Saturday 27 August 2016

Remembering S R Nathan: A Final Farewell

S R Nathan - 1924 - 2016

'Few answered nation's call so often, and served so well', says PM Lee
PM Lee pays tribute to ex-president's 'abiding sense of duty' at state funeral to honour his life of service
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

Singaporeans bade a final farewell to the nation's sixth and longest-serving president yesterday.

Thousands braved the haze to line the streets from Parliament House to Kent Ridge, as Mr S R Nathan's cortege passed by landmarks that were milestones in his illustrious career of five decades in public service.

Others stopped work to tune in to the broadcast of a state funeral service for the man many had, since his death on Monday at age 92, hailed as a people's president.

At the University Cultural Centre, seven eulogists paid tribute to the man whose life's work made a difference to their lives and many others.

They shared memories of how as a social worker, workers' advocate, intelligence chief, newspaper company executive chairman, diplomat and from 1999 to 2011, Singapore's President, he shaped the history of this young nation and its institutions.

Even after he stepped down, he stayed active in engaging young Singaporeans, encouraging them to build on the pioneer generation's work and take Singapore forward.

"He always did his best for Singapore, even at personal risk and sacrifice," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who delivered the opening eulogy during the two- hour funeral service.

"Few have answered the nation's calls so faithfully and so often, and served Singapore so well."

Mr Lee noted Mr Nathan served two terms as head of state with dignity and distinction, winning the respect and affection of Singaporeans of all races and from all walks of life.

"He firmly believed in and was the epitome of multiracialism, attending events of all communities, making time for everyone, no matter who they were," he said.

Mr Nathan's family members, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Mrs Tan, MPs, diplomats and invited Singaporeans from all walks of life were among the 1,900 at the service. There were civil servants, social workers, religious leaders and students, many of whom he generously shared his life experiences and wisdom with.

Mr Nathan's hope was that they would learn "not to give up", Mr Lee said, noting that the ex-president "overcame extremely trying circumstances in his childhood and rose in the public service through grit, determination and ability, guided by a deep and abiding sense of duty".

Mr Lee added: "Time and again, he placed nation before self. Quietly and without fuss, he gave his best years and more, to Singapore."

Many among the more than 20,000 people who paid their respects at Mr Nathan's lying in state in Parliament House on Thursday had met him - or been moved by his life story and lifetime of duty.

Yesterday, six former colleagues and friends who knew him well, some for a half-century, joined Mr Lee in paying tribute to his steely resolve, strength of character, and generosity of spirit.

Foreign service veteran Tommy Koh called Mr Nathan "our super ambassador to the world" - a demanding boss who taught officers to be courageous, and put his own life on the line in the 1974 Laju hijack crisis.

As President, Mr Nathan's social work training and prodigious memory for names and faces endeared him to many. And he converted a huge global network of friends into friends of Singapore.

Former senior minister of state and community leader Zainul Abidin Rasheed, a former journalist, spoke of how Mr Nathan's network helped The Straits Times make inroads in its reporting on the region when he was executive chairman of The Straits Times Press.

His concerns transcended race and religion, Mr Zainul said, citing his abiding interest in Malay affairs as well as projects like the Indian Muslim Heritage Centre.

Community Chest adviser Jennie Chua shared stories of his deep commitment to charity and the social service sector, and heartfelt letters he wrote by hand to thank friends, volunteers and social workers.

Mr Nathan's willingness to help others never ceased even when he was in hospital, said his friend Ramaswamy Athappan.

For labour chief Chan Chun Sing, helping Mr Nathan start the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies - today's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies - imparted an important lesson: "Only the lack of imagination can set us back."

Mr Nathan's life encapsulates the Singapore Story many in his generation never imagined was possible.

It was thus apt that the service opened with the music of Thanja-vooru Manneduthu, a Tamil song that diplomat Gopinath Pillai said resonated with Mr Nathan as "he heard in it a tale of Singapore - how from many, we became one".

"We bid farewell to a remarkable man whose life was an unusual journey," said Mr Pillai, who spoke last.

"We were all fortunate to have been in some measure a part of this unexpected odyssey."

'Thank you' shouts ring out as cortege drives by
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

As he stood before the flag-draped casket of his friend and comrade-in-arms, former unionist and PAP assemblyman Mahmud Awang remembered a man who spoke softly, thought widely, and did much for his fellow Singaporeans.

"Mr S R Nathan represented the best in people: He was patient, polite and did things quietly and properly, in a way that was accepted by all," said Mr Mahmud who, as NTUC's first chairman, had fought for workers' rights alongside Mr Nathan.

He was among 159 VIPs - comprising 78 Singaporeans and 81 members of the diplomatic and consular corps - who yesterday morning paid their last respects to the former president at Parliament House before his journey to the University Cultural Centre (UCC) at the National University of Singapore.

Among the foreign leaders at the UCC was Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, who said Malaysia had lost a good friend who contributed much to bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia.

"We were good friends and he used to go up to Malaysia to visit some of his old friends," Mr Liow added. "We will remember him for a long, long time."

With Mr Liow were Malaysian ministers Joseph Kurup and Khairy Jamaluddin. Also at UCC were Brunei's Minister for Development Bahrin Abdullah and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, as well as 43 heads of foreign missions in Singapore.

After the last visitors at Parliament House left, Mrs Nathan, 87, daughter Juthika, 56, and son Osith, 53, and family members had a private moment with Mr Nathan, before the casket was moved from the bier to the ceremonial gun carriage for the procession to the state funeral service.

En route to UCC, thousands of Singaporeans of all backgrounds and ages lined the 15.5km funeral procession route to bid a final farewell to a man often described as a people's president.

Madam Ng Siang Hian, 92, wore her finest cheongsam, gold-embroidered and in lilac, and took a taxi to High Street Centre from her Toa Payoh flat to witness Mr Nathan's final journey.

Over at Queenstown MRT station, Primary 2 pupil Ethan Seow, eight, came in his uniform straight from River Valley Primary School. He was with his mother and sister.

Security officer Kumaraguru Govindaraju, 49, took a day off to wave a last goodbye to Mr Nathan, who died on Monday at age 92.

Like him, many had stories of Mr Nathan's humility and grace: the day he shook their hand, stopped to chat and took a picture with them.

"He always remembered the ordinary people," said Mr Kumaraguru, who met Mr Nathan several years ago during Thaipusam at Sri Thendayuthapani temple.

"There are no words to describe how I'm feeling now," he added, looking solemn as the haze that enveloped Singapore yesterday afternoon turned the skies a sombre grey.

The three-hour PSI reading was 215 when the ceremonial gun carriage came out of the gates of Parliament House at 2pm.

As the procession rolled past, applause filled the air, hand-held Singapore flags fluttered and people shouted: "Thank you, Mr Nathan".

The funeral procession wound its way past landmarks closely identified with Mr Nathan's long and distinguished career in public service.

It went by City Hall, where Mr Nathan, as President, stood on its steps to review the National Day Parade at the Padang in 2000, 2005 and 2010.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry, that marked Mr Nathan's career in diplomacy, also used to be located at City Hall.

Minutes later, Fullerton Hotel came into view. Previously known as Fullerton Building, it housed the Singapore Marine Department where Mr Nathan, as a seamen's welfare officer, began his career in labour relations.

The next milestone building was NTUC Centre, which recalls Mr Nathan's role at the Labour Research Unit in the 1960s, negotiating for improved conditions for workers and helping to win over workers and unions' trust, including pro-communist unions.

At Collyer Quay, about 300 NTUC employees stood in silent homage, some with their phones raised to record his final journey for posterity.

Mr Hans Goh, deputy director of NTUC's membership department, was in the Singapore Scout Association when Mr Nathan was Chief Scout. He remembers an avuncular gentleman who put people at ease, so much that they forgot they were talking to a top public servant, diplomat, or head of state.

"He would walk right up to you and you don't feel threatened by him; you feel drawn to him," said Mr Goh. "He remembers you - that's the beauty of it."

At 2.47pm, the cortege arrived at UCC. Mr Nathan's casket was carried into the building, followed by family members and close friends.

After a lifetime of heavy duties, Mr Nathan was finally at rest, said human resource executive Nirmala Palanniandi.

Added the 40-year-old: "We're losing great men one by one: last year, it was Mr Lee Kuan Yew. We need to cherish their hard work and keep at it for the country."

Additional reporting by Chong Zi Liang, Danson Cheong, Rachel Au-Yong, Felicia Choo and Charmaine Ng

Nathan put nation before self time and again: PM Lee
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

The life of former president S R Nathan holds many lessons for Singaporeans and they include resilience, duty and country before self, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Lee paid tribute to Mr Nathan's greatness of character in a 15-minute eulogy at his state funeral yesterday afternoon.

"He had hoped that Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, would draw a key lesson from his memoirs, which is not to give up," he said. "It is a precept that Mr Nathan lived by."

Such grit and determination, which carried him through a difficult childhood and rise in the public service, was one of four qualities Mr Lee highlighted.

The other three were: he lived life to the fullest, he always did his best for Singapore - even at personal risk and sacrifice, and his great personal integrity and commitment.

"It was his character, as much as his intellect, that led to his achievements in life and took him to the highest office in Singapore."

Mr Lee highlighted the 1974 Laju hostage crisis as an incident that epitomised the qualities of Mr Nathan, who died on Monday at age 92.

Terrorists had hijacked the Laju ferry and, in a protracted negotiation, they agreed to release the hostages in exchange for safe passage to Kuwait.

Mr Nathan, then director of the Security and Intelligence Division, "risked his life" to lead 12 officials who accompanied the terrorists to Kuwait - in effect, as hostages.

"Not many of today's generation know of the Laju incident. Those who do probably do not fully appreciate the magnitude of the decision that Mr Nathan and the other 12 made," said Mr Lee.

"It took great moral and physical courage," he added.

In his speech, Mr Lee gave an overview of Mr Nathan's wide-ranging career which illustrated his lifelong willingness to serve.

After retiring from the Government in 1982, Mr Nathan was asked to be executive chairman of The Straits Times Press company.

He later became High Commissioner to Malaysia and then Ambassador to the United States, where he had to defend Singapore's sentencing of US citizen Michael Fay to caning for vandalism.

When Mr Nathan returned from his Washington stint in 1996, he established the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, now the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"Mr Nathan could have retired from public service into a more placid life in academia," said Mr Lee. "But duty called again. Once again, he put country before self.''

In 1999, he stood for President and was elected.

He served his two terms with dignity and distinction, winning the respect and affection of Singaporeans of all races and from all walks of life, said Mr Lee.

A gracious host to foreign visitors, he also represented Singapore overseas with aplomb.

A generous man, he started the annual President's Challenge campaign to help the less fortunate, Mr Lee added. It raised more than $100 million over 12 years and reminded Singaporeans that everyone has "a part in building a compassionate society".

Being President also meant making tough decisions. Mr Nathan gave good advice, Mr Lee said, when the two worked together as President and Prime Minister for seven years.

During the 2008 global financial crisis, Mr Lee sought permission to draw $5 billion from the national reserves to fund economic measures, and to back a guarantee of all bank deposits in Singapore with $150 billion of the reserves.

After careful consideration, Mr Nathan gave his approval, allowing the crisis to be dealt with decisively and for Singapore to emerge largely unscathed.

"Mr Nathan proved, once again, that he was capable of making tough decisions when the need arose," said Mr Lee.

Even after Mr Nathan retired, he stayed active. He shared his wisdom and experience with the young, and kept up with current affairs and old friends.

Mr Lee and Mr Nathan also kept in touch. He wrote to Mr Lee recently to pass on a message from an old friend.

The four-page note set out the matter, explained the context, and offered to convey a response back to the friend.

With a smile, Mr Lee said: "It could have passed as a staff paper." He did not elaborate on the contents.

Such dedication was emblematic of Mr Nathan's approach.

Mr Lee concluded: "He put heart and soul into every task assigned to him, including the highest office in the land.

"Time and again, he placed nation before self. Quietly and without fuss, he gave his best years and more, to Singapore.

"It is with great sorrow today that we bid farewell to one of Singapore's greatest sons."

Brightest thread in his life - Umi
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

In contrast to his wide-ranging public career, the story of Mr S R Nathan's private life was a simple one: He was a man who married his childhood sweetheart and loved his family.

"Quite apart from Mr Nathan's remarkable career, the central and brightest thread in his life was his love for Umi, his wife," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with a small smile yesterday, in his eulogy for Mr Nathan.

Mr Nathan first met Umi in 1942, when she was 13 and he was 18, recounted Mr Lee.

The courtship was to last 16 years. Braving parental objections and two years apart while Umi studied in Britain, the couple finally married in 1958.

"Their relationship spanned an astonishing 73 years, an inspiration to us all," said Mr Lee.

"S R loved and honoured Umi all the days of his life. And she, in turn, was his anchor throughout his career, including the 12 years that he was President, when she supported him with grace, charm and warmth.

"Mrs Nathan, thank you," said Mr Lee.

In the audience, Mrs Nathan responded wordlessly with the namaste gesture: hands pressed together, with a little bow.

Mr Nathan's long-time friend, Ambassador-at- Large Gopinath Pillai, spoke about how the great public figure was at heart a family man. Mr Pillai and his wife travelled often with Mr Nathan and his family.

Mrs Nathan: A picture of grace even in her moment of sorrow
By Li Xueying, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

When Madam Urmila Nandey returned home to Ceylon Road last night, after a long day that included her late husband's funeral, the first thing she did was to check on their long-time driver Rahim.

She wanted to make sure he had had his dinner.

At the state funeral earlier, the woman who made Mr SR Nathan's "imagination run wild" - as he himself put it - for 74 years was a picture of grace and calm.

The 87-year-old - who uses a wheelchair and whose hair is now the colour of snow - would have been exhausted from both sorrow and the task of receiving the many visitors who went to pay their last respects.

But she did what she has been doing the last six decades as Mr Nathan's wife: her duty, and more.

She waved to the funeral attendees who spontaneously rose to their feet as she was wheeled into the University Cultural Centre auditorium. She nodded in thanks as speaker after speaker - from the Prime Minister to the family friend - paid tribute to Mr Nathan.

And at the end, she clasped her hands together in gratitude to those present, lifting them up to acknowledge the folk sitting in the upper decks of the hall.

This is the woman who has been hailed as the anchor for Singapore's sixth president.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put it, in the most poignant line in his eulogy for Mr Nathan: "The central and brightest thread in his life was his love for Umi."

Strip away the pomp of yesterday's ceremony, and the theme that emerged was love.

There was Mr Nathan's love for his country and its people, Tamil and Malayalam movies, classical Carnatic music and light film songs, and writing letters with a $2.20 black-ink pen.

There was also his love for his family. "He was above all a family man," said veteran diplomat Gopinath Pillai.

In particular, the bond between Mr and Mrs Nathan was "an extraordinary tale of devotion and love that inspires us all".

Mr Nathan himself has written and said much about Mrs Nathan, dedicating chapters in his books to how they met. He was 18 and, like in a sepia-tinted movie, he fell in love when he cycled past her house in Muar and glimpsed her standing by the window on the second floor.

After 16 years of courtship during which he overcame her parents' objections and two agonising years of separation when she studied in Britain, they finally settled down, and she became a constant presence by his side.

He called her Umi. She called him Nathan; sometimes "grandpa", after the three grandchildren came.

When I covered his nomination as president 11 years ago, he was asked at a press conference what he and his wife would be doing later that day. He replied: "Probably when I go back now, I'll have tea. I'm sure she'll want to give me something sweet to eat because I like sweet things."

I went with him. Indeed, Mrs Nathan had prepared two plates of nonya kueh - one of kueh wajik (sticky rice infused with gula melaka) and one of kueh ambon (honeycombed pandan cake).

It was a relationship sealed by mutual support and sacrifices, with some gentle nagging thrown in (his favourite food was nasi briyani and she had to restrict his intake).

It has been observed that after he became President in 1999, she stopped wearing saris on a regular basis, so as to underscore the message that she was the wife of the President of all Singaporeans, not only the Indian community.

Her endless consideration for others had its influence on a man who became known for his generosity of spirit. And she never begrudged the time that his public service took him away from her and their two children, Juthika and Osith.

"We've never heard Mrs Nathan complaining, 'Oh, he's out so much and has no time for the family'," recounted former senior public servant Haider Sithawalla, 83, who, with his wife Zubeda, 72, often met the Nathans for grilled seafood at a restaurant at the Esplanade.

The former president, in turn, doted on her.

"He had eyes only for her," said Mr Nathan's niece Nomita Pillay, whose mother is his sister. "When he walked into a crowd, the first thing he did was to look for her."

And when Mr Nathan went out for functions without her, he would pack and bring home food for her if it was something she liked.

"I've told my husband to emulate my uncle in how he treats his wife!" said Ms Pillay, half smiling even as her eyes welled up in tears.

Over the past four days since Mr Nathan died in hospital, Mrs Nathan has been holding up well, said relatives and family friends.

In between entertaining visitors - she tells them "Your friend is gone" - she has been recounting favourite memories, reminiscing about how they met and their time together.

"She's teared, of course, but she's a strong woman, and she's not alone," said a friend.

Yesterday, as son Osith went to lay a wreath on his father's portrait, his mother held out her arms.

Next to her, daughter Juthika leaned in, and the family, which had lost a part of itself, shared a long, silent hug.

Mr Nathan was the president of Singapore. But at this final moment, he was a husband and a father first of all.

'Super ambassador' with a warm heart: Tommy Koh
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

A man with the memory of an elephant and a warm heart behind his tough exterior, Mr S R Nathan was a "super ambassador" of Singapore both as a diplomat and as President, said Ambassador-at- Large Tommy Koh.

Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Singapore Foreign Service, Professor Koh noted that Mr Nathan had played a key role in founding both institutions.

He joined the MFA in 1966 and helped the first Foreign Minister, Mr S. Rajaratnam, to set it up. He then left for assignment in the Home Affairs and Defence ministries in 1971 but returned to MFA as its First Permanent Secretary in 1979.

Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew set him a seemingly impossible task: Turn the MFA into a first-class outfit within two years, or it would be closed down.

Mr Nathan did just that, transforming the MFA "from no class to first class", said Prof Koh. He called Mr Nathan his mentor and comrade, noting that "behind that tough exterior was a warm, kind and loyal heart".

Because of the strong foundation Mr Nathan laid, the MFA and Singapore Foreign Service are considered among the best in the world, he said.

Another of Mr Nathan's contributions was teaching courage in defending Singapore's interests.

When Singapore sentenced United States citizen Michael Fay to caning for vandalism in 1994, Mr Nathan was Ambassador to the US.

"My American friends have told me that they admired the calm and rational way in which he defended Singapore against vicious attacks," said Prof Koh.

Mr Nathan "held high the flag of Singapore", and showed how even as a small country, Singapore "cannot be bullied" by others.

As High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador to the US, Mr Nathan represented the country with great distinction. But his contributions did not end after he left the foreign service. Said Prof Koh: "His most important diplomatic role was as our sixth President."

In his 12 years as President, he visited more countries than all his predecessors combined, strengthening diplomatic links and opening the door for economic opportunities.

"He had a flair for dealing with foreign leaders and foreign friends," recalled Prof Koh.

He could establish a rapport with others and put them at ease, and had "the memory of an elephant" in recalling people he had befriended during previous assignments, no matter how long ago.

Mr Nathan's legacy for the MFA and foreign service lies in the strong foundation he helped build, his courage in defending Singa- pore's interests, and turning a "huge global network of friends into a global network of friends of Singapore".

Concluded Prof Koh: "Mr S R Nathan was truly our super ambassador to the world."

Love for music and movies
The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

A favourite song of Mr Nathan is Thanjavooru Manneduthu, which was played at the start of the funeral service yesterday.

The popular Tamil song from the hit 1997 Indian movie Porkkaalam translates into Taking The Sands Of Thanjavur.

It describes a dollmaker who goes around the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu collecting materials to make a doll - sand from the city of Thanjavur, water from the famous Thamirabarani river and clay from other places.

The song resonated with Mr Nathan, who heard in it the tale of Singapore, about how people of different races, cultures, religions and traditions come together to become one people, said Ambassador-at-Large Gopinath Pillai.

He added that Mr Nathan loved to watch Tamil and Malayalam movies and also enjoyed listening to both Carnatic music - a genre of Indian classical music from South India - and popular songs from Indian films.

Humble champion of 'the small man': Chan Chun Sing
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

To a young army officer back in the 1990s, Mr S R Nathan, who had just returned to Singapore after serving as Ambassador to the United States, made a big impression.

Not just for what Mr Nathan had achieved. But for being a mentor to younger staff officers, giving them a free hand to work and trusting them to execute plans, labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

He thanked the late Mr Nathan "for planting the seeds in us younger Singaporeans, to be better Singaporeans for a stronger Singapore", in his eulogy at yesterday's state funeral service.

He recalled that in 1996, he was assigned to assist Mr Nathan in setting up a new think-tank, the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

It turned out that neither of them had any experience in setting up such an organisation, but Mr Nathan saw it as being "given a free hand" and told Mr Chan that only the lack of imagination could set them back.

Meticulous, but trusting people to execute plans, Mr Nathan travelled the world to look for the best in academia to join the institute, while leaving Mr Chan to set up the facilities.

It was a style he picked up from pioneers such as the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, said Mr Chan.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Chan said that Dr Goh gave the team at the Labour Research Unit, which Mr Nathan joined in 1962, similar freedom when tasking them simply to fight for the welfare of workers (wei gongyou zhengqu fuli).

"Just like the other members of our pioneer generation, armed with a sense of mission and fearing no hardship, Mr Nathan gradually built up Singapore one step at a time."

Subordinates were not just staff officers to him, but like family, said Mr Chan, who was invited to Mr Nathan's family festive celebrations every year without fail, ever since they worked together.

After Mr Nathan retired as President in 2011 - the same year Mr Chan entered politics - he wanted to call on Mr Chan at his office in the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to affirm him.

"His humility and magnanimity of spirit to help the younger generation is something that we should learn," said Mr Chan.

Among other lessons the labour movement learnt from Mr Nathan is how to care for fellow Singaporeans, especially the most vulnerable, said Mr Chan, who is secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

He added that Mr Nathan also showed that it is possible to remain united by a common future, values and purpose, even though Singaporeans may not be able to claim a common ancestry, race, language or religion.

"You once said: 'The trade union movement is the place where the small man rises. The small man is important. Don't take him for granted. The trade union movement gave me the courage to stand up and speak to big people without fear.'

"Yes, Mr Nathan, the labour movement will always remember your words," said Mr Chan.

Mr Nathan maintained his ties with the NTUC until May this year, when despite poorer health and a busy schedule, he had a talk with unionists.

He was passionate and incisive as usual, Mr Chan recalled, reminding them to stay focused on being a labour movement that not only takes care of working people, but also of the country as a whole.

He also asked if the labour movement would be "our brothers' keeper" and "our sisters' keeper", looking out for one another no matter what.

"Yes, we will, Mr Nathan," said Mr Chan. "We will take care of each other. We will take care of Singapore. Your pioneer generation toiled with blood, sweat and tears to give us the chance to be called Singaporeans. We, the younger generation, will build upon it."

He wrote with a $2 pen, but no two letters were the same
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

There was one instrument that former president SR Nathan regularly wielded with great finesse: a $2.20 Uni-ball Signo broad-tipped black pen. With it, he would write personalised letters - always dated and signed - to his friends in his characteristic cursive hand.

"Like the man himself, his words were warm, encouraging, heartfelt and inspiring," said his long-time friend Jennie Chua in her eulogy at the state funeral yesterday.

She and others who spoke at his funeral service recalled the former president's big heart and unfailing kindness - qualities which he brought to the social services.

In 2000, Mr Nathan started the President's Challenge fund-raising drive, which has since raised more than $100 million to help needy children, families, the elderly, those with disabilities, and others.

He worked hard to make it a success, recalled Ms Chua. "He called upon all his contacts. If he knew you could contribute in one way or another, he would call you."

What started out as a week-long drive became a year-long campaign, and smaller charities and those who had difficulty raising funds on their own benefited from the Challenge, added Ms Chua, who was chairman of the Community Chest for 14 years until she stepped down in 2013.

To her, and many others in the social service sector, Mr Nathan was a mentor with a strong passion for serving the community.

Over the years, Mr Nathan became convinced of the critical role Singapore corporations could play in fostering a spirit of giving. After he retired as President, he could and did devote more time to getting corporations involved in social work, said Ms Chua, who is Singapore's Ambassador to Mexico and chairman of Alexandra Health System.

Mr Nathan never overlooked the individual, she added. She recounted how at a charity gala dinner organised by the Community Chest, Mr Nathan noticed how the organising committee had to deal with a couple of difficult donors. The next morning, she received a note from him with a line that read: "Some of us have greater burdens to bear, I know it was not easy for you."

Said Ms Chua: "I am certain I was not the only one who received such a letter. And mind you, it was never a standard template - no two letters from him were the same."

At these charity events, Mr Nathan was so obliging in agreeing to pose for photos with people that a short walk to the exit could take up to 45 minutes. "He would make every effort to speak to as many people as possible," said Ms Chua.

It was a habit that Mr Nathan kept, whether at glitzy charity events or on his daily morning walks at East Coast Park. It was 16 years ago that he met business leader Ramaswamy Athappan on such a walk, and the two became friends.

Mr Athappan yesterday delivered a eulogy in Tamil and said: "I personally witnessed how he paid close attention to the everyday concerns of ordinary Singaporeans.

"He conversed and listened kindly, courteously and attentively to the concerns of people he met during his morning walks."

Mr Athappan, too, received a note from Mr Nathan showing his care and concern. He told of how Mr Nathan personally delivered the letter in mid-April, three months before he suffered his second stroke in two years, along with a statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh.

In the note, Mr Nathan wrote: "My days are somewhat numbered. I will be 92 in July. My heart is getting weaker by the day. My only wish is to see you well and successful in your life."

Turning to Mr Nathan's family, seated in the front row of the University Cultural Centre auditorium where the funeral service was held, Mr Athappan thanked them for the love and affection "they have bestowed not only upon me, but on millions of Singaporeans".

"Mr Nathan will always remain a priceless treasure in the memories of all of us. We are all so blessed to have been acquainted, in one way or another, with the life of this excellent, great man."

Foodie who loved briyani and durians
The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

The mere mention of briyani, nasi lemak and durians would put a smile on Mr S R Nathan's face, said former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed.

He was among several eulogists who spoke about Mr Nathan's love for food.

"I long remember the days when we would have a chat while having tea and enjoying durian puffs at his residence," he recalled.

Former Community Chest chairman Jennie Chua also reminisced about regular mee rebus lunches at Mr Nathan's Ceylon Road home which, she said, were the "most treasured of all".

There was a lunch scheduled for this month, but Mr Nathan had already taken ill.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, recounting that Mr Nathan would occasionally join him for lunch at the Istana after he retired, said: "I am afraid to report that my food paled in comparison to what he used to serve me when he was president."

Mr Nathan also often invited his friends to his home for tea, and would be dressed casually at these sessions. His attire of choice, Mr Zainul noted, was the sarong.

Even when he was ill, Nathan had minority issues on his mind
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

Just a month before he died, even though he was ill and in hospital, Mr S R Nathan took the time to chat about Malay affairs with former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed for nearly an hour.

Their final conversation at Singapore General Hospital took place before Mr Nathan suffered his second stroke in two years on July 31, which left him warded there until his death on Monday at the age of 92.

The chat from his hospital bed showed how the issues of the minority communities, no matter their race or religion, remained close to Mr Nathan's heart until the very end.

Yesterday, in eulogies at the state funeral, Mr Zainul and Ambassador-at-Large Gopinath Pillai spoke of how Mr Nathan's concerns transcended race and religion.

Speaking in Malay, Mr Zainul recounted how, as an editor at Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and later as senior minister of state for foreign affairs, he had worked with Mr Nathan.

Mr Nathan, despite his ill health in May last year after suffering his first stroke the month before, still made it a point to attend the launch of a book chronicling the local Malay-Muslim community titled Majulah! 50 Years Of Malay-Muslim Community In Singapore.

"He was very happy that the book had recorded the challenges and contributions of the Malay-Muslim community since Singapore's independence," said Mr Zainul, who was editor of Malay daily Berita Harian when he first met Mr Nathan in the 1980s. Mr Nathan was the executive chairman of SPH and of its predecessor, The Straits Times Press, in those years.

Said Mr Zainul: "He had always wanted Malays to see themselves as modern and fully integrated Singaporeans, instead of just as a minority community."

Mr Nathan also took a personal interest in the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre, located in Telok Ayer Street at the site of a shrine built by Muslim immigrants from South India in 1830.

"Truly, his concerns transcended race and religion," said Mr Zainul.

Mr Nathan also cared deeply about Hindu issues, Mr Pillai said of the man who was his close friend and mentor for nearly four decades.

They first got to know each other in 1983, when Mr Nathan was appointed chairman of the Hindu Endowments Board.

What first struck Mr Pillai about him was that he did not think doing one's best was good enough. Doing what was required was more important.

This work ethos came out strongly in his priorities for the board.

Mr Nathan brought in a qualified professional to get the Indian organisation's accounts up to date because it handled money from a large number of devotees.

He was also mindful of religious sensitivities.

Mr Pillai once suggested discontinuing the practice of spending large amounts of money to refresh Hindu temples once every 12 years.

Devotees believe that this is necessary to maintain the temple's divine powers. But Mr Nathan advised him not to change established traditions, and reminded him that their task "was to run an efficient system, not to tinker with people's beliefs".

This sense of giving back to society was always paramount with Mr Nathan, who was one of the founders of Indian self-help group Sinda.

Mr Nathan believed firmly that every child, irrespective of race or religion, should have the opportunity to develop to his full potential. In Sinda, he started many initiatives which improved many lives.

This belief in giving back was what made him agree to chair the Hindu Endowments Board, said Mr Pillai.

Mr Nathan explained to him that in the political arena, there were credible Indian ministers who had won the respect of all racesand that the various Indian institutions should also be credible.

Said Mr Pillai: "He felt strongly that those who have done well should not cut themselves off from their respective communities."

And Mr Nathan himself stayed humble all his life, said Mr Zainul: "He walked with kings, sultans, emirs, presidents and prime ministers, but... he retained the simple and ordinary in him."

S R Nathan: A president with the common touch: Gopinath Pillai
Ambassador-at-large Gopinath Pillai delivered a heartfelt eulogy to Mr Nathan, his friend of four decades.
The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

While I am honoured to be speaking today about Mr Nathan, I am also somewhat troubled. What can I say that would do justice to my friend and mentor of almost four decades? How can I adequately put into words the loss I feel without my emotions getting the better of me?

I first heard of Mr Nathan in the late 1950s when I was an undergraduate. But I got to know him well only in 1983 when he was appointed chairman of the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB). The first thing I noticed about him was that, like Winston Churchill, he did not think doing your best was good enough; doing what was required was more important.

His priorities for the Endowments Board were clear. He wanted to get the accounts up to date because we were handling money from a large number of devotees. He brought in an excellent finance member who not only cleaned up the accounts, but also instituted strict measures to ensure there were no leakages.

Mr Nathan was also mindful of religious sensitivities. Once every 12 years, large amounts are spent to refresh Hindu temples- the belief is that this is necessary to maintain the temple's divine powers. When I suggested discontinuing this practice, Mr Nathan advised me not to change established traditions. He reminded me that our task was to run an efficient system, not to tinker with people's beliefs.

Once, I asked him why he had agreed to be chairman of HEB. He explained that in the political arena, there were credible Indian ministers who had won the respect of all races. He thought the various Indian institutions should also be credible. It was incumbent on those who have succeeded to be involved in the running of community organisations. He felt strongly that those who have done well should not cut themselves off from their respective communities.

This sense of giving back to society was always paramount in Mr Nathan's mind. He was one of the founders of Sinda and believed firmly that every child, irrespective of race or religion, should have the opportunity to develop to his full potential. He spearheaded many initiatives at Sinda which have led to the betterment of many lives.

Mr Nathan looked at everything from a national perspective. When I was appointed chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) at NUS, he spoke to me about ISAS' role. While Singapore and India enjoyed friendly relations, they did not have a deep understanding of each other. His advice to me was: "You should champion Singapore in India and India in Singapore. That way you can help to increase each country's understanding of the other." ISAS has tried to live up to his expectations.

Mr Nathan was a man of foresight. He had long believed that the diaspora from various South Asian countries had much in common and there was much potential and value in bringing them together in a neutral venue. He felt Singapore was one such natural hub for the global South Asian diaspora. He was the driving force behind the publication of The Encyclopedia Of The Indian Diaspora in 2006, the most comprehensive account of the global Indian diaspora today. To show our deep gratitude for his immense contributions, the South Asia Diaspora Conference last July conferred on him The Outstanding Member of the South Asian Diaspora Award.

Mr Nathan has received many accolades and honours throughout his distinguished career. But for many of us who knew him before he occupied the highest office in the land, what struck us most about him was his common touch. When he was president, he showed a real interest in the Singaporeans he met and endeared himself to them. He was warm and friendly and would not leave any function he attended without taking photographs with the employees of that establishment. I would venture to say that almost half the households in Singapore have a photograph of Mr Nathan with a member of their family.

There was also a lighter side to Mr Nathan. He loved to watch Tamil and Malayalam movies. He appreciated both classical Carnatic music and light film songs. The song we heard at the beginning of these proceedings, Thanjavooru Manneduthu, was a particular favourite. It speaks volumes of the man that this Tamil song resonated with him precisely because he heard it in a tale of Singapore - how from many, we became one; how despite our different traditions, cultures and religions, we could be "one people".

When news broke that he was critically ill in hospital, a lady who had once worked for us as a domestic helper called my wife from Kumbakonam, a remote town in Tamil Nadu, to inquire about Mr Nathan's condition, and to say she was praying for him. He had made a deep and lasting impression on her, as he had on all those he came in contact with.

Another person who contacted me was Mr Tan Guan Heng, a visually handicapped writer, one of whose books Mr Nathan launched in 2001. Mr Nathan had also written a foreword to Guan Heng's latest book, Pioneering The Disabled And The Able. Guan Heng accompanied my wife and me to pay our last respects to Mr Nathan at the family residence.

My wife and I travelled often with Mr Nathan and his family. On those trips, we saw a side of Mr Nathan that few outside his family saw. He was above all a family man. The childhood love between Mr and Mrs Nathan seem to have only grown with the passage of time. Their marriage is an extraordinary tale of devotion that inspires us all. The family they created - with their children Juthika and Osith as well as Cheong Gay Eng and Hooi, and grandchildren Monisha, Kiron and Kheshin - is a closely-knit one. Mr Nathan lives on in them as he does in our hearts. At this time of sorrow, we share the loss Mrs Nathan and her family feel, and pray that they will have the strength to withstand it.

Today, we bid farewell to a remarkable man whose life was an unusual journey. We were all fortunate to have been in some measure a part of that unexpected odyssey. Farewell, Mr Nathan. May you rest in peace.

Nathan, the family man
By R.Ramachandran, Published The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

I came to know Mr S R Nathan after I married his niece, Premavathy Rajamanickam, in 1975 . On the day of my wedding dinner, he came into the hotel lobby where I was waiting for my wife to join me. He greeted me, smiled and said, "Your tie needs to be adjusted. Let me do that for you." He rectified my tangled knot and saved me from much embarrassment.

That was my first meeting with the man whom his colleagues and friends affectionately called "S R" and his younger relatives respectfully addressed as "Uncle Nathan" or "Mama" ("uncle" in Tamil). Despite his active public life, Uncle Nathan was very much a family man. He never missed any family functions. He would go to a simple birthday celebration, a small family dinner or even an ordinary religious ceremony at any one of our relatives' homes. Many a time, when he had other competing engagements (which was normally the case), he would say, "I will come, but I'll be late".

We always knew that he would turn up and made sure that the dishes that he liked most were kept aside. He would cheerfully enjoy the supper when he joined us, never looking tired or worn. His legendary love of good cuisine continued even when he was taken ill and admitted to the hospital.

At every family function he would have the nicest and always the right things to say that made everyone comfortable, cheerful and motivated. He never forgot birthdays and anniversaries and presented relatives with appropriate and generous gifts on such occasions.

For a man who did not wine and dine, go out partying or play golf, he knew a large number of people. One would only have to mention that he had met so and so and give the first name, and he would be able to identify the person and give interesting information about the person concerned. He had an excellent memory and narrated past episodes vividly and accurately.

When he became president, he told his relatives to visit and treat him and his family as if nothing had changed. There was no need for formality and prior appointment. Besides our regular visits to his home, we continued having breakfast on every Deepavali day with him, Mrs Nathan (Aunty) and their close- knit family. On one occasion we had invited him to a family dinner at Clifford Pier. When he arrived, he walked straight to the end of the wharf and stood staring at the sea. "You know, Rama," he said , "When I was 16, I took a boat to Muar from here, at this very spot, and did not return to Singapore until several years later." He was referring to that sad part of his life when he ran away from home.

His devotion to his family and siblings was obvious. Once when he was visiting Australia on official business, he was informed that his daughter was ill. He flew back immediately. He also admired and liked my mother-in-law (his sister) very much. He bought his house along the same road where she lived - Ceylon Road - to be near her.

When she unexpectedly died, he frequently visited his brother-in-law late at night, just to keep him company and to help him get over the loss of his wife. In a way, he too was grieving over his beloved sister's death. He always showed great interest in and affection for younger relatives, especially his grand nephews and nieces. When they were abroad studying, he wrote to them and made a special effort to meet them for dinner or lunch whenever he was visiting the city where they were studying.

At the mid-point of my career, I was thinking of changing jobs and I applied for various appointments. At one interview, I was surprised to see Uncle Nathan on the interview panel . The chairman of the panel asked most of the questions. Uncle Nathan just observed and sat quietly. That evening he rang me. "Rama", he said, "I told the panel members that you are my nephew and that I would not participate in any decision relating to your application and appointment. Good luck." Later on I received a note from the chairman of the panel expressing regret that my application was unsuccessful.

On another occasion, Uncle Nathan reprimanded me gently when I did not attend a National Day Parade. "Rama," he said sternly and firmly, "the invitation was sent to you because of your appointment as a senior officer of the National Library. It was not a personal invitation and you should have represented the National Library instead of disregarding it".

There was one incident which showed his eye for detail and concern for his colleagues. Uncle Nathan knew my then boss, the director of the National Library, Mrs Hedwig Anuar. One day, he called and said, "Hedwig, a full-grown shoot is sprouting on the outside wall of the library facing Fort Canning Road. The PM (Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding Prime Minister) uses this way (Fort Canning Road) when he goes to the Istana and he is likely to notice the shoot and call you." Mrs Anuar got the message. She immediately directed me to have the shoot removed and the place cleaned up.

One never returned from meeting Uncle Nathan without being enlightened by his insight, amazed by his good memory and touched by his interest in families and ordinary people.

Uncle Nathan has gone, but his family and relatives will miss him, remember his kindness and mourn his death for many more years to come.

The writer is executive director of National Book Development Council of Singapore.

S R Nathan: A true Singapore hero goes to his well-deserved rest
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor (Global Affairs), The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

And so ends the 92-year-long journey of Mr SR Nathan, who ran away from home at age 16 and ended up in the Istana six decades later as the nation's sixth president.

The thousands of Singaporeans who showed up at his wake, and stood along the roads under hazy skies to bid farewell as his casket moved towards the University Cultural Centre for the funeral ceremony, were paying tribute to a man who took the highest office promising to minister to "every community in my parish".

He would stay on to be the Republic's longest-serving president, making his presence felt not so much as a parson but more in the mould of a retired beat policeman keeping a weather eye on his citizens, while being a caring family doctor at the same time.

Every nation feels touched by its leaders in some way. In Mr Nathan's case, the contact was often direct - that's how much he got in the people's midst, not allowing the gilded cage that is the Istana to affect his downhome style. The 20,000 who came to his wake on Thursday, waiting in line for as long as two hours, were proving a life lesson: If you make time for people, they will make time for you.

In the days after his death, social media lit up with one Nathan story after another as Singaporeans recounted a smile, a touch or a word of encouragement from their erstwhile president. Mr Gopinath Pillai may not be wrong when he says at least half of Singapore households will have a picture of Mr Nathan with a family member.

Every nation has its story of gravity-defying ascent to high office. In the United States, Abraham Lincoln went from a log cabin to the White House. British people know of the story of Dick Whittington, a menial kitchen worker who rose to be Lord Mayor of London. Singapore now has the SR Nathan story.

The day he was born - July 3, 1924 - was of no particular significance except that the Paris Olympics were in full flow. Certainly, no comets were spotted in the sky. The only news that travelled that day was that a 21-year-old Japanese man had been arrested in Osaka for stealing the flag from the American embassy. This fellow said he wanted to do something "heroic" before he died for his country.

Perhaps there was a divine signal there: In later years, Mr Nathan would have many tangles with the Japanese himself, including one with the Japanese Red Army over the Laju incident. Of other heroics that happened out of sight in his role as director of the Security and Intelligence Division, we will probably never know.

Curiously, one global leader who stopped by to pay his respects to the former president was Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who acknowledged that Mr Nathan had been the first head of state to visit the victims of Hiroshima. In that gesture, Mr Nathan and his small island melded as one: an ability to rise above the painful memories of the Japanese Occupation even as bigger nations find it difficult to shake off the weights of history.

Mr Nathan's early days fitted the stereotype commonly attached to sections of the Indian community of the time. An alcoholic father committed suicide. There were domestic quarrels. Three older siblings died at a very young age. Superstitions abounded. He wore earrings - to ward off evil - he explained.

From that rough start though, his life embodies the Singapore Story; the hunger to acquire knowledge, the determination to move up in life, and the resilience. Today, Singapore matches Japan for longevity.

Like the nation he would eventually steward, he knew no one owed him a free lunch. Mr Nathan, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, had no time for self-pity or to look to others for help. The former president put it even more simply: "I learnt to look life in the face."

Success can be assessed by different yardsticks. One is to take stock of a person's achievements. The other is to judge him by the difficulties he has overcome. By either measure, Mr Nathan was an unqualified winner. That a man without a full university degree could head external intelligence, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and eventually become president of a nation bedazzled by higher education stands testament to his savvy, efficiency and integrity.

"Many people believe we place much emphasis on academic credentials. Yes, we do. But we place much greater importance on character," founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had said in a reference to Mr Nathan.

As his career advanced, Mr Nathan never lost the common touch. As ambassador to Washington, he would often dine in a low-priced restaurant that served spicy Chettinad food. He had no fear of being photographed in a sarong. His appetite was as large as his zest for life and he took it as a personal affront if any of his invited friends missed his annual Deepavali party without good reason.

A man of razor-sharp memory, Mr Nathan was not one for plastic alliances or fleeting friendships. In recent days, news columns have spoken at length of his various kindnesses. But many more remain untold, or known only to a select few like Mr S. Chandra Das, another long-time friend of Mr Nathan's.

As president, Mr Nathan travelled more than all the previous five presidents put together, including to India, the land of his ancestors. In his last decade, he made several private trips to that country, always visiting the shrine of Balaji - among the holiest of Hindu temples - in the town of Tirupati.

His fondness for India did not colour his official dealings. An Indian envoy, distressed at what he considered unfriendly coverage of his nation in The Straits Times, once took a particularly sharp editorial to him in complaint. Mr Nathan, the diplomat told me, declined to touch the newspaper clipping. Instead, he changed the subject as he poured the visitor a cup of tea.

In some ancient Asian myths, the charioteer has nearly as much prominence in war as the celebrated marksman atop the wagon. In his many roles, including his final one as head of state, Mr Nathan played his part in steering Singapore. His working life was marked by an unswerving loyalty to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and now he has departed just over a year after Mr Lee's own passing.

The rest they've gone to is richly deserved. The haze that enveloped Singapore yesterday was a reminder to the people they've left behind of the continuing challenges that need firm but delicate handling, an awareness that even if Singapore can take care of its little patch it cannot remain unaffected by the world outside. Should they meet again in the hereafter, Mr Lee and Mr Nathan would have plenty to reminisce about the challenges they met together.

Family, friends attend private cremation service
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

After thousands of people had paid their respects to former president S R Nathan, his family and friends bade him a final farewell in a private cremation service at Mandai Crematorium yesterday.

Among the 90 people who attended the quiet, dignified service were Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mrs Lee, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

Mr Nathan's only son Osith led the Hindu funeral rites, which included placing rice and oil on his body, and carrying an earthen pot with water and walking three times around the coffin. As per Hindu custom, holes were knocked into the pot, from which water flowed, and Mr Osith's brother-in-law Cheong Gay Eng sprinkled it around the coffin.

Mr Nathan's grandchildren Kiron Cheong, Monisha Cheong, and Kheshin Cheong then paid their respects.

While there were no announcements that the public could attend, about 15 of them arrived at the crematorium and were allowed to sit down at a neighbouring service hall, where the service was screened live.

Mr Lee Hock Yang, 66, decided to attend as he wanted to say goodbye to a man he regarded as an "old friend".

The retired fruit seller recalled fondly that Mr Nathan would call him "fruit man", and acknowledge him whenever they came across each other.

Once, he said, Mr Nathan rolled down the window of the car he was in to call out to Mr Lee.

He used to sell fruits in a back lane near Mr Nathan's Ceylon Road home in the 1960s.

"I am just a small butterfly, and he was such a big shot, but he would always stop to say hello. That really touched me," said Mr Lee.

In memory of former President S R Nathan: Lying in state


Thousands say goodbye to S R Nathan
Students, retirees and office workers join long queues to pay their last respects
By Tham Yuen-CAssistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

When Mr S R Nathan took office in 1999, he pledged to be a president for all Singaporeans, saying that "every community here of Singaporeans belongs to my parish".

Yesterday, the more than 20,000 who turned up to bid farewell to the former president were testimony to the fact that he lived up to the promise. Mr Nathan died on Monday, aged 92.

People of different races and religions, from different walks of life, queued, some for hours, to enter Parliament House to pay their last respects as the former president lay in state, ahead of today's state funeral.

Students came with their schoolmates, men in uniform with their fellow soldiers. Together with retirees on their walking aids and office workers who had skipped lunch, all formed a thick line from the Padang to Parliament House.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe turned up to pay his respects, making a brief stopover in Singapore en route to Kenya. He and his wife bowed in silence.

Mr Abe told Mrs Nathan how her late husband was the first foreign head of state to visit Hiroshima to meet the atomic bomb victims, saying: "This is something that Japanese citizens will never forget."

Many Singaporeans who turned up, young as well as old, had fond memories of Singapore's sixth and longest-serving president.

Mr Tong Ah Bah, 76, and his wife, Madam Koh Hui Meng, 69, wanted to say thank you. They had never met Mr Nathan but felt a sense of kinship with the people's president. "He was just like us ordinary folk. He, too, had to overcome a difficult early life to get to where he was," said Mr Tong, a retired hawker.

Siblings Uma Arumugam, 37, and Moses Arumugam, 31, had observed him from afar all those years they attended the fire-walking festival at the Sri Mariamman Temple, where Mr Nathan was often the guest of honour. "He had no airs. He chatted with people, joked and laughed with them," said Mr Arumugam, an administrative assistant.

The doors at Parliament House opened at 10am yesterday, but queues had started forming as early as 7.30am. By noon, the wait was up to two hours.

Among those who paid their respects were President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee, as well as Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang and veteran politician Chiam See Tong.

The state funeral organising committee had set up tents at the Padang to shield people from the sun.

Earlier, about 100 people lined the streets outside Mr Nathan's Ceylon Road home to say goodbye as a white hearse carrying his casket left for Parliament House at 8.45am.

Many were neighbours, like housewife Chan Li Yeon, 45, who felt it was her duty to send off the man whose life had been defined by duty.

Mr Nathan had served the country in a long public service career that took him from social work to diplomacy before he became president from 1999 to 2011.

His family followed the hearse on foot briefly. Mr Nathan's wife Urmila, 87, on a wheelchair, daughter Juthika, 56, and son Osith, 53, were comforted by relatives.

Speaking to reporters after he paid his respects, Dr Tan said: "Mr Nathan always thought about Singapore... We have lost a great man."

The state funeral procession for Mr Nathan today will start from Parliament House at 2pm. The ceremonial 25-pounder gun carriage carrying his casket will pass landmarks of significance to him, such as City Hall and NTUC Centre.

The procession will end at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre, where the funeral service will be held from 3pm to 5pm.

People from all walks of life line up for final bow
Unionists and politicians join throng of 20,000 at Parliament House
By Chong Zi LiangThe Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

Mr S R Nathan spent his early years in a long and distinguished career in public service fighting for the rights of workers.

It was fitting then that 700 unionists from the labour movement were among the first out of more than 20,000 people who waited in line to bid Singapore's sixth and longest- serving president a final farewell as he lay in state at Parliament House.

With the unionists were several labour MPs as well as labour chief Chan Chun Sing, who said that Mr Nathan was "an integral part of our labour movement".

He built a strong foundation for unions, Mr Chan said, adding: "We will dearly miss him. But what he has left us will be with us for a long time, for many generations to come."

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan led a group from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Nathan spent years in the world of diplomacy and was, among other appointments, First Permanent Secretary in the ministry, High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador to the United States.

Head of civil service Peter Ong, who was with a delegation of civil servants, described Mr Nathan as a "civil servant exemplar" who placed the interests of the nation above self.

He cited the hijacking of the Laju ferry by terrorists in 1974 - when Mr Nathan helped secure the release of hostages by accompanying the terrorists on a flight to Kuwait to guarantee their safe passage.

Various religious groups also headed to Parliament House to acknowledge Mr Nathan's contributions not just to their communities but also to a multi-religious society.

Mufti Fatris Bakaram said Mr Nathan never failed to keep abreast of concerns and developments in the Malay-Muslim community.

"This leadership style is what struck me the most and is the most endearing trait of Mr Nathan."

Mr Chung Kwang Tong, an administrator at the Taoist Federation, said: "He would always remind us of the importance of the trust we must have between the different religious groups. This is something we will always bear in mind."

Others who came to pay tribute included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Lee later received Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, who made a brief stopover in Singapore en route to Kenya.

It was a day that transcended politics as opposition politicians turned up to honour Mr Nathan.

Former MP Chiam See Tong, who was in a wheelchair, was helped to his feet by his wife, former Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, to pay his respects. Later, a group of Workers' Party MPs led by party chief Low Thia Khiang and party chairman Sylvia Lim arrived and bowed before the casket.

The former president's final journey to Parliament House began at about 8.40am yesterday when the casket bearing his body left his Ceylon Road home. It arrived at 9am and was received by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife, Mrs Mary Tan, arrived shortly after and were the first to pay their respects after nine officers transferred the casket onto the bier.

The public then began streaming into Parliament House.

Among them was undergraduate Jorden Karma Senapati, 23. He had been too early to secure a place, having arrived with a friend at 11pm on Wednesday, and had to wait outside Parliament House.

They lost their position at the head of the queue yesterday morning after leaving the line for a short while.

But they returned and still managed to be among the first 10 to file past the casket when Parliament House's doors opened at 10am.

Mr Senapati said he wanted to queue early in order to avoid a repeat of the long wait he faced last year, when he lined up to pay his respects to the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"Last year, I started queueing at 8pm and by the time I got home it was 10am the next day," he said.

Administrator Alice Tan, 60, felt that the organisers were better prepared after last year's experience.

"I was prepared to wait for up to three hours, but the queues were very smooth-going, and we were in and out in less than half an hour."

Indeed, tentage was set up at the Padang to shelter waiting crowds, umbrellas were kept at the start of the queue in case of rain and bottles of water were offered at various points of the line. Wheelchairs were also available. One of those who made use of that facility was Madam Yeo Kheng Neo, 94.

But when she reached the bier, she stood up in a mark of respect to Mr Nathan.

Her son, Mr Tay Kheng Hee, 62, said: "When deciding to come, I asked myself, does he make me feel proud to be a Singaporean? I felt proud, so I came."

What Singaporeans say: A precious gift for his son
The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

As president, S R Nathan reached out to Singaporeans from all walks of life. Several of those who paid their last respects at his lying in state at Parliament House fondly recall their encounters with him.


Service engineer S. Sathanantham's son Russell began racing go-karts in 2009 when he was a Primary 3 pupil. He wanted to give the nine-year-old a surprise to encourage him.

He bought a go-kart helmet and passed it to a family friend who knew then President S R Nathan.

The President signed it.

Russell proudly wore the helmet for his next go-karting session, but there was no next time after that.

"We didn't want any scratches or damage to something with the President's signature. It's just too precious," said Mr Sathanantham, 48. He spent about $600 to buy Russell another helmet.

The autographed helmet is now displayed in their home off Upper Serangoon Road.

Mr Sathanantham was at Parliament House at 7.30am yesterday, the first person in line to pay his respects.

"This is the least I can do. Mr Nathan was part of the Old Guard who did a lot for this country," he said.


Their encounter was brief but 12 years on, Mr S R Nathan's words of advice still ring loud and clear for Madam Rohani Dukiran, 48.

She was then at the Istana, where two of her four children were performing as their primary school's brass band snagged the gold award at the Singapore Youth Festival.

"He asked the children if they liked music and they said, 'Yes'. He told them they cannot just love music, they must also love their studies and get a good education," she said.

The mother of four, who has kidney failure and uses a wheelchair, added tearfully: "He also advised us parents to encourage our children."

She delayed her dialysis session yesterday to pay her last respects with two of her children.

"I got permission from the nurse to come here first," she said.

She met Mr Nathan some years later at a mosque, where he helped to prepare briyani for charity.

"He was a very nice president," she said, her voice trailing off as she broke down in tears.


When Mr Wong Chee Sun, 64, found out where Mr S R Nathan lived a few years ago, he would ride past Ceylon Road on his way to work at East Coast Seafood Centre.

"I wanted to see if I could bump into him, and I did. Whenever I passed by and he was at the gate, he would wave and smile - he was a very friendly man," said the now- retired chef.

Yesterday, Mr Wong, now in a motorised wheelchair, took a bus from his home in Geylang Bahru to Parliament House to pay his respects.

He had just completed his national service when the Laju hostage crisis unfolded in 1974, he added.

"It made me sit up. We used to think it was very safe being a soldier in Singapore, that you would never lose your life," Mr Wong said.

"Yet, there was this person, a civil servant, who offered himself to the terrorists in exchange for the hostages," he said, referring to Mr Nathan. "Such courage is hard to come by," said Mr Wong, who added that he had "taken notice of Mr Nathan since then".


Ms Lim Lee Lee, who is visually impaired, grew up being told by her parents that blind people do not need an education.

But more than 10 years ago, she met Mr S R Nathan when he presented a cheque to her organisation. And his words inspired her.

"He said to never stop learning - continuous learning is key, it's powerful. From then on, whatever I was interested in, I would go and learn," said Ms Lim, who is in her late 40s and paid her last respects accompanied by her guide dog, Nice.

She added that she used to sign up for courses before skills upgrading became common.

She took him as a role model as he beat the odds to get an education.

Ms Lim went on to get a degree in English language and literature, and is now a motivational speaker.


Ms Nursyaheeda Ahmad, 27, remembers meeting former president S R Nathan twice: once in 2005 as a student at Admiralty Secondary School, and again in 2014, during an event at the Supreme Court to honour the contributions of the late criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan.

From both encounters, the childcare teacher gleaned two things that cemented her view of him as a people's president.

Whether in her school hall or the Supreme Court, Mr Nathan knew how to light up a room, she said.

"He would wave and smile at us secondary school kids, and ask us whether we had eaten," she recalled last night. "When I met him again so many years later, he'd still ask, very politely, if we'd had our meals."

He was also ever-obliging when people wanted photos taken with him, she said, adding: "Mr Nathan has taught me that no matter what race or religion we come from, we must always remain humble and be kind to one another."


Ms Amaravathy Sarojam, 64, remembers the Deepavali greeting cards Mr S R Nathan would send to her workplace every year.

She works at the Sree Narayana Mission, a home for the aged, and Mr Nathan would send its residents festive cards every year.

He also visited the home and interacted with its residents a few times, which cheered the elderly folk.

Ms Sarojam yesterday bade Mr Nathan a final farewell as part of a contingent from the National Council of Social Service.

"He was very down-to-earth," she said of Mr Nathan, a passionate advocate for the social services and those in need.

Her colleague, Ms Ambarasi, 50, who goes by only one name, also recalls Mr Nathan attending the annual fire-walking ceremony at the Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road, where she goes.

She was looking forward to seeing him this year, but that wish was not fulfilled due to Mr Nathan's ill health.


In 2003, at the age of 31, Mr Lawrence Koh was accepted into a US university to study animation but he could not afford to go.

He wrote to many organisations for support, and even applied for a President's Scholarship.

He was surprised that then-President S R Nathan wrote to him to suggest that he try the Media Development Authority (MDA) instead.

Mr Koh was among MDA's pioneer batch of scholarship recipients. He is now a bestselling author, caricaturist and lecturer of 3D media technology at Temasek Polytechnic.

The writer of Growing Up with Lee Kuan Yew said that when he was studying and working overseas for about 10 years, he and his family sent Mr Nathan Christmas cards, and the former president would reply each and every one.

Last year, he finally met Mr Nathan and presented him with two caricatures as a gift. Mr Nathan jokingly thanked him for "making his hair so black", Mr Koh said.

Reports by: Chong Zi Liang, Pearl Lee, Lim Yan Liang, Charissa Yong, Jalelah Abu Baker, Joanna Seow, Tessa Oh and Charmaine Ng

What foreign leaders say

Japan will never forget S R Nathan's visit to Hiroshima: Abe
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a stopover in Singapore en route to Kenya to pay his last respects to former president S R Nathan at Parliament House yesterday afternoon. Mr Abe and his wife were accompanied by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee.

Mr Abe told Mrs Nathan that Japan would never forget how Mr Nathan, when on a state visit to Japan in 2009, became the first foreign head of state to visit Hiroshima to meet atomic bomb victims.

PM Lee wrote on Facebook: "Grateful to PM Abe and Mrs Abe for attending Mr Nathan's lying in state. May we build on Mr Nathan's legacy to bring our bilateral relations to greater heights."

Mr Abe on Wednesday wrote a condolence message remembering Mr Nathan for his contributions towards bilateral ties, and describing him as a "cornerstone of unity" for Singaporeans. He also highlighted Mr Nathan's courage during the Laju hijacking incident in 1974.

In Taipei, former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou went to the Singapore Trade Office to pay his last respects.

Uphold his legacies in foreign relations, says Chinese official
By Kor Kian BengThe Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

Former president S R Nathan left important legacies in Singapore's relations with China and other countries that should continue to be upheld, China's Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said.

Mr Liu said the older generation of leaders, particularly former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as founding father of Singapore and pioneer of Sino-Singapore ties, contributed to the development of relations between the two countries.

"Mr Nathan is part of the same generation that left behind important legacies in Sino-Singapore friendship and also in Singapore's relations with others," Mr Liu told Singapore reporters yesterday after signing the condolence book at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing.

"It's not just Singaporeans who should uphold their legacies. The youth in China and the current generation of leaders should also continue to draw lessons from them."

Responding to a question on how current leaders in Singapore and China could build on the work of their predecessors, Mr Liu said the older generation had relied on oriental and traditional philosophies and ideals to view modern- day relations.

"Times may have changed, but Asians should still use Asian ideals, spirit, principles to handle relations among Asian countries," he added.

Mr Liu also described Mr Nathan's death as a loss for Singapore and for Asian countries.

"He spent his life fighting for Singapore's independence, development and prosperity. He worked hard for Singapore for over 60 years and we will remember him dearly."

Mr Liu added: "We hope Sino- Singapore relations will continue to achieve new and better developments through mutual effort and by building on existing foundations."

Chinese President Xi Jinping had on Wednesday sent his deepest condolences in a message to Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Yudhoyono describes Nathan as a great friend of Indonesia
By Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia Correspondent In JakartaThe Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

Former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called Mr S R Nathan "a great friend of Indonesia" when he visited the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta yesterday to pay his last respects to former president Nathan, who died on Monday, aged 92.

"For me, President Nathan was a great son of Singapore, a great educator, leader and statesman. He was also a great friend of Indonesia," Dr Yudhoyono said after he signed the condolence book.

The two former heads of state met on many occasions, including during Dr Yudhoyono's first state visit to Singapore in early 2005, four months after he was elected Indonesia's sixth president.

The former general in the Indonesian military (TNI) yesterday recalled the first time he met Mr Nathan in 1998, when Mr Nathan was Singapore's Ambassador-at- Large and director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) at the Nanyang Technological University.

"When he was head of the IDSS, he invited me, as the TNI chief of staff for political and social affairs, to speak on Indonesia's reforms... and I praised his deep understanding of the situation that was faced by Indonesia at that time. Since then, we have had a close relationship."

Dr Yudhoyono added that their friendship grew after he and Mr Nathan became president and they continued to have regular discussions on issues relevant to the region, including Asean, East Asia, and the South China Sea, as well as Singapore-Indonesia cooperation.

"I understood his strong spirit to build a close and better partnership, friendship with Indonesia," said Dr Yudhoyono, who served two five-year terms as president before stepping down in 2014.

Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi will represent her country at the state funeral for Mr Nathan today.

A president with the personal touch
Many who turn up to pay respects recall encounters with him
By Wong Kim Hoh, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

It was 12.30pm. The temperature outside, according to Siri on my iPhone, was 32 deg C.

An elderly Chinese busker stood outside exit B of City Hall MRT station, a black tote slung around his neck. He held a grey umbrella and a FairPrice Finest carrier bag in his right hand, and a harmonica in his left.

He was playing Auld Lang Syne, perhaps to bid farewell to former president SR Nathan, whose body was lying in state in Parliament House several hundred metres away.

I approached one of several men wearing white shirts, dark slacks and black bands around their left arm. If I wanted to pay my respects, the young man said helpfully, I should make my way to the Padang and join the queue.

Under the searing mid-day sun, I joined a steady stream of people as they headed for the open field in front of The National Gallery.

Some were striding purposefully, others strolling languidly. Men in starched shirts and cuff-links, women in smart suits and high heels, uncles in polos and bermudas, students in their uniforms, Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, young, old and middle-aged - they were all there, alone or with friends and colleagues. By then, more than 3,000 people, I was told, had already paid their respects.

Near the entrance of a makeshift passageway covered with white tent fabric and lined with pots of white orchids, several volunteers were distributing bottled water. A man with a crew cut kept hollering: "Please make sure you drink some water. The weather's very hot."

Many people stopped at four tables set up for them to pen their condolences on white cards with white orchid motifs. Next to the tables were stands displaying messages to one of the pioneer nation-builders who died on Monday, aged 92.

Some were short: "I feel very sad, Mr Nathan. Thank you," wrote LKH.

Others were intimate: "Dearest President, My heart broke when I heard of your passing. It seemed like you spoke to us about the philosophy of life and social work so recently. Your life story is a lesson that I will keep in my heart. Your legacy in social work will be continued by this generation you have inspired," wrote Vijayalakshmi.

The handwritten notes were a fitting tribute to a man who, I have learnt, had a penchant for picking up pen and paper to express thanks, delight and encouragement.

He certainly made my day when I came into the office this January to find a letter from him. In beautiful cursive handwriting, he told me how much he enjoyed my book, It Changed My Life, which contains interviews with Singaporeans who overcame the odds to turn their lives around. He cited several stories and said they reminded him of his own life. It was such a touching gesture from a man who once held the highest office in the land, one who, unfortunately, I never had the privilege to meet.

He ended the letter with this line: "Thank you for your short stories. I know it will inspire others."

He certainly inspired Singaporeans, judging from the crowd which swelled considerably as the afternoon wore on.

Member of Parliament and lawyer Christopher de Souza, who was behind me in the queue, remembered being on a state visit to Turkey with him in 2009.

"We were 30,000 feet up in the air. SQ dimmed the cabin lights, everyone was asleep and I was just going through the briefs given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Suddenly President Nathan came, sat on my armrest and started talking about Singapore and perseverance with such interest and insight.

"His work ethic and his dedication to Singapore were inspiring," Mr de Souza said.

Like him, many yesterday had personal encounters with the late former president. Among them was Mrs Maz Mindi, 68, who came with three Girl Guides. The former deputy chief of Girl Guides Singapore recalled how Mr Nathan - who was Chief Scout during his presidency - would go out of his way to talk to Girl Guides and their parents during prize presentation ceremonies.

Most yesterday also went to pay their respects because they recognised that he served Singapore and Singaporeans well.

Housewife Jayasree Nair, 44, was there with her daughters Jaishwini, 12, and Yashiniya, nine, to bid farewell to a great man who did much for the country.

Her father Jayaraman Krishnan Nair, 64, who is with the Infantry Training Institute, agreed, and said that was why he volunteered to help out at the funeral.

The wait to get into Parliament House took over an hour but it was pleasant, orderly and angst-free.

My turn came. I could discern his nose as he lay in his casket, draped with the state flag.

"Thank you Mr President. Rest in peace," I said silently. And as I walked out into the mid-day sun, I wondered if that old busker was still playing Auld Lang Syne.

Leading the Laju mission was one of S R Nathan’s key contributions
The 1974 crisis ended smoothly, largely because of the clear-headed leadership of Nathan
By Danson CheongThe Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

In the long and remarkable career of S R Nathan, the Laju hijack of 1974 had all the ingredients of a thriller movie, with the future president of Singapore playing a starring role.

The young today may find it hard to reconcile the jocular grandfather figure with the steely hero of Singapore's hostage drama.

When he boarded the Japan Airlines plane at Paya Lebar Airport with Singapore government officials and commandos to guarantee the safe passage of four terrorists bound for Kuwait, Singapore and his family did not know if he and his team would make it home alive.

The drama was played out at a time when there was no Twitter, no Facebook and no live blog to give a blow-by-blow account of what happened.

What the Singaporean team had was guts and gumption.

Mr Saraj Din, 71, a former officer in the Internal Security Department (ISD), who was on the Feb 8 flight, said of Mr Nathan: "He managed to save all our lives when we were all very uncertain of the outcome."

The drama had started on Jan 31, when four terrorists equipped with sub-machine guns and explosives landed on Pulau Bukom.

Their plan was to blow up the Shell oil refinery on the island to disrupt the oil supply from Singapore to South Vietnam to show their support for communist North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Two were Arabs from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two were Japanese nationals from the communist militant group Japanese Red Army. The two groups believed in changing the world through revolution, and trained together in guerilla warfare in the Middle East.

On Bukom, they planted explosives at three oil tanks but the blasts caused little damage, and the rest of the explosives failed to go off.

Chased by the police, the terrorists hijacked a ferry at Bukom jetty called Laju, or "fast" in Malay - and held five crew members hostage.

After six days of protracted negotiations, the bombers agreed to release the hostages in exchange for safe passage out of Singapore.

Their destination: an Arab country. But no one would take in the terrorists until another group of terrorists stormed the Japanese Embassy in Kuwait, taking hostages and demanding that the Japanese government send a plane to Singapore to take the Laju terrorists to Kuwait.

On Feb 7, the bombers were taken to Paya Lebar Airport, where they surrendered their weapons and released the remaining three hostages. Two hostages had escaped earlier.

The terrorists were to board a special flight to Kuwait on a plane loaned from Japan. But they had one condition: They demanded a group of guarantors to accompany them on the flight.

Then Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee needed a man who would not buckle under pressure to lead the dangerous mission.

He turned to Mr Nathan, then 49, and the director of Singapore's external intelligence agency, the Security and Intelligence Division (SID) in the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Nathan had been involved in the negotiations with the hijackers from the start.

The other 12 members of the team were drawn from government units handling the crisis: the ISD, police, Singapore Armed Forces commandos, and translators: Mr S. Rajagopal, Mr Saraj Din, Mr Tee Tua Ba, Mr Yoong Siew Wah, Mr Seah Wai Toh, Mr Andrew Tan, Mr Tan Kim Peng, Mr Gwee Peng Hong, Mr Teo Ah Bah, Mr Tan Lye Kwee, Haji Abu Bakar and Haji Rahman.

If Mr Nathan was afraid, he did not show it.

In separate interviews with The Straits Times and The New Paper decades after the incident, he recounted how he broke the news of the mission to his wife Urmila. Their children were then 15 and 11.

"I just looked at her and told her, 'I'm going'," Mr Nathan said.

"I knew it'd be very emotional for her and for my children... I had to display some confidence."

When he left for the airport, he avoided looking at any of his family members in the eye.

In an interview with The Straits Times, former ISD officer Rajagopal, 76, recalled then Minister for Home Affairs Chua Sian Chin telling the group at the airport on Feb 8: "Thanks for your service. If anything happens, we will take care of your family."

During the 13-hour flight, the thoughts swirling in Mr Nathan's head veered from the personal - Would he see his wife and children again? - to the practical - Would the plane be allowed to land in Kuwait or would they be forced to refuel and sent off elsewhere? Would the hijackers refuse to let the Singaporeans go and use them as bargaining chips? Everything was up in the air. But Mr Nathan steadied himself with these words: "Have faith and do your duty."

Demonstrating the diplomatic skills that he showed in the foreign service, he chatted with the terrorists and tried to win their trust.

Mr Tee, who was then 31 years old and the officer-in-charge of the Marine Police, recalled: "In the plane, Mr Nathan asked me to engage them, talk to them, and as I was talking to them he would join in."

Mr Tee, 74, later became Commissioner of Police.

"Mr Nathan was quite relaxed, because by that time the terrorists had surrendered their guns. He cracked some jokes, tried to break the ice."

Mr Nathan's goal was to establish rapport with the terrorists, in case negotiations soured and endangered the lives of the Singaporeans on board the plane.

When they landed in Kuwait before sunrise, they were greeted by a wall of tanks, armoured vehicles and soldiers.

It "looked like the middle of a war zone", Mr Nathan wrote in his 2011 memoirs, An Unexpected Journey: Path To The Presidency.

It became clear that getting the Singapore team off the plane was not one of the Kuwaitis' priorities. It seemed likely that the group of terrorists in the country would be bundled onto the plane and flown to a new destination with the Singaporeans on board.

But Mr Nathan had a plan, said Mr Tee. He told the air traffic controllers he had an important message from Singapore's Prime Minister and needed to speak to "somebody high up".

Tense hours passed. The group could not do anything but wait on the tarmac.

"For four to five hours, we were eating instant noodles in the plane and just waiting, so you can imagine our frame of mind," Mr Tee recalled.

Then a fleet of cars approached with lights flashing and sirens blaring. One of the cars, a Cadillac, carried the Kuwaiti Defence Minister, who had finally arrived to negotiate.

Mr Nathan pressed Singapore's position, which was that the team had done their part in bringing the hijackers to Kuwait. Subsequent negotiations were between the Kuwaiti and Japanese governments, and the Singaporeans should be allowed to return home. He stressed that the Singapore team was on Kuwait soil and thus came under the protection of the Kuwaiti government.

The Kuwaiti Defence Minister rebuffed him several times and told him to shut up.

At one point, he threatened to arrest Mr Nathan.

"Mr Nathan was very calm but very determined... It was not an easy situation to handle, how much can you push the line?" said Mr Tee.

The hours ticked by. Mr Nathan left the plane several times to negotiate with the Kuwaitis and the Japanese ambassador.

The breakthrough came with the arrival of Kuwait's Foreign Minister. After more talking, he finally told Mr Nathan: "All of you get down and get lost."

The Singapore delegation did as they were told.

The Kuwaiti Foreign Minister told Mr Nathan that the Singaporeans should make themselves scarce until their flight home was due, in case the hijackers demanded they be put back on the plane if negotiations with the Kuwaitis did not go well.

So the team did what Singaporeans do best - they went shopping. Mr Nathan gave each member of the team US$100 and they disappeared into a bazaar.

They met later that day to catch a Kuwaiti Airlines flight to Bahrain. From there, they boarded a Singapore Airlines flight home. They arrived in Singapore around sunset on Feb 9.

Mr Rajagopal described how Mr Nathan rose to the occasion: "He was a good negotiator, a brave man in a foreign country. He took care of us, comforted us, and gave us direction."

But the man of the hour did not make a big deal of the fraught situation. He told The New Paper: "It was a job I did. It was an episode we all wanted to forget."

A month before Mr Nathan stepped down as president in 2011, he invited the group involved in the Laju incident to tea at the Istana.

Mr Saraj said they talked about Singapore's tense formative years: battling the communists, racial unrest and other security problems.

"Young people these days see Mr Nathan as a father figure, but they don't know him in his younger days. The situation in Singapore then was entirely different."

It was a time for a generation of "pragmatic leaders" like Mr Nathan, who could handle these situations, said Mr Saraj.

"With the passing of Mr Nathan and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, that generation of leaders is largely gone."

Parliament pays tribute to former president S R Nathan
MPs speak of his devotion to duty, eye for detail and close links with wide spectrum of people in Singapore
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2016

When some statutory board officials and businessmen left early instead of staying on for networking sessions at the end of a 2009 state visit, then President S R Nathan's message to them was "far from serene'', Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) recalled yesterday.

Mr de Souza, who was present, remembered Mr Nathan saying: "You may think the socials are unimportant, but they are important. Staying back, discussing and engaging with your host is how we make Singapore relevant.

"I have come here to do that. Send this message back to those who left the trip early.''

This anecdote from a state visit to Istanbul was among several personal encounters related yesterday by nine members of the House during a parliamentary tribute to Mr Nathan who died last month, aged 92.

It took place at the start of the sitting, with Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob celebrating the life of Singapore's sixth and longest-serving president by charting his career from a social worker to the highest office in the land.

Her personal memory was Mr Nathan's handwritten note to her after she became Speaker in 2013. He shared his and his wife's joy at her appointment, and his prayer that "God will be with you as you undertake your new responsibilities".

Said Madam Halimah: "Such was the measure of the man. He had walked among kings and presidents but he remained fully rooted to the ground, never losing his bearings and keeping his humanity to the end."

Her voice wavering, she added: "The House records with deep regret the passing of one of our esteemed sons of Singapore, Mr S R Nathan."

Mr de Souza's story held a special meaning for the MP. It illustrated how the late Mr Nathan - like pioneers Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen - led by example and gave the nation his all.

For Mr Nathan, nothing less than one's best was sufficient when on national duty, he said.

"That is what standard bearers do - they maintain standards for a cause. Mr Nathan's cause was Singapore."

Mr Nathan's wife Urmila, children Juthika and Osith, and grandson Kiron were present for the tributes, at the end of which the House observed a minute of silence.

The stories told had a common thread in how he touched the many groups he encountered.

Speaking in Mandarin, House Leader Grace Fu noted the close relationships he had with the Chinese community. He attended many cultural festivals and had a talent for Chinese calligraphy, she said.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) said in Malay that Singaporeans could learn three things from Mr Nathan: the desire to upgrade oneself, eagerness to inculcate knowledge in the next generation, and concern for all around him.

Unionist Desmond Choo highlighted his enduring impact on the labour movement, including modernising unions that led to more efficient collection of union dues and standardised subscription rates.

Other speakers included Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) recounted how he ended up sitting with the former president at a Lions XII football game in 2013.

At one point when the Lions XII nearly conceded a goal, Mr Nathan pointed out to Mr Singh the Lions XII player who lost possession earlier and thus allowed the opponents to create a chance to score.

Said Mr Singh: "In a very different context and rather unanticipated way, I bore witness to his eye for detail and his ability to focus on the issues that mattered, traits for which he was widely known for in public service."


Remembering S R Nathan: A Mentor for All Seasons
Launch of new book to commemorate former president S R Nathan
New book of essays commemorates life and wide-ranging legacy of former president
By Yap Li Yin, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2017

A new book commemorating the life of the late former president S R Nathan describes him as a "mentor for all seasons".

But for Dr Kumar Ramakrishna, one of the two editors of the book, Mr Nathan is also undoubtedly "The Man In The Arena".

Speaking at the launch of the book titled Remembering S R Nathan: A Mentor For All Seasons yesterday, Dr Kumar likened the sixth president of Singapore to former United States president Theodore Roosevelt.

He quoted a notable passage, referred to as The Man In The Arena, from a famous speech given by Roosevelt in 1910: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood... who spends himself in a worthy cause."

Dr Kumar - a tenured associate professor and head of policy studies and coordinator of the National Security Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) - said learning about the trials and tribulations that Mr Nathan went through, such as the Laju ferry hijacking in the 1970s, has inspired his colleagues and him to "persevere and press on in the good fight".

This view was echoed by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, who was the guest of honour at the launch at the National Library Building in Victoria Street. He said Mr Nathan and his generation of pioneer leaders saw every new challenge as an opportunity to do something different and better. "None of them will ever ask, 'Has someone else done this before?' or 'Has there been a precedent for me to follow?' "

This is the kind of spirit that the younger generation hopes to emulate, said Mr Chan, who is also secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

The 243-page book is a collection of essays that provide insights into the wide-ranging legacy Mr Nathan left - in the spheres of foreign service; security and intelligence; community building and social welfare; labour and trade unions; media; and research and academia.

Mr Mushahid Ali, a senior fellow at RSIS and also editor of the book, said Mr Nathan did not provide mentorship only to Singaporean subordinates. He cited Mr Kalimullah Hassan, a Malaysian contributor to the book, who recounted Mr Nathan's help in getting him a job as a Straits Times correspondent in Malaysia.

Ambassador-at-large Ong Keng Yong, who met Mr Nathan at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1979, described him in the preface as the "grand Jedi of the special class of Singapore warriors, protecting our society from the dark side", borrowing an analogy from the Star Wars movie series.

The book is published by World Scientific Publishing and is available at Kinokuniya, Popular, MPH and Times at $85 for the hardcover edition, and $36 for the paperback version (both excluding GST).


No comments:

Post a Comment