March 22, 2015 4:30 PM EDT

Few leaders can claim as great an influence on a country as Lee Kuan Yew can on Singapore. The 91-year-old is considered the founding father of the small Southeast Asian nation, having led it from a colonial trading post into a regional and global financial powerhouse.

Born in Singapore in September 1923, Lee graduated with a law degree from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, but returned to his native country in 1950 despite being admitted to the English bar. He became Singapore’s first Prime Minister in 1959, a position he held until 1990 — making him the longest-serving Prime Minister in global history.

During that time, he guided the country out of British colonial rule and through a union with Malaysia, which Singapore broke away from in 1965, to become fully independent.

Lee became Minister Mentor of Singapore in 2004, a position created by his eldest son, third and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Here’s a look at Lee Kuan Yew’s life, in pictures.

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