IN COMMEMORATION OF THE 100TH BIRTHDAY ANNIVERSARY OF MR DAVID MARSHALL’ AT RAFFLES CITY CONVENTION CENTRE ON 12 MARCH 2008.
When I first learnt that I was to speak after the son of our late President C V Devan Nair and before the wife of our late Chief Minister David Marshall, you can only imagine how nervous I was!
I admire both politicians. They remain important pillars of Singapore’s short history in that they debunk the perception that independent Singapore is the creation of one man.
Both these politicians and their families have sacrificed a lot for the glory of our country. As a representative of a whole generation of Singaporeans that gained from such sacrifices, I can only be grateful. In appreciation of this, let’s give them a round of applause.
Today, we come together to honour the legacy of one of them, David Saul Marshall.
I first heard of David Marshall from my late grandfather. My grandfather was somewhat concerned that we were growing up on one-party-sanctioned versions of Singapore. It was important for him that we should grow up with a better sense of the history of Singapore. Thus, it was only natural for him to share about David Marshall.
Later in life, I gained entry into St. Andrew’s Junior College, where I learnt more about David Marshall. Around that time, I also read Chan Heng Chee’s biography of David Marshall.
In early 1994, I sought and got the opportunity to meet and interview David Marshall. On 8 August 1994, I met him for the second and last time, where current Straits Times journalist Natalie Soh and I hosted him at the David Marshall Forum in St. Andrew’s.
If I were asked to describe what I learnt from and about David Marshall, I will use one word: love.
Borrowing the style of Professor Tommy Koh, who encourages others to make three points, and to illustrate this further, I’ll tell you about the three lovers of David Marshall. Of course, no offence meant to Mrs Marshall, his ultimate lover.
LOVER #1: STORIES
The first thing that immediately struck me about David Marshall was how much he loved his stories. He used effectively stories from the pages of his life to underscore what he stood for.
On both the times I met him, he shared the story about how one day he was walking down the corridors of St. Andrew’s and saw a Chinese boy being bullied by a non-Chinese boy. The latter was referring to the former as a “Chink, Chink, Chinaman”. David Marshall taught the bully a lesson there and then.
I remind myself of this story when I am in fear of something; or when I am having second thoughts about whether I should stand up for something that I feel is important.
LOVER #2: LAW
David Marshall loved the law immensely, even though he shared it was something he found by accident.
Law was and remains my first love. I wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 14. When I met Marshall at 17, he only reinforced my desire to be a lawyer.
It is also interesting that out of the 3 of us, who interviewed David Marshall, 2 of us eventually became lawyers. A fourth person - who was meant to be at the interview but could not make it due to illness - read the transcript and also became a lawyer.
As interestingly, we took heed of Marshall’s advice that the Criminal Bar is a very frustrating place today, and so all of us are commercial lawyers.
The law is one profession where you can make a measurable difference to the lives of people. The law enables lawyers to give back to society by simply doing what they do best. David Marshall showed that in his work.
LOVER #3: SINGAPORE
David Marshall was, to me, a fine example of what it means to be Singaporean and to love Singapore.
We know that he was very critical of the ruling party and its leaders. We also know he had his own ideas about justice and governance. A Singapore under the leadership of David Marshall would possibly have been more humane.
But he gave credit where credit was due. For example, he was humble enough to acknowledge that a Singapore led by him would perhaps have been less progressive.
Nevertheless, he did not let his differences with the then elected leaders of this country come in the way of him acting in the interests of Singapore and in the service of our country.
David Marshall showed cynics that you can be a contrarian in Singapore and still live a life of dignity.
Indeed, through his public service, he distinguished himself as a concerned and valuable citizen of Singapore.
The legacy of David Marshall is that he was a true lover. David Marshall loved stories. David Marshall also loved the law. Above all, David Marshall loved Singapore.
David Marshall inspired me to do the same. And I hope you will go home today to find, to celebrate and to share that love and happiness in your respective lives. Have a great evening!
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