In Memoriam

Lee Kim Yew


Lee Kim Yew, better known to his friends as Dennis Lee, was born on 5 December 1926. He read law at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and was admitted as a Barrister-at-Law of England in 1952. He was admitted to the Singapore Bar on 10 August 1953.

Soon after his admission to the Singapore Bar, he founded (together with his elder brother and sister-in-law), the law firm of Lee & Lee (‘the firm’) in September 1955. He became senior partner of the firm when his elder brother became the first Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959. He retired as senior partner of the firm in 1995 but remained active as a Consultant to the firm until his death.

Dennis was a man of many facets. In the early years of his practice, he was an active litigator and was often seen arguing cases in our courts. He excelled in witness actions as he had a phenomenal memory — which not only enabled him to remember the names of the many witnesses but the details of the evidence given by each of them without taking down any copious notes. One of the earliest of the reported cases that he argued was Boota Singh v Isman Ali [1957] MLJ 127 on the meaning of the expression ‘suit intituled’ under the then Limitation Ordinance. In 1960, he argued the now well known case of The Comptroller of Income Tax v DEF [1960] MLJ 267. Although he lost that case before Justice Chua, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision — see DEF v The Comptroller of Income Tax [1961] MLJ 65. In 1966 Dennis Lee appeared for the plaintiffs in Goodland Ltd v Lim Ban Toon [1965–68] SLR 545 on the question whether there was a surrender of the tenancy of a piece of land (included in a larger plot) by operation of law. In this instance, Justice Chua ruled in his favour.

Dennis was a very patient man. He took his duties seriously. As a pupil master he ensured that his pupils sat in his room for the entire period of pupillage. Although this was an imposition on him, the pupils learned rapidly.

After the mid 1960s Dennis seldom appeared in our courts. This was because in the second phase of his career, his time and energy were directed to banking and corporate work in which he excelled and made his name. He sat on the boards of several companies and financial institutions, including public listed companies such as Cerebos Pacific Ltd, NMB Singapore Ltd (listed in Japan), New Toyo International Holdings Ltd and a host of private companies like General Engineering & Trading (S) Pte Ltd, Hitachi Chemical Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, Komatsu Asia & Pacific Pte Ltd, Sigma Cable Company Pte Ltd and Pontiac Land Pte Ltd, to name a few. He was sought after by many companies to serve on their boards. His legal mind and long experience in corporate work propelled him to the forefront of the corporate world. He was for many years the legal adviser to the Moscow Narodny Bank. Surprisingly it was also during this period that he took an interest in the Law Society. In the years 1963 to 1966 he was an active member of the then Bar Committee. With the coming into force of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161) and the setting up of the Compensation Fund (to compensate persons who had sustained loss in consequence of dishonesty on the part of solicitors or their employees), Dennis was first appointed a member of the Compensation Fund Sub-Committee in 1977 and later served as Chairman of that Sub-Committee for the years 1981 to 1983. He was also actively involved with the disciplinary process of the Law Society during this period. He served on the Inquiry Panel (appointed by the Chief Justice) from 1986 to 1993.

Dennis can be said to have devoted the third phase of his life to the development of the firm, helping it become one of the leading firms in Singapore. Although the firm started with just a handful of lawyers, it was during his tenure as senior partner that the firm developed into one of the largest legal firms in Singapore, offering legal services in almost every sector of legal practice — particularly the corporate and banking sector. Although he retired as senior partner in 1995, his stamp on the firm was evident despite the fact that he took a back seat as Consultant to the firm until his death.

As a private individual, Dennis had two major interests. The first was his family. The other was golf. He was a devoted family man and loved his grandchildren. Although he was not prone to demonstrate his devotion to his wife and children in public, it was common knowledge that he was a devoted husband and father and loved them dearly. He was also a keen golfer. He played regularly at the Singapore Island Country Club (‘SICC’), the Tanah Merah Country Club (‘TMCC’) and the Sentosa Golf Club (‘SGC’). He also had a hand in developing major golf courses in Singapore such as the TMCC and SGC. He was President of the Singapore Golf Association and until recently, the President of SGC. He was also President of TMCC for many years, a position he enjoyed immensely.

Dennis was diagnosed with cancer some months before he died. Despite this, he carried on his life bravely by attending at his office regularly and playing golf in Singapore, Australia and China. He bore his illness so well that few realised that he had not many years to live. He had his own style and brand of humour which many of his golfing friends enjoyed after a round of golf, up until a few months before his death. It can be said that Dennis lived his life to the fullest. He did not fear death. One is reminded of the often quoted words of Shakespeare of the man who played many parts:

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts;
His acts being seven ages.*
In the final analysis, Gloria and the children have lost a loving husband and father; the firm a mentor and an irreplaceable pillar of strength; and the Bar an outstanding and illustrious son.


TPB Menon

Wee Swee Teow & Co


Endnote:    *    As You Like It, Act II, Sc 7.