Early life and educationEdit
Born in Kuala Lumpur, he was educated in a Chinese primary school, a Confucian middle school, Methodist Boys' School (Kuala Lumpur), and later attained a geography degree at the then University of Malaya in Singapore.
His foray into politics began as a polling agent for Lee Kuan Yew in the 1955 legislative assembly election. He entered parliament as a member for Telok Ayer in the 1959 general elections, a seat he retained till his retirement in 1984. He was subsequently appointed Minister for Home Affairs in the first self-government Cabinet and played a key role to eradicating yellow culture and crime in the Singapore society. His cabinet appointment also made him part of the Internal Security Council which sanctioned Operation Coldstore in 1963.
Ong later took on the highly sensitive Education ministerial portfolio from 1963 to 1970 at a time when Chinese language culture and education issues were highly politicized. By increasing the teaching of English in Chinese schools and vice versa, he was instrumental in laying the foundation for the bilingual policy of which Singapore is famed for. Ong Pang Boon became Labour Minister in 1970. Finally he took over as the Environment Minister in 1980. He retired from politics in 1984 to make way for younger leaders. However, he displayed some unhappiness at the pace and manner of how he was sidelined from the political scene. Lee recognised Ong's displeasure in a public letter of appreciation:
- “... I agree with you. You also had misgivings (about some newcomers), as had the late Dr Toh Chin Chye, over the speed of self-renewal and the effect it was having on the morale of the old guard MPs.”
As of today, Ong himself and Othman Wok are the only first generation leaders in Singapore - as one of the Old Guard.
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