Mr Renganathan, together with his wife Mdm Dhulacibai, recalls his childhood in the Istana, and a career sparked by a piece of advice given by Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew…
“I’ve taken care of the world’s leaders,” says Mr Renganathan. “You name it, I’ve taken care. That was my job.”
Mr Renganathan, now 68, spent much of his life at the Istana, or “government house”, as he fondly calls it. “I was there till I retired, in the house where I was born,” he says proudly.
The eldest of 14 children, he grew up in the Istana where his father was a long-serving butler. “My father-in-law worked there during the British administration,” explains Mr Renganathan’s wife, Mdm Dhulacibai. “He then continued working for Yusof Ishak and as a butler for PM [Lee Kuan Yew] after.”
In those days the staff could live on the compound with their families, a system inherited from the British administration. Mr Renganathan describes living there as not unlike living anywhere else, except for certain security measures, which only grew tighter as regional tensions escalated in the 1960s.
He started working as a “domestic staff” in 1963, but enrolled in the Police Academy a few years later on the advice of Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.
Mr Lee would always tell my father: “Velu, I don’t want to see any of your children follow your footsteps. They have to study to move up in life,” says Mr Renganathan. He also later met Mr Lee personally for career advice, and was told the same thing.
By 1967, all the ground staff were moved out, first to alternative staff quarters on Sophia Road, then to their own HDB flats. But that did not mean the end of Mr Renganathan’s involvement with the Istana. After his studies and training, he was back again – this time as an officer with the Security Branch, providing security to ministers and foreign dignitaries.
“My boss was none other than Lee Kuan Yew, then slowly I moved on to so many ministers,” he recalls. “I’ve served the presidents from number one [Yusof Ishak] to Tony Tan, when he was a minister.”
Despite being Singapore’s most important and powerful figures, they always had time and respect for Mr Renganathan and his family.
“Lee Kuan Yew’s children were wonderful,” he says. “They had respect.”
“Even though they were the Prime Minister’s children, they called him uncle,” Mdm Dhulacibai adds.
The couple also recalls then President Devan Nair and his wife taking time off to personally give their blessing at their wedding.
Mr Renganathan also names his time serving S. Rajaratnam and his wife as the most memorable of his career – he was the last minister Mr Renganathan served, and one who treated and at times took care of Mr Renganathan’s family like his own.
Mr Renganathan retired at the age of 45 as guard commander. On his last day, he sought out Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling.
“Dr Lee, this is my last day in the Istana,” he remembers telling her.
“Send my regards to Mama and Papa.”
Source: Their Past: A Present for our Future. Reproduced with permission from Pioneer Generation Office.