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06 July 2011

SMU and NUS to Pay Tribute to the Late Madam Kwa Geok Choo

Initiatives by the law schools of the two universities honour an extraordinary woman, who while choosing to remain in the background, can be credited for playing a crucial part in the building of modern Singapore

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Singapore, 5 July 2011 - The Singapore Management University (SMU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) today jointly announced that they will pay tribute to the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, in separate initiatives. SMU will name its new Law Library, a new Scholars Programme and a top Law Graduate Award after her. NUS will establish a professorship in property law, a distinguished visitors programme, bursaries and scholarships in honour of the late Madam Kwa, an alumna of the University.

This tribute is befitting of her achievements and the values she held dear. While the former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has been credited for taking Singapore "from third world to first", Madam Kwa can share in that acclaim for standing by her spouse and assisting him through the development of the nation.

Madam Kwa was an esteemed lawyer and a brilliant student. In 1936, she topped the Senior Cambridge Exam for the whole of Malaya and Singapore. She enrolled in Raffles College, a predecessor institution of NUS, in 1940 and resumed her studies there in 1946 after the end of World War II. In 1947, she graduated from Raffles College with a First Class Diploma in Arts, winning the Queen's Scholarship to study law at Cambridge University where she became the first Asian woman to graduate with first-class honours in Law from Cambridge University.

Madam Kwa's intellect and fortitude shone through as she applied herself in the legal arena. She was a pioneer who started a law firm with Mr Lee and his younger brother, and then went on to excel as a conveyancing lawyer, mentoring many others in the process.

"On behalf of the family, I would like to share that we are deeply touched by the initiatives of the Singapore Management University and the National University of Singapore as a tribute to her," says Ms Kwa Kim Li, Managing Partner of Lee & Lee and niece of the late Madam Kwa. "She was a brilliant lawyer, an amazing lady, a visionary ahead of her time. A lady made of steel and silk in equal parts. Much as my aunt shied away from being in the spotlight, she would have been very honoured by this," she adds.

"Without doubt Madam Kwa had played a key role in the Singapore story even though her role, and the low profile she chose to keep, was often not accorded the recognition it deserves. SMU has been in consultation with the family on this tribute. And we are privileged to acknowledge her contribution by naming our new Law Library, a new Scholars Programme and a Top Law Graduate Award in her honour," says SMU Chairman Ho Kwon Ping. "We want our students to follow in her footsteps, striving for excellence with humility and perseverance. Madam Kwa - her life, her values, her achievements and her contributions, will be an inspiration to generations of SMU students. We at SMU are grateful for being able to play our part as upholders of her legacy," he adds.

"It is our honour to be able to pay tribute to a most remarkable Singapore pioneer who will serve as a model for our students now and those to come. For a young School of Law which will graduate its first batch of students this year, this tribute is of tremendous significance for us. The values that Madam Kwa espoused and represented are very much the same values we want our students to emulate - her pursuit of excellence, her integrity, her humility, her dedication and her graciousness. We hope to continue her legacy of nurturing talented aspirants seeking to contribute to the legal scene in Singapore and beyond," says SMU President, Professor Arnoud De Meyer.

Says NUS Chairman Mr Wong Ngit Liong, "Madam Kwa was an extraordinary lady well-known for her selfless dedication and wisdom. Her quiet but important contributions to Singapore are immeasurable and we are privileged to be able to contribute towards upholding the legacy of an outstanding alumna. The NUS community is proud to have the opportunity to honour Madam Kwa through programmes and people that will perpetuate the values that she believed were important."

"The scholarships named after Madam Kwa Geok Choo at the Faculty of Law are a reflection of Madam Kwa's longstanding concern that no deserving student should be deprived of a good legal education because of financial need," says NUS President, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan. "Through our initiatives in legal education and research, bursaries and scholarships, we hope to keep Madam Kwa's memory alive to inspire generations of promising young lawyers to contribute to the legal fraternity and society at large," adds Prof Tan.

Initiatives at SMU in honour of the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo

SMU will name its new Law Library in honour of the late Madam Kwa. An integral part of the Law School, the new Kwa Geok Choo Law Library will be the heart of legal education and scholarship for Singapore. This is akin to her role, played with quiet grace behind the scenes, as the pillar of strength and trusted confidante of the former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor. This state-of-the-art library in the city centre will serve not just the SMU community, but also the legal community in Singapore and beyond. It represents not only a bastion of knowledge, but will also offer a dynamic exchange between the school and the legal community, continuing a tradition of mentorship and learning.

The Kwa Geok Choo Scholars Programme and the Kwa Geok Choo Top Law Graduate Award will keep the memory of the late Madam Kwa alive to every recipient. She embodied the values which SMU hopes generations of law students to come would emulate - her pursuit of excellence, her integrity, her humility, her dedication and her graciousness. The Programme will fund scholars in the School of Law.

Please refer to Annex 1 for more details on SMU's initiatives to honour the late Madam Kwa.

Initiatives at NUS in honour of the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo

The NUS Faculty of Law will honour the memory of the late Madam Kwa through initiatives that will significantly benefit the legal fraternity and less privileged Singaporeans.

The Kwa Geok Choo Professorship in Property Law will be established as Madam Kwa was a leading property lawyer. The NUS Faculty of Law will also establish the Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Programme. Under this programme, leading law academics will be invited to Singapore each year to teach a course at NUS and/or give public lectures on highly topical legal issues.

Through the professorship and the distinguished visitors programme, legal education and research in Singapore will be further enhanced.

In addition, Kwa Geok Choo Bursaries and Kwa Geok Choo Graduate Scholarships will be established to assist financially disadvantaged law students at NUS. The establishment of the Kwa Geok Choo Bursaries and the Kwa Geok Choo Graduate Scholarships is a reflection of Madam Kwa's concern that no deserving student should be deprived of a good legal education because of financial need.

Please refer to Annex 2 for more details on NUS' initiatives to honour the late Madam Kwa.

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