Prior to his appointment as Singapore's
head of state, Yusof was a well-known
journalist who co-founded Utusan Melayu, which was in circulation until 9 October 2019. He started his career in journalism after his graduation from
Raffles Institution in 1929. In 1932, he joined Warta Malaya, a well-known Malay newspaper company at that time, before leaving in 1938 and co-founded Utusan Melayu.
Yusof held many appointments within the Singapore Government. He served on the Film Appeal Committee from 1948 to 1950 and was a member of both the Nature Reserves Committee and Malayanisation Commission for a year. In July 1959, he was appointed Chairman of the
Public Service Commission.
Yusof received his early education in a Malay school in Kuala Kurau, Perak and began his English studies in 1921 at
King Edward VII School in
Taiping, He was then admitted to
Victoria Bridge School in 1923 when his father was posted to Singapore. In 1924, he was enrolled in
Raffles Institution for his secondary education. During his time in Raffles Institution, he played various sports such as swimming, weight lifting, water-polo, boxing, hockey and cricket and had also represented the school in various sporting events. He was also part of the Singapore
National Cadet Corps and was commissioned as the first ever cadet
officer in the Corps due to his outstanding performance. Yusof received his Cambridge School Certificate with distinction in 1927, he was also awarded the
Queen's Scholarship and decided to prolong his studies at Raffles Institution until 1929.
After graduating from Raffles Institution in 1929, Yusof began his career as a journalist and went into partnership with two other friends to publish, Sportsman, a sports magazine devoted entirely to sports. In 1932, Yusof joined Warta Malaya, a well-known newspaper during that time.Warta Malaya was heavily influenced by developments in the Middle East and Yusof wanted a newspaper dedicated to Malay issues. He fulfilled his vision by establishing Utusan Melayu with several Malay leaders in Singapore in May 1939.
Japanese Occupation of Singapore, Utusan Melayu had to stop circulation as machinery used to print the paper were requisitioned to publish the Japanese paper, Berita Malai. Yusof then moved back to Taiping and with the remaining money he had, he opened a provision shop and lived there until the war ended in 1945 and Utusan Melayu resumed publication. In 1957, Yusof moved to
Kuala Lumpur and in February 1958, the headquarters of Utusan Melayu was also relocated to the city. During the post-war period, many Malays wanted independence of Malaya from the British and Yusof, fanned this fervour through his publications which resulted in the formation of the United Malay Nationalist Organisation (UMNO) in 1946. However, his democratic ideals were different from UMNO's vision of reestablishing the monarchy of Malaya. This resulted in rising tensions within the Utusan Melayu and in 1959, Yusof had sold his shares he had in the company and resigned as UMNO had bought over almost all of the shares of Utusan Melayu.
Political career and presidency
Yusof held several appointments within the Singaporean government, he had served on the Film Appeal Committee from 1948 to 1950 and was also a member of both the Nature Reserves Committee and Malayanisation Commission for a year. After his resignation from Utusan Melayu, Yusof took the position of Chairman of the Public Service Commission of Singapore at the invitation of then
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
On 9 August 1965, Singapore was expelled from
Malaysia and became an independent nation. The position of Yang di-Pertuan Negara was abolished and Yusof then became the first
President of Singapore. As president, Yusof reached out to the people to reassure citizens astonished by Singapore's expulsion and continued to promote multiculturalism and a national identity within the country by visiting constituencies and reached out to different racial and religious groups.
Yusof served for three terms in office before he died on 23 November 1970 due to heart failure.
Family and personal life
Yusof is survived by his wife of 21 years, Puan
Noor Aishah, and their three children, Orkid Kamariah, Imran, and Zuriana. Puan Noor Aishah continued her husband's legacy of public service and was the first Asian to become president of the
Singapore Girl Guides Association. She and her now adult children were interviewed for the
Channel NewsAsia documentary Daughters of Singapore, which screened in August 2015 as part of the
SG50 celebrations and commemorated the spouses of Yusof Ishak and
David Marshall, two pioneer leaders of Singapore.
Yusof participated in several sports in his youth. He won the Aw Boon Par Cup for boxing in 1932, and was the national lightweight champion in weightlifting in 1933. One of Yusof's hobbies was photography, and a collection of his photographs was donated to the
National Archives of Singapore by his widow, Noor Aishah. He also cultivated
orchids, and had the tennis courts at his residence on the
Istana grounds, Sri Melati, converted into an orchid garden. He performed the
pilgrimage to Mecca in 1963.
The following institutions bear Yusof Ishak's name:
The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) was officially renamed in August 2015 as the
ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute on Yusof's 105th birthday, so its name will call to mind Yusof's "vision of equality, justice, harmony and strength amid diversity".
For the celebration of Singapore's 50th anniversary of independence (SG50) in 2015, Yusof Ishak was featured in all set of six
SG50 Commemorative Notes for which he champions the caused of meritocracy, multi-racialism and modernization of Singapore.
Yusof is buried at
Kranji State Cemetery, which is reserved for persons who have made a significant contribution to Singapore.
^"Our History". yusofishaksec.moe.edu.sg. Retrieved 8 November 2020. Yusof Ishak Secondary School was established in 1965 as Jubilee Integrated Secondary School. It was an integrated school offering secondary education to an enrolment of 984 pupils and 37 teachers of two streams, in English and Malay. On 29 July 1966, then Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew declared open Yusof Ishak Secondary School (YISS) at Jubilee Road. We are the only school to be named after a President of our Republic.