Saturday 13 July 2013

50 Stories From My Life: S R Nathan hopes to inspire youth with his stories

New book contains excerpts from memoirs rewritten more simply
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2013

FORMER president S R Nathan hopes that young Singaporeans can draw lessons from the stories of his life, collected in a new book.

"Just as I am grateful to those who have offered me a helping hand, I feel a corresponding obligation and a desire to repay that debt, by helping today's young people benefit from my own experiences," he said last night.

He was speaking to about 100 friends, relatives, past and present politicians as well as ambassadors at the launch of 50 Stories From My Life.

The 184-page book comprises excerpts from Mr Nathan's memoirs, An Unexpected Journey: Path To The Presidency, rewritten in simpler English for a wider readership. It costs $19.90 with GST and is available at major bookstores.

The stories span more than 80 years and many aspects of his life. These range from sleeping rough along the five-foot-way as a teenager to meeting key players in Singapore's history, from first chief minister David Marshall to founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Though the world has changed greatly in the last 50 years, many of his experiences may be those that young people today continue to face, Mr Nathan, 89, told reporters.

"That is, difficulties in life, hardships to overcome and sometimes a sense of despair."

One lesson from his book, he said, "is not to give up".

Mr Nathan also stressed the need for young Singaporeans to keep learning long after graduation, particularly in an age of global competition.

"Economically, if Singapore is going to prosper, it must keep up with the world."

One self-described member of the younger generation who has been inspired by Mr Nathan is Mr Chan Chun Sing, 44.

The Acting Minister for Social and Family Development was guest of honour at the book launch and recalled working with Mr Nathan to set up the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in 1996.

Mr Nathan was the institute's founding director, and Mr Chan was then a young officer from the Defence Ministry.

"I still have vivid memories of what Mr Nathan taught me as a young officer," said Mr Chan, who noted three lessons he rediscovered on reading 50 Stories From My Life.

One was the importance of values. Another was that "our circumstances don't define us, our responses to circumstances define us". And the last was the need for Singapore - a small country with little relevance to the world - to create its own relevance and form a network of friends overseas.

But Mr Chan hoped Mr Nathan's latest book would not just provide lessons for the young.

"I hope these 50 stories... will encourage even more Singaporeans from all walks of life to also join in this collective effort to bring about a collective memory and sense of nation."


Many of my experiences would be something that today's young may themselves experience. That is, difficulties in life, hardships to overcome, and sometimes a sense of despair. So the lesson from my book is not to give up.

- Mr S R Nathan, he hopes young Singaporeans can draw lessons from the stories of his life

Among 50 stories from Nathan's life: Love
By M. Nirmala, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2013

FORMER Singapore president S R Nathan, who has just turned 89, is declaring once again his love to the woman he courted for 16 years before marrying her in 1958.

He has dedicated his new book, 50 Stories From My Life, to his wife Urmila Nathan, or Umi, as he fondly calls her.

Some 55 years after a wedding, two children and three grandchildren, Mr Nathan glows when talking about his wife in an interview at his office in the Singapore Management University.

Their love story is one chapter in his new 184-page book.

Written for younger readers, the stories have been extracted from his much thicker 672-page memoir, Unexpected Journey.

Born poor, he pulled through a tough life as a destitute and survived the Japanese Occupation.

Armed with a university diploma in social studies, he worked his way up the career ladder as a mediator in union disputes, a diplomat, the executive chairman of The Straits Times Press and a two-term president of Singapore.

In pages on the only romance of his life, Mr Nathan writes about how his gaze first fell on his future wife when he cycled past her two-storey house in Muar.

Cupid's arrow found his heart when he saw a girl standing by the window on the upper level. He was running errands on his bicycle for the Japanese who had occupied Malaya and the region in 1942. He was 18 then and she, 13.

"She was very attractive and I was on cloud nine. Umi took a fascination to me," he chuckles.

When asked to describe what love is, Mr Nathan ponders for a long while and replies: "It's difficult to describe love.

"It's an emotional feeling and something triggers inside you. You just know this is the person you are meant to be with. You forget about the whole world and you think only about this person. Your imagination runs wild."

He saw her daily while running errands for the Japanese.

"I possessed only one good shirt at that time. It was mauve in colour, and it made quite an impression on Umi, or so she tells me," he lets on.

Their courtship was one of persistence against the odds.

He was a Tamil and she a Bengali, two different Indian language groups. He felt her parents would have wanted a well-educated Bengali suitor, ideally a lawyer or a doctor, and he was neither.

Even when they met in her home, they could not display their affection and chemistry. They kept their serious romance under wraps from her father who had a tendency to smash plates when his temper flared. "It was a very difficult time in our lives.

"She even tried to discourage me from pursuing her by showing her anger against me. But I never gave up," says Mr Nathan.

The toughest test of their courtship took place in 1952 when Mrs Nathan left for a two-year teacher-training course in Britain.

"Her leaving was very painful," recalls Mr Nathan.

"We parted tearfully," he says, adding that he cried all the way back to Singapore.

The couple wrote many love letters. "We wrote without any inhibition. And each time, we wondered if there was another suitor hanging around."

On married life, he says they do quarrel, even on petty matters, but sort out their problems by the next morning.

Guided by old-fashioned values of hard work, courage, loyalty and duty to a higher course, Mr Nathan adds one more to his list - faith.

When asked what were the factors responsible for his personal achievements, he points his finger skywards and gives credit to God.

He choked on his emotions when he spoke of how he could not let down Singapore leaders like Goh Keng Swee and Lee Kuan Yew who entrusted him with key public sector duties, even though he was only a diploma holder.

"I could never betray their trust in me," he says.

These values and the reasons for Singapore's success, he feels, need to be understood by the young and that is why he has donated 2,000 copies of his book to the Education Ministry to distribute to school libraries across the island.

Institute of Technical Education student Fu Qihui, 21, has not read Mr Nathan's biography as it was too thick. "I will read his new book as his life can motivate me to do better in school."

After the launch this Thursday, the book will be available in leading bookstores.

230 needy ITE students to benefit from education fund in 2013
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 5 Jul 2013

The S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund is expected to benefit some 230 needy ITE students this year, up from 180 last year.

The fund is given out through the ITE Monthly Financial Assistance Scheme, which provides a S$150 monthly allowance.

ITE said the fund helps ease the students' financial burden, allowing them to focus on learning and completing their studies.

It added 99 per cent of those under the ITE Monthly Financial Assistance Scheme completed their ITE courses last year, compared with 95 per cent in 2010.

The fund stood at S$10 million as of 31 March 2013, and the returns go towards educational improvement programmes.

The award ceremony was held in conjunction with former President S R Nathan's book launch.

The book, "S R Nathan - 50 Stories from My Life", contains selected stories from Mr Nathan's memoirs that he felt would be meaningful to Singapore's youths.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said he hopes students can be inspired by Mr Nathan's experiences.

Mr Heng said: "Mr Nathan's life story gives the inspiring lesson that nothing is impossible for those guided by strong values. Mr Nathan himself shared that never in his wildest dreams did he think he would one day be the president of Singapore. His tenacity, resilience and clear moral compass were the constants throughout the many twists and turns of a career that eventually led to the Istana. We may not all become heads of state, but the lessons of his life are universal -- we can and should strive to show the same qualities in the challenges that we face."

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