Yusuf Ishak (1910 -1970)

Yusuf Ishak (1910 -1970)
October 3, 2020 Editor

First President of Singapore

Yusuf Ishak was born in Padang Gajah in Perak, to a humble family of nine children in 1910. His father was a civil servant and Yusuf was the eldest son of the family who eventually become the first Malayan-born Yang Di-Pertuan Negara. He was known to have served the country with excellence and resilience especially needed during the formative years of nation-building. In school, he was a top student who did well both in academics and in sports.

He was a well-rounded leader whose grit and determination would serve him well later in office. He topped the Cambridge Exams at Victoria Bridge School in 1927, and again emerged top student in Raffles Institution later. He was awarded the Queen’s scholarship, being the only Malay to do so in his class. Yusuf Ishak did much better than others. He was also the secretary of all those events. He won the Singapore Lightweight championship in 1932 and 1933. He was a school prefect and a scout. Yusuf Ishak became the first cadet in the National Cadet Corps history to be promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Yusuf was exemplary. Yusuf Ishak had a mission to complete in his life, and that was to become his crowning accomplishment. To prove he was a smart and capable student of any ethnicity.

It was in Raffles that he began his purpose. He is a Rafflesian author, co-author of an insightful comment on the history of RI. After graduating, Yusuf went to journalism school. He got started in sports journalism as an intern for a sports newspaper. Once he got into the newspaper business, he became the assistant manager of a local newspaper. Due to the desire to initiate a newspaper, Utusan Melayu was born in 1939. He personally collected funds by meeting the men of every kampung and convincing them to contribute $10 each, eventually raising a sum of $13,000 for his newspaper Utusan Melayu.

He sought independence in all ways. He helped to free the Malay people from a century of colonialism. He battled against colonialism, which made whites superior and natives inferior. To advance the Malays, he continued to fight to lift them out of economic hardship and insularity. He was a fighter against racial discrimination, stereotyping and suspicion, all the while desiring a diverse community.

As president of a newly independent nation, Yusuf Ishak set the standard for future presidents of Singapore. He continued to serve his country for years. Lee died and Singapore was forced to grapple with a polarising figure in Lee Kuan Yew, an authoritarian, racist and nationalist. President Yusuf Ishak was often sick in his last term. Still, he did not back down in his efforts to be with his people despite advice from doctors that he should not.

President Yusuf Ishak died on Monday, 23rd November 1970. He was accorded a state funeral, where populace came to his funeral service to pay their last tribute to the man who had become admired and cherished by all communities. President Ishak spent his life fighting for freedom.