Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, 1970
Lee Kuan Yew and his wife Kwa Geok Choo in 1970 - who was the man behind the powerful statesman? Central Press Hulton Archive

Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore who is widely regarded to be the founding father of modern Singapore, passed away on 23 March at the age of 91.

Much is known about Lee the politician, the maverick, the strong leader some saw as a dictator, and the ally to the West who was also not afraid to stand up and defend his unconventional political beliefs.

But what about Lee Kuan Yew the man, who was married with a wife and three children? IBTimes UK explores some of the most unusual facts about him that have come to light:

1. He washed his own underwear

Lee Kuan Yew's only daughter Dr Lee Wei Ling, the director of Singapore's National Neuroscience Institute, recounted in an essay for the Straits Times in 2012 that Lee was a very frugal man.

In addition to training his children to turn off all water taps completely and switch off lights and air conditioners when leaving a room, when Lee Kuan Yew travelled abroad on state visits, he would wash his own underwear, rather than pay for laundry in five-star hotels.

2. He always used a red box

Lee Kuan Yew's red box
Lee Kuan Yew's red box, stamped with the Singapore government crest Heng Swee Keat

British government ministers use red leather boxes to carry and transport official documents, and in the early days of the Singapore government, the country's ministers adopted the same habit. But Lee Kuan Yew was the only one to consistently use his red box for the entirety of his career.

According to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who served as Lee's Principal Private Secretary from 1997 to 2000, the red box was used for everything from communications with foreign leaders, observations that a tree in the Istana grounds was ailing, speech drafts, observations about the financial crisis, and even notes about rubbish seen in the Singapore river.

3. He was madly in love with his wife, who was also his first love

Lee Kuan Yew and wife in Cambridge
Lee Kuan Yew and his wife Kwa Geok Choo at the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge over time: 1947-1950, 1974 and 2000 Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister's Office

Lee Kuan Yew met his wife Madam Kwa Geok Choo when she joined a special class at Raffles Institution, a prestigious boys' school in Singapore, to compete with other students for the Queen's Scholarship. At 16, she was the only girl in the whole school.

In 1940, Kwa entered Raffles College where she beat Lee in English and economics examinations, and they eventually fell in love during the Second World War. In 1946, Lee left for the UK to read law at the University of Cambridge, and Kwa joined him in 1947.

They then married while in Cambridge before returning to Singapore in 1950 with first-class honours degrees in law.

In her essay written after her mother passed away in October 2011, Dr Lee Wei Ling shared a special message her father Lee Kuan Yew had written to his children: "For reasons of sentiment, I would like part of my ashes to be mixed up with Mama's, and both her ashes and mine put side by side in the columbarium. We were joined in life and I would like our ashes to be joined after this life."

4. He was mildly dyslexic

Lee Kuan Yew had dyslexia, which made it more difficult for him to learn to read, spell and process words than for other people. Nevertheless, he still succeeded in speaking four languages fluently – picking up the Chinese dialects Mandarin and Hokkien in his thirties due to the fact that his formal education when he was younger had covered only English and Malay.

5. He was almost killed during the WWII Japanese occupation

The fall of Singapore in 1942
Following the fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese Commander, General Hobun Yamashita, examines the damage in some of the districts Keystone Hulton Archive

During the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Malaya, one day Lee was asked by a Japanese guard to join a group of segregated Chinese men. However, sensing something was amiss, Lee asked for permission to first go back home to collect his clothes and, luckily for him, the Japanese guard agreed.

The Chinese men who were segregated were taken to one of the beaches in Singapore and shot as part of the Sook Ching massacre, which aimed to purge Chinese people who were deemed as hostile to the Japanese.

6. He manufactured Stikfas glue during WWII in order to survive

During the Second World War, Lee Kuan Yew worked as a clerk at a textile importing company, and also transcribed Allied wire reports for the Japanese. He ran his own businesses during the war in order to survive, including manufacturing stationery glue under his own brand called Stikfas.

7. He would accept his grandchild if he turned out to be gay

Although in Singapore there is still a law that criminalised homosexual sexual intercourse, Lee Kuan Yew said while being interviewed for his 2011 book Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going that he would accept his grandchild if he turned out to be gay.

He said he asked doctors about homosexuality and had been told it was caused by a genetic random transmission of genes. However, Lee Kuan Yew did not believe gay people were suited to bringing up a child, feeling they have no maternal instinct aroused from going through the process of pregnancy.