Saturday 10 August 2013

S R Nathan heads list of National Day awardees

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2013

FORMER president S R Nathan leads this year's National Day Awards winners, becoming only the seventh person in Singapore's history to be conferred the Order of Temasek (First Class) for exemplary service to the nation.

The 89-year-old, who served Singapore as social worker, trade union activist, diplomat and elected president, spoke to The Straits Times at his Ceylon Road home on Wednesday night.

He said he was profoundly touched by this gesture by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

"My whole focus of attention has been on serving the country... Whenever I've been called upon to undertake some mission, I've undertaken it. Throughout all this, I've tried to preserve my humility without losing track of my origins," he said.

Mr Nathan rose to become permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also had postings as Singapore's high commissioner to Malaysia and ambassador to the United States.

From 1971 to 1979, he served as director at the Defence Ministry's Security and Intelligence Division.

In 1974, when a terrorist group hijacked the ferry Laju with passengers on board, Mr Nathan volunteered himself as a hostage to secure their release.

In 1999, he was elected president and went on to serve two six-year terms as head of state and holder of the second key to the reserves, whose agreement the Government must secure to spend these national savings.

Since stepping down, he has continued to contribute through his work at local think-tanks and universities.

Among the 3,197 recipients of the National Day Awards this year are military staff, public servants, community and grassroots leaders, and educators.

The three recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal are Professor Wang Gungwu, chairman of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Board of Trustees and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Governing Board; Mr Tony Chew, former chairman of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore Governing Board; and National Parks Board chairman Christina Ong.

Navy chief Ng Chee Peng has been awarded the Public Administration Medal (Gold) (Military), and Attorney-General's Chambers chief prosecutor Tai Wei Shyong, the Public Administration Medal (Silver).

Honour 'a token of appreciation' for Nathan
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2013

THE award of the top National Day honour to former president SR Nathan is a token of appreciation for his many contributions to the nation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters at a National Day observance ceremony in his Teck Ghee ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC, he noted that Mr Nathan had held a wide range of positions in both the public and private sectors.

Mr Nathan worked in the foreign affairs and defence ministries, was an ambassador, and did community work on top of serving two terms as president.

"Mr Nathan has made very many contributions to Singapore over many years and this is a token of appreciation and recognition to him," said PM Lee.

Mr Nathan topped the roll of recipients of this year's National Day Awards. The 89-year-old is only the seventh person in Singapore's history to be given the Order of Temasek (First Class), the highest civilian award.

Starting out as a medical social worker, his public service career spanned five decades, including as ambassador to the United States, director of the Defence Ministry's Security and Intelligence Division and permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He was also the main negotiator with hijackers of the Laju passenger ferry in 1974 to secure the release of hostages.

In 1999, he was elected president and served two six-year terms.

"He has served in so many capacities," said Mr Lee.

Dressed in red and white, Mr Lee joined over 1,000 residents, students and teachers in the morning to sing the National Anthem and recite the Pledge at Teck Ghee Primary School yesterday morning.

Accompanied by Ms Ho Ching and grassroots leaders on stage, he cut a birthday cake to mark the nation's 48th birthday.

Mr Lee mingled with the crowd in the school canteen, shaking hands and posing for photographs for nearly an hour.

Teck Ghee resident Daniel Lim, 35, said Mr Nathan deserves the top honour: "He's done a lot even before his term as president of Singapore."

Singling out his role in defusing the 1974 hostage crisis, the bank executive said: "Based on that alone, his contribution is beyond any other Singaporean."

Three honoured with Meritorious Service Medal
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2013

ONE of Singapore's foremost historians on China has been awarded the prestigious Meritorious Service Medal.

Professor Wang Gungwu, 82, an internationally renowned academic, was one of three recipients this year of the medal, which is part of the National Day Awards.

It is given to people who have made outstanding contributions to Singapore and whose service has been marked by exceptional ability, merit and conduct.

The other recipients were Mrs Christina Ong, chairman of the National Parks Board (NParks), and Mr Tony Chew, who stepped down as the inaugural chairman of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School's governing board last year after seven years.

Prof Wang said he was honoured by the award. "But quite frankly, it is in recognition of a very large group of people I work with," he added.

A frequent writer in The Straits Times Opinion pages, Prof Wang is chairman of the East Asian Institute, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas), and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Internationally, he is a fellow and former president of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

He was conferred the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1991 after he was involved in intense negotiations between London and Beijing over issues such as electoral timetables. He was an executive councillor for the Hong Kong government at the time.

In 2010, he donated his books on South-east Asia and private archives to Iseas, where they are housed in a permanent collection named after him. He also gave NUS $150,000 to help set up an academic award which bears his name.

Prof Wang said he was "very proud" to be associated with the higher education institutions. "They have gone on to become stronger and stronger, and the work we do has become more and more important," he said.

Fellow medal recipient Tony Chew attributed his award to "the entire team at the Duke- NUS Graduate Medical School".

Mr Chew served as the first chairman of the school's governing board from 2005 to last year. "The governing board, management and faculty, led by the dean, worked diligently and passionately to establish the school," he said. "I must also thank my wife Melanie for her hard work, contributions and support behind the scenes."

Mr Chew added that his proudest achievement was accomplishing all of the school's initial key milestones in four years instead of the planned seven, and doing so well under budget. During his tenure, the school made 46 invention disclosures, filed 31 patents, and obtained three licences.

The 67-year-old continues to serve Singapore in other ways. "I would like to concentrate on my role as Singapore Business Federation chairman. There is much work to do there, especially for the small and medium-sized enterprises."

NParks chairman Christina Ong, the third recipient of the service medal, could not be reached for comment as she is overseas.

Mrs Ong was deputy chairman when she succeeded Professor Leo Tan in 2007. At the time, NParks said she brought valuable marketing and private-sector experience to the board.

Mrs Ong is managing director of fashion retailer Club 21, which has more than 200 stores worldwide. She is also a noted luxury hotelier, managing a stable of niche properties under the Como Hotels brand. Now in her 60s, she is married to hotel and property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, and they have appeared together in the Forbes list of Singapore's richest people.

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