In Singaporean history, few figures stand as tall as Yusof Ishak, the first President of the Republic of Singapore. Born on August 12, 1910, in Perak, Malaysia, Ishak’s journey from a humble upbringing to becoming a symbol of national unity is a testament to his unwavering dedication to his country and its people.

Portrait of Young Yusof Ishak Along With His Family | 1933 | Source: Wikipedia

Ishak’s early years were marked by a deep sense of community and a passion for journalism. Educated at Raffles Institution in Singapore, he later co-founded the Malay newspaper “Utusan Melayu,” using it as a platform to advocate for the rights and interests of the Malay community in Singapore and Malaysia. His commitment to social justice and equality laid the foundation for his later endeavors in politics.

Logo of Newspaper he Founded | Source: Utusan Malaysia© / Wikipedia

As Singapore gained self-governance from British colonial rule in 1959, Ishak was thrust into the political limelight. He became the first ceremonial President of Singapore in 1965, a role he embraced with humility and grace. His presidency coincided with a period of immense challenges for the newly independent nation, including racial tensions and economic uncertainties. During his tenure, Ishak played a pivotal role in fostering unity among Singapore’s diverse ethnic groups. His inclusive leadership style and unwavering commitment to building a harmonious society earned him widespread respect and admiration from people of all backgrounds.

Portrait of Yusof Ishak | Source: Wikipedia

Yusof Ishak’s legacy extends far beyond his years in office. He is remembered as a unifying figure who transcended ethnic and cultural divides, embodying the spirit of Singapore’s multicultural society. His efforts to promote racial harmony and social cohesion laid the groundwork for Singapore’s success as a modern, thriving nation-state.

Yusof Ishak with his wife Noor Aishah | 1960s | Source: StraitsTimes / NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SINGAPORE

In addition to his political contributions, Ishak’s legacy lives on through various initiatives aimed at empowering marginalized communities and promoting education and cultural exchange. His dedication to serving the common good continues to inspire future generations of Singaporeans to strive for excellence and uphold the values of integrity, compassion, and unity.

Portrait of Yusof Ishak | Source: Dean Orbong

In recognition of his invaluable contributions to the nation, Yusof Ishak’s memory is immortalized in various ways. His image adorns the Singaporean currency, serving as a constant reminder of his enduring legacy and the principles for which he stood. Moreover, numerous institutions, streets, and awards bear his name, honoring his pivotal role in shaping Singapore’s history and identity.

Tomb of President | Source: Wikipedia

Since 1999, Yusof Ishak’s portrait has graced Singapore’s Portrait Series banknotes. This wasn’t just a symbolic gesture, it was a deliberate choice to connect the nation’s present with its founding father. The reverse sides of these notes depict themes like education, sports, and the arts, reflecting Yusof Ishak’s values and priorities. Here are some of the banknotes in the portrait series:

Singapore 2 Dollars, 2022 | Source: Banknote World Educational

$2 banknote: This note, part of the “Portrait Series” issued in 1999, featured Yusof Ishak on the obverse side. The reverse side depicted the theme of education, showcasing buildings from his educational journey, including Victoria School and Raffles Institution.

Singapore 5 Dollars Banknote, 2007-2020 ND | Source: Banknote World

$5 banknote: Also from the “Portrait Series” of 1999, this note presented Yusof Ishak on the front. The reverse side highlighted the theme of “Garden City,” featuring the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim. These elements resonated with Yusof Ishak’s passion for gardening.

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