Tuesday 23 August 2016

Singapore's 6th president S R Nathan dies, age 92

Remembering S R Nathan  (3 July 1924 - 22 August 2016)

State Funeral Service

State funeral for S R Nathan on Friday
PM Lee says ex-president, who died last night, had 'deep sense of duty to nation'
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

Singapore's longest-serving president, Mr SR Nathan, died peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital at 9.48pm yesterday, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

He was 92.

"The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr SR Nathan and would like to convey their condolences to his family," the PMO statement said.

Mr Nathan will lie in state on Thursday at Parliament House, where people can go and pay their last respects. A state funeral service will be held on Friday.

Mr Nathan, who turned 92 last month, had suffered a stroke on July 31, and had been in intensive care since then.

Before becoming Singapore's sixth head of state from 1999 to 2011, he had a distinguished 40-year career in public service that spanned the worlds of trade unions, security and diplomacy.

When he was with NTUC's Labour Research Unit in the 1960s, he handled negotiations between trade unions and employers at a time when labour unrest was widespread and pro-communist elements had infiltrated many unions.

As director of the Security and Intelligence Division from 1971 to 1979, he played a leading role in dealing with a terrorist attack. He secured the release of hostages from the hijacked ferryboat Laju by accompanying the hijackers on a flight to Kuwait to guarantee their safe passage.

As ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1996, he went on talk show Larry King Live to speak up for Singapore when American media attacked Singapore for caning Michael Fay, who had vandalised a series of expensive cars.

But it was as Singapore's President that he became a familiar face to all, endearing himself to many as he recalled their names during his morning walks in the East Coast.

His introduction of the President's Challenge to raise money for the poor most reflected his care and concern for the needy.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his tribute last night: "He was a warm and approachable President who endeared himself to Singaporeans."

Noting that his life "is an inspiration to us all", Mr Lee said: "His was a story of how a young boy strove to triumph over his circumstances and make a contribution to society."

Mr Nathan held many public service posts, and occupied the highest office in the land, Mr Lee said, adding: "He impressed visitors with his knowledge of world affairs, and served with dignity and distinction."

Mr Lee said he had known Mr Nathan for 40 years, "since I was a young officer in SAF".

"I remember him as a man guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation... He was a true son of Singapore," he added.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Mr Nathan served with "dedication and distinction" in his long years in public service.

"I had the privilege of working with Mr Nathan from 1996 to 1999 when I was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence," said Dr Tan, adding that Mr Nathan helped set up the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, now called the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

It is ranked among the top think-tanks in the region, he added.

He also said the President's Challenge gained much support and raised over $100 million for more than 500 beneficiaries.

Tributes also poured in from organisations like the Hindu Endowments Board, Hindu Advisory Board as well as people from all walks of life, and religions and races who had benefited from his generosity in time, money and effort.

As Singapore's top leaders and MPs hailed his life, one striking feature stood out: He was a generous mentor.

Calling Mr Nathan "a giant of our times", Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said: "I've benefited personally from his advice and guidance on many occasions."

Mr Teo also referred to the Laju hijack and said: "His courage, fortitude and dignity in dealing with difficult issues is an inspiration to all of us."

Labour chief Chan Chun Sing, addressing Mr Nathan directly in his tribute, said: "When I joined the labour movement, you took time to share with me your perspectives and experiences."

Mr Chan, who is also Minister in the PMO, added: "Your wisdom and selfless contributions will always inspire us to do more for Singaporeans and Singapore."

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim remembered that despite getting on in years, Mr Nathan's concern for the Malay/Muslim community's progress was "sharp and strong".

When, in the 1980s, he was executive chairman of The Straits Times Press - the predecessor of Singapore Press Holdings - he introduced weekend seminars and overseas study programmes for promising journalists and editors to improve the standards of journalism, he recalled.

"He also held the strong belief that our newspapers must reach out to people from every community and background. Serving the news to a multiracial and multilingual population was key," Dr Yaacob said.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in a moving tribute, said: "I have met few people who lived and breathed Singapore the way he did. His fondness for friends of every race and from all walks of life. His complete absence of airs. His love of food. And his remarkable memory of events in our history, small and big, and of everyone he had met along the way."

Mr Nathan leaves his wife Urmila, son Osith and daughter Juthika, and three grandchildren.

S R Nathan: 1924-2016

An exceptional life spurred on by call of duty
By Rachel Chang, Published The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

Stature and fame may have defined the last decades of the life of former president S R Nathan.

But it was the grinding desperation of his early years that shaped the man.

Mr Nathan, who died yesterday aged 92, led an extraordinary and "improbable" life of a teenage runaway who rose to the highest office in the land.

In his 92 years, he was, above all, a survivor - overcoming a troubled childhood and a wartime adolescence to become the safe pair of hands in which Singapore's founding leaders placed challenge after challenge.

Whether marshalling the intelligence service, winning over a cynical newsroom or steadying volatile diplomatic relationships with Malaysia and the United States, Mr Nathan answered every call, spurred on by the simple code he said defined his life: duty.

Through it all, he remained markedly unfazed, perhaps because his early years required him to have stores of courage and grit that would make later, more public challenges appear to be less daunting.

His greatest achievements were a product of sustained pressure and patience, and came long after others would have given up: He married Urmila Nandey after a 16-year courtship, during which the objections of her higher-born family were overcome; he entered university at age 28; the President's Office at 75.

"From the adversities of childhood and youth, I learnt never to shun the rough and tumble of life," he said on his 80th birthday in 2004. "I learnt to look at life in the face."

His was a life both marred by tragedy and blessed by charm.

Sellapan Ramanathan was born in 1924 in Singapore. His mother had him only after she went on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. His three older brothers died when they were very young.

His early years in Muar, Johor, were happy ones, but they turned on a dime. His father lost his job as a lawyer's clerk and committed suicide when Mr Nathan was eight years old. At age 16, after being thrown out of school for a second time, and quarrelling with his mother over it, he ran away from home.

When war came to then Malaya in 1942, he was sleeping on the streets - uneducated, jobless, all alone and surrounded by wanton violence and deprivation. But the hard knocks built in him resilience and, regardless of the regime in power, he knew how to survive.

Just as he had learnt English at a young age to earn his keep, he learnt Japanese during the Occupation and soon rose to become assistant and interpreter to the head of the Japanese civilian police in Johor.

He had mentors, too, among the colonial British, who ultimately found him a job after the war in the civil service, where he would stay for 40 years.

The turning point of Mr Nathan's professional life came in 1964, when as a government officer seconded to the National Trades Union Congress, he was given the task of travelling to Algiers and negotiating Singapore's acceptance into the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organisation.

The grouping of newly independent African and Asian nations was dominated by radical political groups that were sympathetic to communist parties in their countries. Armed with a basic brief from then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee - delivered at the Istana while then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew practised his golf swing nearby - Mr Nathan outperformed expectations by succeeding against the agitations of leftist elements trying to torpedo Singapore's membership.

He was initially jeered by some who accused him of being a neo-colonial stooge. Eventually, he won over delegates by telling jokes and buying drinks and got the grouping to consider Singapore's application the following year.

With characteristic understatement, Mr Nathan wrote in his memoirs of the incident: "I think this may have led our leaders to see my potential."

From then on, he grew to become what Mr Lee heralded, at Mr Nathan's 80th birthday, as "an indispensable man for all seasons".

"Every time there was a tricky task which required a steady hand, someone dependable and who could get things done, his name would pop up," said Mr Lee.

In 1982, after leaving the foreign service, Mr Nathan was asked by Mr Lee to head The Straits Times Press (1975) as executive chairman at a time when relations between the Government and The Straits Times were strained.

His appointment was greeted with suspicion by journalists, who interpreted it as a move by the Government to restrict press freedom and wore black armbands in protest.

But he did not turn to administrative clean-ups, arbitrary disciplinary measures or dismissals, and instead took time to understand the concerns of journalists and newsmakers alike.

Recalling this "complex" episode years later at an interview in 2010, he said with his trademark unflappability: "I had seen bigger strikes than that! They were only wearing black armbands and jumping about. But when they saw I was not doing what they expected me to do, they began to have confidence."

Later, at age 72, as Mr Nathan looked forward to retirement with his wife Urmila after a six-year stint as Singapore's Ambassador to the US, Mr Lee called again.

This time, the challenge would take the boy who expected to remain a hawker's assistant all his life, to the Istana as Singapore's second Elected President.

Mr Nathan would stay in this role for 12 years, and while he never met an electoral contest as no candidate was found eligible to run against him in either of his two terms, he played a leading role in shaping the young and evolving institution into what it is today.

In 2009, after 11 days of deliberation, he exercised its chief function by turning the second key to the national reserves, releasing $4.9 billion to the Government to fund anti-recession measures during the global financial crisis.

Less dramatically, over the years, he moulded the office in the image of the medical social worker he started out as after his university studies.

He became a champion of the poor, needy and disabled, and turned the presidency into one of the most powerful charity fund-raising operations in the country.

Only once in his career did Mr Nathan acknowledge despair.

In 1974, four armed terrorists hijacked the ferry ship Laju off Pulau Bukom in Singapore's first major terrorist attack, and demanded government hostages to guarantee their safe passage to the Middle East. The terrorists had tried but failed to blow up Shell's storage facilities on the island.

As director of the intelligence service then, Mr Nathan offered himself as a hostage and was one of 13 government officials who flew with the terrorists to Kuwait. There was no guarantee that any of the Singaporeans would be let off alive.

In a 2010 interview, Mr Nathan said that on that 13-hour flight, he had a moment of existential fear that he would never see his wife or two children again.

He steadied himself with these words in his heart: "Have faith and do your duty."

When he recounted this moment decades later to reporters, the incident had been diluted with his trademark dauntlessness.

He concluded breezily: "Laju was nothing; it was just an instance. We all carry these responsibilities in public service."

In his long and rich life, Mr Nathan was asked to carry more than his share of public responsibilities. In 1998, referring to God, he joked that "the man up there has decided that some of us have to work harder to earn our keep".

Mr Nathan - who is survived by his wife Urmila, 87, his son Osith, 53, and daughter Juthika, 56, and three grandchildren - leaves a path and philosophy which is as much a product of its times as is perhaps anachronistic to present-day Singapore.

His uncontested presidency gave way to a four-way race, in which three of the four candidates vying to succeed him painted the office as an independent and alternate centre of power to the Government.

Mr Nathan, who was often contrasted to predecessor Ong Teng Cheong, who disagreed publicly with the Government over his perception that information was kept from him, never had time for questions about his independence.

"I have my independent opinions, but I don't have to beat the drums every day to say that I'm independent," he said in 2011.

Ever the consummate civil servant, he asked reporters: "Generally, whether it is the Government, or the President, we do it in the best interest of Singapore. So this question of independence, I have to ask: Independence from what?"

His life of astonishing social mobility is unlikely to ever be repeated in the Singapore story.

Asked last year if his life could be lived by a poor, troubled boy of today, he said: "I don't think it is impossible, but it is improbable."

It was always improbable, even at a time when Singapore was just an idea and anything was possible for men of character and competence.

He was not above being overwhelmed and grateful at what he called "an unexpected journey".

"I had expected to remain a hawker assistant all my life. And then things happened," he said in 2011.

What happened was a life that went against all odds to succeed beyond imagination. In the process, it changed not just one teenage runaway, but also a nation.

Pioneering civil servant
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

A member of the generation that helped build modern Singapore, former president S R Nathan wore the mantle of a pioneer through most of his 40-year career as a civil servant.

He played a leading role in forming and shaping several fledgling organisations into the key institutions they are today.

But his legacy is most pronounced in the labour movement and international relations.

His talent for getting the job done emerged early in his career when he was seconded to the labour movement in 1962, a tumultuous time when unions were rife with pro-communist elements.

A welfare officer for maritime workers, he was sent to be the assistant director of the Labour Research Unit in the newly formed National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

It was an "inflated job title" at a "mysterious, apparently non-existent organisation", he wrote later of the unit where he spent four years.

His complaint about not being consulted on the move, however, reached the ears of then Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee, who sternly gave him a quick lesson on the unit's role in the "life and death struggle" to stop the communists from taking over the unions and to get the unions aligned with the government-backed NTUC.

It was typical then for thousands to attend May Day rallies held by pro-communist unions in Farrer Park. Organisers of the non-communist unions' rallies at Jalan Besar Stadium, on the other hand, would tell spectators to space themselves out to give the impression of a much larger crowd.

Industrial unrest was widespread: 116 strikes took place in 1961, causing a loss of 410,889 man-days, a sharp rise from 152,005 man-days lost in the previous year.

Amid the turmoil, Mr Nathan knew he had to give in to workers' demands for a certain amount of militant labour action, to show he was on their side.

But at the same time, he was under pressure from government officials who expected industrial peace to attract foreign investors.

"The slightest effort by a union to raise issues of wages or working conditions often drew exaggerated complaints (from the employers) to the Economic Development Board, alleging serious contravention of earlier government assurances," he wrote in his 2011 book, Winning Against The Odds: The Labour Research Unit In NTUC's Founding.

Mr Nathan successfully navigated through these turbulent times and rose to be the unit's director.

This navigational skill in advancing the national interest became the hallmark of his career.

Soon after Singapore separated from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965, Mr Nathan found himself on the move again. In February 1966, he was transferred to the barely formed Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an assistant secretary. He worked his way up to be deputy secretary as Singapore found its footing internationally.

In 1967, he was present at the birth of Asean, travelling with the Singapore delegation to Bangkok, where the foreign ministers of five South-east Asian countries - Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - launched the regional grouping. It now has 10 member countries.

Mr Nathan was to return to the ministry again and again.

In 1979, eight years after he left, he returned as its First Permanent Secretary for three years until he retired from the civil service in 1982.

But not long after, he was called back to head two of Singapore's most important foreign missions. He was High Commissioner to Malaysia from 1988 to 1990 and Ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1996.

The year before he took up the post in Kuala Lumpur, relations with Malaysia were strained following the official visit to Singapore by then Israeli President Chaim Herzog in November 1986.

Malaysians held street protests against the visit, accusing Singapore of being insensitive to the feelings of Muslims, who sympathised with Palestine in its conflict with Israel.

Similarly, in 1994, relations with the US turned sour when Singapore caned American teenager Michael Fay for vandalism. As major US newspapers assailed Singapore, Mr Nathan went on popular TV talk show Larry King Live, and held his own against the host in defending Singapore's rule of law and caning.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in paying tribute to Mr Nathan's contribution to diplomacy, said at his 90th birthday celebration: "His combination of charm and toughness proved invaluable in building up our diplomatic networks. We were a small and newly independent country. There was no Singapore brand name. People thought Singapore was somewhere in China.

"We needed resourceful people to establish ourselves internationally, and to break out beyond our less- than-friendly neighbourhood."

Likewise, when the Government needed to build up the Defence Ministry's Security and Intelligence Division in 1971, Mr Nathan was "at the top of the shortlist because his savviness, judgment and moral courage were essential for the role", Mr Lee added.

He was its director for nearly eight years and is best remembered for his calm and courageous handling of Singapore's first terrorist attack: The Laju hijacking. Four men armed with sub-machine guns and explosives attacked an oil refinery and hijacked the ferry Laju, holding five crew members hostage.

Over eight days, Mr Nathan negotiated with them and secured the release of the hostages. In exchange, he agreed to lead a delegation of 13 government officials as guarantors of their safe passage to Kuwait.

"It was quintessential Mr Nathan: Always placing country before self," Mr Lee had said.

By 1982, Mr Nathan seemed to have become the Government's go-to person for ironing out troubling matters. Its relations with The Straits Times were tense and Mr Nathan was appointed executive chairman of The Straits Times Press (1975) company.

His appointment was greeted with suspicion by journalists, who saw it as a move by the Government to restrict press freedom and wore black armbands in protest.

But he did not turn to "administrative clean-ups, arbitrary disciplinary measures or dismissals". Instead, he took time to understand the concerns of journalists and newsmakers alike, he wrote in his 2011 memoirs, An Unexpected Journey: Path To The Presidency.

Recalling this "complex" episode years later in a 2010 interview, he said: "I'd seen bigger strikes than that! They were only wearing black armbands and jumping about.

"But when they saw I was not doing what they expected me to do, they began to have confidence."

For Mr Nathan, there was only one answer to the numerous tricky assignments he confronted as a public servant: Understand what had to be done and do his best to fulfil it.

It was with this attitude that he had accepted one of his first civil service postings as a seaman welfare officer and the future tasks he would be assigned.

Before his stint with The Straits Times Press (1975), founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew briefed him on what was expected of him. Mr Nathan kept silent and Mr Lee remarked that he had said nothing.

Describing the episode in his memoirs many years later, Mr Nathan recalled his response: "Sir, you have told me what to do. Also what I should not do. What is there for me to say? I'll try."



President for all people
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

After a distinguished career in public service spanning about 40 years, Mr S R Nathan was all set to enjoy retirement.

But in June 1999, then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew called as Mr Nathan was getting ready for bed at 11pm. They made small talk, and the call ended after Mr Lee asked to see him the next day.

It turned out to be a momentous meeting at which Mr Nathan, then 75, was asked to stand as a candidate for the elected presidency.

Just a year earlier, in an interview with The Straits Times, he had been asked what kept him going.

His answer would later explain as well his decision to postpone retirement to run for president: "There are people giving me work to do, and I don't want to let them down."

In his two terms lasting 12 years as Singapore's longest-serving president, he would go on to become a champion fund-raiser, friend to the ordinary man and a top Singapore flag-bearer abroad.

When he retired in 2011, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked him for having raised the standing of the office, both domestically and internationally.

Particularly, he said, Mr Nathan's leadership during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 was one of the key factors that helped Singapore emerge from the financial storm better than feared.

Mr Nathan, who was elected unopposed in August of 1999 and sworn in as Singapore's sixth president on Sept 1, was the first to test out the office's two-key system, which was put in place to safeguard the nation's reserves.

As the 2008-09 global financial crisis pushed Singapore into its worst recession, he was called on to make a landmark decision on whether the Government could draw on the national reserves.

His approval was sought twice.

In October 2008, he gave the nod for the reserves to be used to back deposits in commercial banks, merchant banks and finance companies to prevent a run by investors spooked by the collapse of financial institutions elsewhere, including the United States.

Then in early 2009, it asked to draw $4.9 billion to fund schemes to save jobs and ease credit for companies in Singapore.

Mr Nathan gave the nod after 11 days of deliberation, which led some to ask if his approval had been too quick. He disclosed at a 2009 press conference that he and his Council of Presidential Advisers had, in fact, sought regular briefings on the financial crisis' impact on Singapore, long before his approval was sought.

Asked about the landmark decision, he said with his trademark modesty: "That's my duty. A system was tested... and I think we all in good conscience can say we responded after clinically examining the proposal."

Mr Nathan had always maintained his role was not an adversarial one, and said his powers and roles were stated clearly in the Constitution.

His predecessor, the late Ong Teng Cheong, had publicly expressed unhappiness with the president's limited capacity to serve as an independent watchdog.

But Mr Nathan said of the presidency: "It was created by the Prime Minister, then approved by the Parliament as an audit on himself. A good working relationship with the Government is essential to the post."

More than any previous president, Mr Nathan had also worked to put the office to good use by setting up the President's Challenge charity drive in 2000 to encourage Singaporeans to help the less fortunate.

Having grappled with poverty in his growing-up years, he was a passionate advocate of the social service sector.

Over the years, he lent not just his name and time but also his talent to fund-raising. He recited part of the poem Desiderata in a TV charity show and, in a few minutes, donors had pledged more than $48,000.

The President's Challenge has hitherto raised more than $160 million, benefiting over 500 welfare organisations.

But much of his good work was done behind the camera, or "quietly" as Mr Lee put it. In his personal capacity, Mr Nathan had sponsored needy students through school and obtained special medical care for accident victims.

Mr Lee said: "Not all these activities were in the public eye or known to Singaporeans, but the many whose lives you touched will always remember your support."

His concern for ordinary Singaporeans went beyond the poor, and Mr Nathan was known to hold his own "meet-the-people sessions".

He conducted these during his daily morning walks in East Coast Park. He would stop often to chat with Singaporeans going about their morning exercise, and listen to their concerns.

A retired accountant who met him often on these walks told reporters in 2011: "When he doesn't see me at East Coast, he would get his people to call me to see if anything is wrong. He's a real people's president."

Mr Nathan's pledge when he took office was to be a president for all Singaporeans, with every community here as his parish.

This was reflected in his determination to learn Mandarin after he became president, to better communicate and relate to 70 per cent of Singapore's population.

Mr Nathan, who counted Malay, Tamil and Japanese among the languages he knew, also made the effort to speak in the vernacular at community events.

On the world stage, the consummate diplomat who had been high commissioner to Malaysia and ambassador to the United States, also helped to cement Singapore's position internationally.

He received 50 heads of state on state visits and more than 100 prime ministers on official visits. State visits are the highest form of diplomatic exchange, and he made 30 such visits, including eight to Asean countries.

In many, he was the first Singapore head of state to visit, opening doors for local businessmen. These included his 2007 visits to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

In his memoir, he wrote: "Despite my age, I did not lack the energy for these state visits... My former PPS (principal private secretary) Lim Boon Wee, when he accompanied me on one tour, joked that I was twice his age but had twice his energy - if only the latter were true!"

At the end of the day, however, the presidency was not a post Mr Nathan, a hawker assistant in his youth, ever dreamt of attaining.

He told The Straits Times before he stepped down: "I had an unexpected experience, from where I came and where I've ended. I must be thankful to God to have achieved this."

MPs and community leaders pay tribute to generous mentor, guide
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

An inspiring mentor and elder.

This was how several MPs and community leaders who knew former president S R Nathan remembered him yesterday.

Taking to social media to share their vignettes of how Mr Nathan had shaped their journeys, they described a teacher who was generous with his counsel, and who always made time for others, often despite his poor health and demanding schedule.

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung remembered how he got to know Mr Nathan over Indian rojak lunches while working at the Istana in 2004. He was then principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Even after he stepped down as President in 2011, Mr Nathan continued to keep in touch, and the two had "many interesting conversations about the past, the present and the future" at both Mr Nathan's office at the Singapore Management University - where he was a Distinguished Senior Fellow - and at his home, said Mr Ong.

When Mr Ong's Aljunied GRC team lost the 2011 General Election, Mr Nathan gave him a handwritten letter and told him not to lose heart. "After I informed him I would contest in the 2015 General Election, he wrote to me again, advising me to take lessons in public speaking because communication was even more important in modern politics," Mr Ong added.

"This was his SkillsFuture message to me... Personally, I have lost a mentor and a teacher."

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and labour chief Chan Chun Sing wrote in a Facebook post: "Words cannot do justice to what you have done for our labour movement. Neither can I sufficiently express my gratitude to you as a mentor." Noting that Mr Nathan fought for workers' rights in the early days at a time when they were often the least taken care of, Mr Chan added: "You touched everyone with sincere, brotherly care. You were always there by our side through trials and tribulations.

"When I joined the labour movement, you took time to share with me your perspectives and experiences. You have always made time for the labour movement as recently as May this year, when you came back to talk to us despite your health and busy schedule."

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli remembered Mr Nathan as a father figure who thought often of the Malay community. He recalled how Mr Nathan would privately share his concerns about how external influences were dividing the Malay community, threatening its culture and identity. "His last message of his concern for our community was a letter he wrote from his hospital bed a while back," said Mr Masagos.

"In these times when members of my community are arrested for their terrorist intent and extreme views, it sickened him. He reminisced how he always felt like a family member living among the Malays when he was young."

National University of Singapore (NUS) president, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, who worked closely with Mr Nathan while he was NUS chancellor, recalled how the university benefited greatly from Mr Nathan's unstinting contributions.

"Whenever he attended university functions, Mr Nathan had always made himself available to students and generously shared his perspectives and experiences with them," he said.

"All of us at NUS mourn the passing of a distinguished alumnus and an inspirational leader."

The business community also lost a mentor who advocated for commerce and expanded Singapore's international space, said Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit.

"He was an inspiring mentor who never failed to share his analytical assessment with our business delegations on the different prospects, opportunities and obstacles in the countries visited," Mr Ho said. "Where possible, Mr Nathan also spared no effort in tackling the issues faced by businesses, by helping to remove the barriers to entry in the respective countries."

A champion of the less privileged and an advocate for inclusivity
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

Former president S R Nathan was someone who believed firmly that no one should be left behind in society's quest for progress.

From the tributes that poured in last night, it was clear he had touched many in his desire to raise the less privileged and thus build a more inclusive society.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a Facebook post that Mr Nathan's life "revolved around helping others".

He attached a video by social start-up The Hidden Good, which had interviewed people Mr Nathan had helped, and presented it to the former president as a surprise.

One of them is Mr Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman, a postman who delivered letters to Mr Nathan's office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr Nathan then recommended him to work as an office attendant in the ministry, a better job.

Explaining why, Mr Nathan had told him: "Rahim, I want you to just make sure your child completes her education."

For Mr Nathan, it was always Singapore before self, said Mr Shanmugam.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Mr Nathan's life "was a paragon of devotion to the national cause and care for the most vulnerable members of our community".

Dr Balakrishnan had consulted him before joining politics.

"We discussed the fundamental basis of Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society, and how important it was to protect this hard-won harmony," he said.

The Hindu Endowments Board echoed this, saying last night it became a founding member of the Inter-Religious Organisation because of the strong belief of Mr Nathan, its chairman from 1983 to 1988.

"He felt it was important for the board, as a religious body, to play an active role in the promotion of inter-religious and inter-racial harmony," it said in a statement.

Mr Nathan's desire to build inclusivity extended to the education sector as well, as he made sure that children from financially needy families would not miss out on education opportunities.

The S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund, an endowment fund he set up in 2011, supports disadvantaged polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students.

He would invite recipients to have tea with him at the Eurasian Community House, across his home in Ceylon Road.

The Ministry of Education said last night: "(He) was a firm believer in the importance of building an inclusive society, where no one is left behind even as society progressed.

"In his interactions with youth, Mr Nathan emphasised the values of gratitude and kindness, and encouraged them to be proactive and make meaningful contributions back to society."

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said last night: "He was active to the end, and never lost his human touch.

"Just in the last few months, he was sending letters to me and others with his sharp observations and advice on various issues, and always in his beautiful handwriting."

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said Mr Nathan "embodied the phrase 'society above self' ".

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister- in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said Mr Nathan's concern for the Malay/Muslim community was "sharp and strong".

"He urged the community to stay focused on developing in tandem with other communities. He was ever ready to assist where he could because he believed that no one should be left behind," he said.

CapitaLand president and group chief executive Lim Ming Yan said that as the head of the organisation's philanthropic arm, Mr Nathan helped shape its approach towards corporate philanthropy and volunteerism.

"Under his stewardship over the last four years, CapitaLand Hope Foundation has gained immeasurably from Mr Nathan's wholehearted sharing of his vast experience gleaned from a lifetime of service to Singapore," said Mr Lim.

A last meeting with S R Nathan
He died still trying to recreate the pioneering spirit which had defined his generation
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At LargeThe Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

I visited Mr Nathan last month when he was warded at Singapore General Hospital.

He was seated next to a dialysis machine having his thrice-weekly treatment when I entered Room 12 in Ward 78.

"Fook Kwang..." he greeted me, the gentle smile on his face assuring me he was his good old self despite the surrounding tubes and medical equipment.

He had complained of being breathless.

"I need 45 minutes to recover and catch my breath even when I am just going to the washroom," he said.

We spent the next hour discussing his favourite topic - Singapore, the challenges facing the country, and its future prospects.

At 92, his health failing and hooked up to a kidney cleansing machine, Mr Nathan was still at it, asking questions, raising issues, concerned always about the security and well-being of the country.

It was the reason he had agreed to take part in a forum organised by The Straits Times and the EDB Society, part of a year-long series I had been moderating which had included former prime minister Goh Chok Tong and senior civil servants like Mr Joe Pillay.

Mr Nathan's discussion was to have been held on July 19, but it had to be cancelled because of his hospitalisation.

I had visited him at his office at the Singapore Management University earlier in June to discuss the forum.

He looked then as healthy and sprightly as I had seen him in recent years.

Indeed, both Mr Lee Suan Hiang, president of the EDB Society, and I commented how well he looked and how much we were looking forward to the discussion.

I had wanted to talk about his early years in the public service, what was it like then, especially working with the Old Guard leadership.

He was eager to share.

Mr Nathan achieved much in his long years in public service, starting his career as a seamen's welfare officer in 1956 to finally becoming President of Singapore in 1999.

He wasn't a scholar, he did not have a university degree, though he did obtain a diploma from the then University of Malaya, and he certainly wasn't handpicked for political office.

You wouldn't have expected someone like him to rise to the top in meritocratic, academically- obsessed Singapore.

But he did, and wherever he went - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Straits Times and the Istana - he would make a difference in his distinctive style.

He succeeded because of, and not in spite of, his difficult beginnings.

It wouldn't have been the same had his childhood been an easy and protected one.

At every stage in his early life - growing up in a single-parent home after his alcoholic father committed suicide, sacked twice from school, facing personal danger during the Japanese Occupation and starting his working life without the requisite educational qualifications - he had to figure out for himself how best to make it work.

He learnt his early lessons in the kampungs and on the streets of pre-independent Malaya and Singapore. But he also knew the importance of formal education and studied in between work for his Cambridge School Certificate.

In his book An Unexpected Journey: Path To The Presidency, he wrote of this yearning to study.

"Learning became a habit, a continuing quest for knowledge, be it about current affairs, contemporary political developments or social issues. I realised how much I did not know. This interest in reading and continuing study even after my university days has been an enormous asset in my subsequent careers, all of which required me to chart my own course without a properly defined brief."

The combination of street-smartness and studious learning partly explains why he was able to perform at the highest levels in whatever he did.

He belonged to the first generation of civil servants - together with men like Mr Sim Kee Boon, Mr Howe Yoon Chong and Mr Pillay - who worked hand-in-hand with the Old Guard political leadership, implementing their plans, and loyal to the end.

They shaped the ethos of the public service, which helped enable Singapore to achieve much economic and social progress.

In the hospital room, as our discussion turned to the current challenges facing Singapore, he remarked on a critical difference between then and now: There isn't the same pressing cause that moved the country to overcome the odds soon after independence.

The pioneer leaders were driven by an all-consuming desire to make sure the fledging nation succeeded, he noted.

They forged a common cause with the people.

"What's the cause today?" he asked.

"Let's get a group together and have a discussion after I leave the hospital," he said.

I was looking forward to it.

As I write these words, I wonder what Mr Nathan would have said if we did have that discussion.

Perhaps it is inevitable that as a nation progresses, it will lose some of that revolutionary fervour which shaped its beginning.

Every generation will have to find its own cause, one in keeping with its circumstances and the temper of the time.

Mr Nathan passed away still trying to recreate the pioneering spirit which had defined his generation.


Singaporeans pay tribute to S R Nathan
Stream of visitors - young and old, and from all walks of life - pen messages at Istana
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

Young and old, people from all walks of life and across Singapore streamed to the Istana yesterday to pen their memories and tributes to Singapore's sixth and longest-serving president: Mr S R Nathan.

Some, like student Olivia Chi, 21, went as early as 6.30am to write their condolence messages, while in the East Coast, close friends and relatives visited his Ceylon Road home to pay their last respects at the private wake of Singapore's second elected president, who died on Monday night, aged 92.

To Ms Chi and many young Singaporeans, he was the president they grew up with, whose portrait would beam down at them during school assemblies, and who would wave at them at National Day Parades.

As one in her generation wrote on a condolence card: "I was too young and too unaware to know the great things you did for us Singaporeans.

"Now I know, albeit too late, that you have brightened our little red dot in the huge world out there."

Others, such as retiree Teh Ai Tee, 64, went with their grandchildren to give a final salute to the Singapore statesman.

"As president, he was Singapore's dependable anchor, but he was also a grandfatherly figure - always warm and approachable," she said.

Through the day, people paid tribute to the many causes he had championed, and the myriad ways he had helped improve people's lives.

Social worker Ong Pei Ni, 32, remembered fondly the annual tea receptions at the Istana he hosted for social workers. "I will always remember his calm and steady demeanour, but also how he could be firm and assertive when he needed to," she said. "This balance is something social workers like me aspire to achieve.

Dr H.M. Saleem, a vice-president of Muslim welfare group Jamiyah, said it was grateful to Mr Nathan for his suggestions on fostering community service. The group was one of numerous voluntary bodies he had close links with through the President's Challenge, a yearly fundraising drive he launched in 2000.

NTUC president Mary Liew and secretary-general Chan Chun Sing paid tribute to Mr Nathan's contribution to the labour movement, in a letter to his widow Urmila Nandey.

"His indomitable and fearless fighting spirit in the 1960s, when he was with the National Trades Union Congress' Labour Research Unit, helped win over workers and unions' trust, including pro-communist unions," they said.

Mr Nathan also gave his all in negotiating for workers, and encouraged union leaders to stay rooted to the cause, be close to the ground, and to keep up with the times. "He showed union leaders what it meant to stand tall against irresponsible employers and be a responsible labour movement that prized cooperation over confrontation, and tripartism over self-interest," they added.

Mr Nathan's lifelong dedication to Singapore also served as a rallying call at the President's Scholarship Award ceremony yesterday.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam urged the next generation of public servants to build on his example.


Foreign leaders offer condolences

By Chew Hui Min, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

Foreign leaders and diplomats offered their condolences to the family of former president S R Nathan and the Republic yesterday, while Singaporeans turned up at overseas missions to pay their respects.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak posted a message at 7.35am yesterday on Twitter: "My deepest condolences to the family of former Singapore president S R Nathan and the people of Singapore."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did the same, tweeting that he was saddened by Mr Nathan's death. "Singapore has lost a distinguished leader who was widely admired," he said.

Mr Nathan died on Monday evening at the Singapore General Hospital, three weeks after suffering a stroke.

In a letter to President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit expressed their "sincere sympathy and condolences for the loss of such a statesman" to Mr Nathan's family and the people of Singapore.

The Philippine Embassy in Singapore said on its Facebook page that Mr Nathan was a great friend of the Philippines and the Filipino community in Singapore.

A spokesman for the US State Department sent condolences during a daily press briefing.

"President Nathan was a lifelong civil servant whose career spanned all five decades of the US-Singapore relationship, including six years as Singapore's ambassador to the United States and 12 as its President," said spokesman Mark Toner. "We extend our deepest condolences to President Nathan's family and the people of Singapore."

Yesterday, the British High Commission also lowered the Union Jack to half-mast as a sign of respect to Mr Nathan.

British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman said on Twitter: "Former President S R Nathan served Singapore and its people selflessly. I offer my deepest sympathy to his family and to the country."

New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore Jonathan Austin called Mr Nathan "a true patriot who served Singapore with distinction", and tweeted a photo of him greeting Mr Nathan in the Maori tradition by rubbing their noses.

Overseas Singapore missions arranged for condolence books for overseas Singaporeans and foreign dignitaries to pen their condolence messages.

Singaporean G. Arron, 43, a sub-contractor for a local oil and gas company in Johor Baru, described Mr Nathan as humble.

"I saw him once at a Eurasian restaurant along Ceylon Road... he seemed like a down-to-earth person," he told The Star.

Condolence books have also been opened at the Singapore Embassy in Washington, DC, and the Singapore Trade Office in Taipei. Despite a protest outside the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta yesterday over the alleged mistreatment of a retired Indonesian general at Changi Airport, signing of the book was not disrupted.

The Singapore Embassy in Tokyo will open its doors to the public today.

Additional reporting by Walter Sim, Jermyn Chow, Trinna Leong, Francis Chan and Jeremy Au Yong

Former president a humble, caring leader
Leaders and ordinary folk recall how he contributed to country or touched their lives
By Carolyn Khew and Linette LaiThe Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

In 2009, Dr William Tan was diagnosed with Stage 4 leukaemia. The para-athlete was told he had only a year or less to live.

A lifeline came from the head of state. Then President S R Nathan wrote Dr Tan a note telling him to "keep on the fight". He later autographed copies of Dr Tan's memoir so he could raise funds for his cancer treatment.

"I was so touched that Mr Nathan made the effort to sign many copies of the book," said the 59-year-old. "His support invigorated me to battle my cancer."

It left an indelible mark on Dr Tan, who marks his seventh year of remission next month. Yesterday, he was among hundreds of people who turned up at the Istana as well as Mr Nathan's family home in Ceylon Road to pay their final respects.

Among those who went were a former prime minister, an old neighbour from Bukit Panjang, a part-time worker at McDonald's and Singapore's first chief of defence. There was also his old Tamil-language tutor, a former Robinsons salesman and a diplomat.

Some are close confidants or friends. Others have seen him only from afar or on television. All were affected by his death.

At the Istana, Ms Cheren Kwong, a freelance parenting coach, wiped her face of tears.

"While people will think that Mr Lee Kuan Yew and PM Lee Hsien Loong are the big stars, there are others who have contributed to our country too - and I believe Mr Nathan is one of them," said the 49-year-old, who has never met the late former president.

The mood in Ceylon Road yesterday was sombre as Mr Nathan's body was taken home just before 11am for a private wake.

From inside the house where Mr Nathan lived for more than 40 years, his family emerged now and then to greet visitors. His daughter Juthika, 57, exchanged a hug with Mrs Lee Hsien Loong when she arrived with PM Lee at about 12pm.

Mr Nathan also leaves behind his wife Urmila, son Osith, 53, and three grandchildren.

Mrs Nathan, 87, did not step out into the glare of the public eye. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who visited with his wife, said she was calm in the presence of visitors.

But when Mrs Goh touched on certain subjects - he did not specify which, the woman whom Mr Nathan wooed for 16 years and knew for 74 years lost her composure. "We could see her tearing," said ESM Goh.

For the former prime minister himself, Mr Nathan was not just his president, but also his resident. His home is within Marine Parade GRC.

ESM Goh said he has lost a "distinguished and loyal resident".

"Each time I came over here, he'll be standing at the door. Unlike other residents where we had to knock on the door, this resident was out and waiting for me," said ESM Goh.

He added: "His contributions to Singapore were immense but, I would say, probably under-appreciated by most people."

Singaporeans - and non-Singaporeans - yesterday came with flowers and anecdotes of how Mr Nathan contributed to the country and touched people's lives.

American Association of Singapore president Glenn van Zutphen, 52, took his children Max, seven, and Kate, 10, to the Istana, saying: "Even though many of us are not Singaporeans, we are still appreciative of what he has done."

Besides his well-chronicled public service work - fending off American diplomatic pressure during the Michael Fay incident as ambassador, offering himself as a hostage during the Laju terrorist hijacking crisis and 12 years as president - Mr Nathan's sense of duty quietly manifested itself in little ways as well.

Second-generation leader S. Dhanabalan recounted how, during a meeting to explain to Japanese investors how Singapore was an attractive investment destination, Mr Nathan - who was fluent in Japanese - stepped in to translate the discussion as the official interpreter was not doing a good job.

"That left a deep impression on me," said Mr Dhanabalan, 79.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean recalled how during the 2003 Sars crisis, Mr Nathan called him to ensure special needs children were looked after when thermometers were given to all schools.

Mr Mok Yong Khiam, 84, a part-time worker at McDonald's, said simply: "He is a very good and humble man who always helped our country. I feel very sad."

For others, it was the loss of a friend. Mr S.P. Thinnappan, 82, who used to present tips on learning Tamil on radio, remembered how Mr Nathan called him in 1999, asking for lessons in reading and writing so he could reacquaint himself with the language.

Mr Thinnappan went to his home weekly for the next 15 years.

"He was a very good student. You only had to teach him once, and he would catch it immediately," Mr Thinnappan said, beaming with pride as he recounted how Mr Nathan progressed to make speeches in Tamil.

Singapore's first chief of defence Winston Choo recalled that in 1973, he and Mr Nathan once stayed in the same hotel in Bangkok. It caught fire.

"The first thing I thought of was checking on him. We sat outside watching the hotel burn and thinking of how lucky we were," he said.

He also noted how Mr Nathan was calm in the face of crisis, referring to the Laju hijacking incident.

"Let me put it this way. We couldn't have found a better person for that because he was steady, unshaken," he said.

Yesterday, Ms Hilma Hanapi took a day off from her job designing window displays. She and her mother Sarinam Mohamed, 63, took the train from Braddell, where they live. They brought with them a bouquet of chrysanthemums.

Holding back tears, Ms Hilma said: "I told my boss that it is an important day - I have to come here."

Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker

Extract of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's condolence letter to Mrs Nathan:

Mr Nathan's life is an inspiration to all of us. His life was a story of how a young boy strove to triumph over his circumstances, rising through the ranks of the public service, to one day occupying the highest office in the land as our longest-serving president.

It was a story of how Mr Nathan always put his nation before self, often at great personal sacrifice. It was a story of perseverance, duty and a man's indomitable will.

Mr Nathan had a varied and stellar public service career. Mr Nathan's career took him to the unions where he played an instrumental role in preventing the communists from taking over Singapore. After independence, he joined the newly formed Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and helped build up our diplomatic networks. When we needed to build up the Security and Intelligence Division, Mr Nathan was again our choice because of his savvy judgment and moral courage. He then returned to MFA as permanent secretary before retiring from the civil service.

Most Singaporeans will remember Mr Nathan as our longest-serving president who served Singaporeans with dignity and distinction. He impressed visitors with his knowledge of world affairs. He was a warm and approachable president who endeared himself to Singaporeans. During his presidency, he established the President's Challenge to help the less fortunate in our society.

After two terms as president, he stepped down in 2011 and was finally able to devote more time and attention to his family. Even so, Mr Nathan never stopped giving back to Singapore. He joined the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as distinguished senior fellow, and was generous in sharing his experiences and insights with a younger generation of diplomats, students and Singaporeans.

I have known Mr Nathan for almost 40 years. I remember him as a man who lived his life guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation. Without fail, he stepped up each time. He was a true son of Singapore.


Extract of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's condolence letter to Mrs Nathan:

It was Mr Lee Kuan Yew who suggested Nathan to me when we were looking for suitable presidential candidates in 1999. When I invited Nathan to stand for the highest office in the land, he broke down. He told me about his delinquent childhood, how he ran away from home and stayed away from his family for many years. He worried that this could be a liability.

I replied that on the contrary, it would be a great story of redemption and determination to succeed.

Nathan went on to serve two full terms as president with great success. He was sincere, humble and had the people's touch...

At our regular lunches, he would give his observations and insights on developments in Singapore. It was during one of these lunches that he was inspired to start the President's Challenge in 2000 to champion Singaporeans in need. He encouraged Singaporeans to help each other not just in monetary terms, but also in showing real care and concern.

He reached out to various faith and community groups

Nathan remembered for efforts to foster multiracialism and inter-religious harmony
By Pearl LeeThe Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

Former president S R Nathan was a devoted Hindu, but leaders of various faiths in Singapore will always remember his commitment to promoting inter-racial and inter-religious harmony.

His efforts to build multiracialism extended to the self-help groups and business communities as well. He often made time to interact with their members and ask about their well-being.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore recounted in a statement yesterday that Mr Nathan and wife Urmila Nandey, while in Europe on a private trip in 2002, had visited Pope John Paul II, who has since died. In the Pope's private library in Vatican City, they discussed the importance of dialogue among the different faiths.

"He was the first patron of Singapore's Inter-Religious Organisation, holding the office since 2012 until the time of his passing," the statement said.

The National Council of Churches honoured Mr Nathan for reaching out to all groups and personally encouraging efforts to promote harmony. "We are blessed by his legacy," it said in a statement.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore also noted that Mr Nathan graced numerous Muslim events, and displayed closeness and rapport with the community.

A fond memory of Dr Mohamed Ali, an expert on religious extremism, is the day he and a colleague were invited to tea at the Istana.

"He wanted to have a frank discussion with us - people in the community researching the topic - to understand the complex issue of extremism," said Dr Mohamed, an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who is also vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), which counsels radicalised individuals.

After the meeting, Mr Nathan, who spoke Malay too, e-mailed him an article. "Already shocked to receive the invitation to Istana, I was further surprised that he made the effort to send me an article he thought I would find interesting."

When Mr Nathan met RRG members, he encouraged them to persevere in the fight against extremism, Dr Mohamed added.

Mr Nathan also learnt Chinese calligraphy in his later years, which endeared him to the Chinese community.

Its business community found Mr Nathan a figure of confidence.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua said he developed strong ties with the community. Mr Nathan had attended the chamber's Chinese New Year gathering in 2009, when the economic outlook was bleak.

"Mr Nathan reassured us in his speech that Singapore was well poised to take on the challenges of the economic downturn," Mr Chua recalled in a statement.

The president of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, Mr Chua Thian Poh, said Mr Nathan understood the importance of multiracial unity. "He was purposeful in his efforts to engage the local Chinese community by interacting with Chinese community leaders and showing great interest in the development of the Chinese community."

Mr Nathan's interest in the welfare of people spanned all races.

The S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund, which he set up in 2011, gives financial aid to needy tertiary students through the four self-help groups: the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Yayasan Mendaki, Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and the Eurasian Association.

SINDA chief executive K. Barathan said Mr Nathan was "a foremost leader of the Indian community, championing its needs with dedication and passion".

National Council of Social Service president Hsieh Fu Hua said: "Mr Nathan had an unwavering belief for the community to do its part to improve the lives of the disadvantaged (to) forge an inclusive society where Singaporeans care for one another.

"Mr Nathan's visionary leadership inspires all of us."

S R Nathan: A kind man who helped hundreds, says former aide

Mr Nathan quietly, anonymously aided those who could not afford tertiary education
By Charissa YongThe Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

In a fit of anger, the boss of Mr S R Nathan ordered him to sack an officer who had made a mistake.

But Mr Nathan, a mid-level civil servant then, moved the man to a corner table in the office instead, out of the sight of his infuriated boss.

Days later, his boss saw the man, called Mr Nathan and told him: "I would have been aghast if you had gone ahead and fired him. You did the right thing."

That was in the 1970s.

Already, he demonstrated the traits that would take him far in life: his independent judgment, boldness tempered with diplomacy and, above all, kind-heartedness.

The incident also typified his work ethos, recalled Mr Tan Eng Beng, 58, principal private secretary to Mr Nathan from 2005 to 2011 when he was president.

Each morning, Mr Nathan would carefully comb through the newspaper and whenever he came across a report of an individual down on his luck, Mr Tan was asked to find out how the person was being helped.

"He would open the newspaper and say, 'Hey, this boy is sleeping at the bus stop, what are MCYS (the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) and others doing to help him? Please tell me,' " he recounted.

The instinctive acts of compassion are Mr Tan's most cherished memories of Mr Nathan, whom he saw for the final time on Monday afternoon at the Singapore General Hospital, hours before Mr Nathan died at the age of 92.

As his aide, Mr Tan had a front-row view of the former president's relentless effort to fund the education of poor students.

He recalled a group of Malay students who did well and were admitted to prestigious British universities including Cambridge University and Imperial College London.

But they could not go on their own dime or that of self-help group Mendaki, which does not fund overseas education.

When he heard about their plight, Mr Nathan personally arranged for donors to pay their fees.

He went a step further and asked public agencies to give the students internships and jobs so that they would return to Singapore.

"He said we should do what we can to help them succeed in the universities there and then come back and be leaders of the community here in Singapore," said Mr Tan.

Mr Nathan could also be counted on when aid schemes or groups like the Chinese Development Assistance Council did not pay for tertiary education: "He asked all these agencies and people to let him know if they came across someone who needed support."

Mr Tan added: "He must have easily helped more than a hundred people this way over the years, without letting them know that he was the one supporting them. He never wanted to be acknowledged."

Helping with an invisible hand was his way of living his strong belief that education improves lives.

Growing up with little, he received a bursary from oil giant Shell to study social work at the then University of Malaya in Singapore. He was 28.

He also set up the S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund in 2011 to support disadvantaged polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students. Said Mr Tan: "He always wanted to give back."

For Mr Nathan, no individual was too unimportant and no detail too troublesome to look at - two qualities that stood out in his work.

He was an exacting boss who held those under him to high standards, said Mr Tan. "Whenever he had any questions, he would call me over, and I had to be very clear about a recommendation or decision I made."

He held himself to the same standards: no cutting corners.

He would meticulously examine every piece of legislation before he gave his presidential approval.

Recounted Mr Tan: "He scrutinised whatever the Government put up, to the extent that government agencies were sometimes quite unhappy with me because I was the one who had to query them.

"They would say, 'Why are you asking all these questions?' "

On state visits, Mr Nathan - a former diplomat - always had a foreign policy goal he wanted to achieve, said Mr Tan.

"He's not just going there to have tea with the president of the other side."

Part of his responsibility as president was to consider the clemency pleas of death row inmates, and to sign their death warrants.

"He would even call up the Attorney-General to make sure he was doing right by the person, that he understood the case and was not signing blindly. He had this sense of trying to be fair to everyone," said Mr Tan.

Mr Nathan was unafraid to disagree when he felt something was not right.

For instance, he disagreed with the decision to build casinos in Singapore, and gave his views to the ministers of the day.

But he could see beyond his personal preference and accept what was for the national good.

When he said yes to a request from the Government, he would do so "not because he knows the Prime Minister or Mr Lee Kuan Yew, but because it's the right thing to do".

"He always took the position that you cannot change what others think. There will always be criticism," said Mr Tan.

"But as long as his conscience is clear, he could live with it. And his conscience was clear."

Relatives remember a generous, kind uncle

By Jalelah Abu BakerThe Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

A family man, Mr S R Nathan never missed a birthday, wedding or celebratory event of a family member.

His relatives recalled that, as long as he was in Singapore, he would be at their Deepavali gatherings and marked with them important milestones in their lives.

If he did not see a relative at a family function, he would call and check that he or she was all right.

Professor Cham Tao Soon, 77, president emeritus of Nanyang Technological University, remembers him as a doting grandfather.

He recalled that Mr Nathan, on finding out he was going to Madrid, asked him to get a Real Madrid jersey for his grandson, a fan of the popular Spanish football club.

Such thoughtful acts were recounted by many at the late former president's private wake at his Ceylon Road home yesterday.

They painted a picture of a humble man who valued hard work and discouraged name-dropping, and had a great capacity to remember little details about people.

His habit of writing thank you notes for the smallest favours and giving gifts were also highlighted.

Former minister of state Ch'ng Jit Koon remembers a Chinese calligraphy work that Mr Nathan gave him after learning the art. It was of the Chinese character for "friend".

His almost 20 nieces and nephews said he was a generous uncle who often bought them gifts.

Retiree Indrani Suppiah, 69, said her uncle made an effort to invite all his relatives to his 90th birthday party two years ago, a big celebration attended by top political leaders. "He treated everyone fairly. It didn't matter what our social standing was," she added.

Mr Nathan stressed the importance of hard work, academic excellence and equality. He would also remind them not to use his name or position to get advantages in life.

A nephew said he would never forget Mr Nathan's reminder: "Nobody has died from hard work."

Mr R.S.S. Nadarajah, whose mother is Mr Nathan's cousin, added: "He would tell my daughter to study hard as education was the only way forward."

Similarly, he encouraged neighbour M. Ravichandra, a businessman, in his quest to climb Mount Everest. The 50-year-old, recounting Mr Nathan's moral support, said he achieved his ambition this year.

But when he returned last month, Mr Nathan had taken ill. Tearing up, he said: "He told me to tell him about it on my return. But now, he's no longer with us."

A knack for remembering people

Wednesday's report ("Relatives remember a generous, kind uncle") mentioned that the late Mr S R Nathan had a great capacity to remember little details about people.

In his letter yesterday, Mr Joseph Hooi Liang Kee recounted how Mr Nathan, who was his classmate in a Malay-language course, still remembered him, and greeted him by name many years later ("Affable man with personal touch").

Indeed, the sixth president of Singapore had a photographic memory.

In 1964, I accompanied Mr Peter Lim, the secretary-general of the Singapore National Union of Journalists, to meet Mr Nathan at the Labour Research Unit for advice about a dispute we had with our company. Mr Nathan gave some valuable counsel.

Some 42 years later, in October 2006, my wife Teresa and I attended a dinner at the Istana hosted by Mr Nathan for members of the Peranakan Association of Singapore.

During pre-dinner cocktails, he mingled easily with the guests.

Then, amid the sea of faces, he spotted me and straightaway approached me.

He extended his hand, saying: "I know you, but have forgotten your name."

I gave him my name and also told him about my former company and of the time long ago when we sought his help.

He remembered the occasion and inquired what I was doing at that point. We reminisced for a few minutes about old times and the people we knew.

We had met only briefly more than 40 years ago and had not seen each other in the intervening years. Yet, he remembered me.

That memorable evening, I also witnessed his humility at work. He was the one who approached me, not the other way around.

Anthony Oei
ST Forum, 26 Aug 2016

Legacy of giving lives on

In his final year as president, Mr S R Nathan - together with a few of his close friends - started discussing with me the idea of starting a philanthropic fund to help "uplift" children from poor families.

Coinciding with the launch of Mr Nathan's memoir An Unexpected Journey: Path To The Presidency in 2011, the S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund was established to provide financial support to disadvantaged young people by helping them complete their education.

Despite Mr Nathan's initial reluctance on naming the fund after himself (the humble and unassuming man that he was), we were glad he eventually relented, as it would help promote the concept of community ownership and inspire others to do the same.

Administered by the Community Foundation of Singapore, the fund has since supported close to 1,000 Institute of Technical Education, polytechnic and university students by providing them bursaries, scholarships and monthly financial assistance.

The fund resonated with Mr Nathan's beliefs and conviction about giving and receiving kindness, which we witnessed first-hand while working with him to manage the grants.

He was always involved and would make time to meet the many recipients - getting to know them and their families.

He would even follow up by sending handwritten notes of thanks and encouragement.

Mr Nathan has touched many young lives through this fund.

His death leaves a void, but his legacy of giving lives on. I hope that in time to come, those whom he has helped will do the same by reaching out to help others.

Laurence Lien Tsung Chern
Community Foundation of Singapore
ST Forum, 26 Aug 2016

Surprise for MP Baey at Tamil play

By Pearl LeeThe Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

MP Baey Yam Keng was invited by Cultural Medallion winner S. Varathan to watch a play in Tamil that he had written and directed.

Mr Baey, parliamentary secretary for culture, community and youth, knew most of it would be lost on him as there would be no surtitles. But he went as a show of support for Mr Varathan, who was a resident of Tanjong Pagar GRC, where Mr Baey was then an MP.

A surprise, however, awaited him. Seated next to Mr S R Nathan, who was then the President, he received a first-rate translation service.

"Mr Nathan knew I wouldn't understand anything, so he started translating for me. I thought he would just tell me a brief outline of the story, but he explained the plot and the characters to me throughout the play."

It was not his first encounter with Mr Nathan, but it was definitely his closest and most memorable.

Now a Tampines GRC MP, Mr Baey said: "Not everyone can say the President had translated a play for them. But Mr Nathan was like that - very personable and friendly, and with no airs."

Past and present MPs have gone on social media since the former president died on Monday, at age 92, to share their stories of how they were moved by his warmth and actions.

Former MP Irene Ng said she had witnessed at first hand how he "had endeared himself to many heartlanders with his humility and his genuine care for them".

In 2004, Mr Nathan and his wife visited the family of the late Heng Yeow Peow in their Tampines flat, which was in Ms Ng's ward.

Mr Heng, known as Hero Heng, was a foreman who died saving eight workers 12 years ago in the Nicoll Highway collapse. His body was never found.

"It was a quiet visit, without any media publicity. Their visit brought great comfort to the family," she wrote on her Facebook page.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob recounted the letters she had received from the late president.

"When my mother passed away last year, Mr Nathan wrote me a very lovely, handwritten letter offering his condolences and telling me he had missed the funeral because he did not know about it. I was deeply touched."

In 2013, he had also written her a congratulatory letter on her appointment as Speaker of Parliament.

He also said he would "pray for me in the discharge of my duties".

Said Madam Halimah: "It is such gestures that make such a huge difference and which will forever make me remember the man."

Worrying about Singapore and Singaporeans till the end

Ex-president spoke about rising xenophobia, building bridges weeks before hospitalisation
By Cheong Suk-Wai, Senior WriterThe Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

From my three one-on-one conversations with former president S R Nathan over the years, I learnt that he considered the presidency his weightiest responsibility, chiefly because, first, he was uncomfortable that it technically made his former boss and mentor Lee Kuan Yew subordinate to him. And second, Mr Nathan could not shake off his own humble beginnings.

In our last meeting, on June 16, he recalled his years with The Straits Times fondly, and worried about Singapore's future, given what he called increasing "anti- foreigner sentiment".

That meeting included ST's editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang and EDB Society president Lee Suan Hiang. Sadly, Mr Nathan was hospitalised just weeks later on July 8.

But on June 16, he was full of verve. He was about to turn 92 but he spoke firmly, fiercely, his eyes flashing conviction. Mr Han remarked that he was looking good.

Mr Nathan beamed and said later: "After my stroke, I can't walk very much. At certain times, for no rhyme or reason, I get very tired. But my memory is good, particularly of events. It is very clear on the lessons of history."

He then mused on many concerns, including increasing xenophobia here, and how discomfiting he found being president at first. He was also perturbed by how many Singaporeans, especially younger ones, embraced Western ways such that, as he put it, "we often forget ourselves".

It was crucial, he stressed, that Singaporeans treasured their own values to "balance things".

The former envoy to Malaysia and the United States then underscored the importance of humour and learning another's language to build bridges. For instance, he once wondered why a Malay colleague, who spoke no English, always had a copy of ST under his arm. The colleague responded: "Pakai ST ada stail, stail mesti ada." (To be seen with ST is to be stylish, and one must be stylish.)

What was also obvious from the June 16 chat was that his six years at The Straits Times Press (1975) Ltd - which morphed into Singapore Press Holdings - stayed with him.

"When I became executive chairman of Straits Times in 1982, all the fellows grumbled that I always found something wrong with the paper every day. I said, 'Eh, how many mistakes did I point out today?' They said, 'Two mistakes'. I said, 'Come on, lah!'

He added: "It soon became something of a source of pride whenever they could say, 'He could only find two mistakes'."

Direct but never curt, pithy but never glib, he described his experiences so vividly that yesteryear seemed like yesterday. When I mentioned that, like him, I once lived in Muar, he regaled us with historical nuggets about this Johor royal city. Were we aware that many Muarians hailed from Banjarmasin in Kalimantan? Did we know the Japanese had sunk a ship in the Muar River during World War II?

That was further proof that he never forgot his roots. At our first meeting at the Istana on April 26, 2010, Mr Nathan, a Hindu, told me that in all he did, he followed the words of his mother, Madam Abhirami Ammal, who brought him and her six other surviving children up after their father died in 1932: "One, nothing happens without His will. And two, whatever your obligation is, do it."

Words to live by.

What Mr Nathan said about:

The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016


"I got sacked and decided not to give further pain to my mother. So I ran. The thing is, when you are poor, others look down on you. You get one or two teachers who are compassionate, but most only look after the well-to-do."


"I learnt that as long as you spoke up for something and were not going to be killed for it - but were prepared for that - I would be okay."


"If you are really devoted to social work, you carry your problems with you and they bug you until you find a solution. Of course, you don't tell your wife all that."


"It was to seek justice because conditions after (World War II) were not settled. The salary scales hadn't taken into account the reality after the war, so incomes were inadequate. The trade union movement showed me that you didn't have to be a highly qualified person so long as you had common sense and an ability to argue your case. Normally, you are the subordinate, so you wouldn't challenge your employer. But in the labour movement, you went to the table and talked to employers. That gave you confidence."


"Laju was nothing. It was just an instance. We all carry these responsibilities in public service."


"My first difficulty was Lee Kuan Yew: How do I maintain a relationship with somebody with whom I was a subordinate? But he said, 'No. You are no longer my subordinate. All those fellows are watching. Forget about the past.' "


"As President, I am very private. I am not as free to mix as I was. But there is one area of the presidency that fits me well, and that is the community... So, when we have Open House or when I am walking in East Coast Park, people greet me and want to take a picture. It gives me a certain satisfaction because I remember, as a boy, the circumstances in which my family lived... so I can empathise with the struggles, the preoccupations, the daily concerns of heartlanders."


"We have many people who befriend you, but the moment you are out of office, they will ignore you. I have seen that in my own career, each time I changed a job. When then PM Lee Kuan Yew sent me somewhere else, they would say, 'This fellow is finished.' Then they see me bouncing back and they come back to me."

These are extracts from Mr S R Nathan's interviews with The Straits Times

What S R did: Create something out of nothing

By Frank Lavin, Published The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

Singapore and the broader international community were saddened to learn of the passing of S R Nathan, who served as Singapore's President from 1999 to 2011. Much will be written regarding his life in public service, his personal courage and his many accomplishments, but let me add three lessons from a man I had the privilege of working with over the years and was honoured to call a friend.


S R's life began with no promise, yet he shaped it into one of extraordinary promise. He had a childhood of personal turmoil, exacerbated by the tumult of World War II. The idea of grinding poverty did not fully capture his situation. "No shoes?" he once chuckled in response to a question. "The larger problem was no food."

S R's youth had only scattered moments of formal education. His household was beset with an alcoholic father, who committed suicide. S R ran away from home to escape this Dickens-like misery. His unlikely friendship with a Japanese officer during the Occupation and the slow but incessant turnaround in his life all make his memoirs worth reading.

You grow in admiration for a man of considerable equilibrium and geniality. Fate did not extend either to him, but he radiated them both in dealings with others.

Lesson: You can shape your conditions or you can allow your conditions to shape you. S R had the discipline and inner fire to shape his conditions.


I met S R when he was serving as Singapore Ambassador to the United States. (The success of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's recent Washington visit blurs the memory that relations can have low points as well as high points.)

S R's tenure was contemporaneous with perhaps the nadir in bilateral relations: the Michael Fay incident. Fay was the American teenager convicted of vandalism and other offences in Singapore, the result of which was if not a rupture in diplomatic relations, certainly a deep freeze. Indeed, S R told me "I am in the refrigerator".

With much diplomatic intercourse cut off, S R took his isolation with aplomb. He was never defensive or with a chip on his shoulder, but always carried himself with the pride of representing his country.

He used the time to explore the US, give talks, and develop reach outside of Washington.

Lesson: Your assignment will have down days as well as up days. You need to acquit yourself regardless.


I saw a great deal of S R when I served as Ambassador to Singapore and this provided a welcome opportunity to renew our friendship. What was staggering to me was his work ethic while serving well into his 80s. This was not a "retirement job" or a "symbolic job". It was a full-time job, one he pursued with ebullience. I might attend a community event on a weekend and say hello to dignitaries. S R would arrive and go to every table in the room to chat, inquire and offer pleasantries. He did not attend events; he worked at events.

Lesson: Public officials must be accessible and energy counts.

I last saw S R at the National Library a few months ago and he greeted me with the same broad grin, one that essentially obligates the recipient to smile back. One of the great joys of life is catching up with old friends, though both of us were unaware this would be the last time we would chat. If achievement and hard work are the mark of a life well lived, S R has certainly attained a place in the top ranks.

I suspect S R is smiling at us still. And we are smiling back.

Frank Lavin was United States Ambassador to Singapore from 2001 to 2005 and is currently the chairman of Export Now, a firm that operates e-commerce stores in China for international brands.


S R Nathan: Head of state who never forgot friends, common people

Ministers, ex-MPs and representatives of organisations turn up at private wake to swop stories of personal encounters with Mr Nathan
By Charissa Yong and Linette LaiThe Straits Times, 25 Aug 2016

Singapore's newly minted President was coming for an eye operation and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan was feeling the stress.

But Mr S R Nathan's unassuming manner was disarming.

He did not ask for special treatment, recalled Dr Balakrishnan, an ophthalmologist who is now the Foreign Minister.

"I told him I wished he had come to me a few months before he had become president," he added of his most memorable meeting with Mr Nathan, who became President in September 1999.

Dr Balakrishnan's father and uncle were childhood friends with Mr Nathan.

"They always spoke about him in admiring tones, describing him as a very loyal and devoted friend.

"No matter how high he rose - and he rose to the highest office in the land - he never forgot his friends," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan was among several politicians who paid their respects yesterday to Singapore's sixth and longest-serving president, who died on Monday at age 92.

It was the second day of the private wake held at Mr Nathan's Ceylon Road home, and they spoke of the qualities they admired most in him, and swopped stories of their personal encounters and relationships with him.

Long-time friend S. Chandra Das, a former MP and Singapore's non-resident High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, helped to organise Mr Nathan's 80th, 85th and 90th birthday celebrations.

"There was no protocol, although people such as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as well as former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, were at the celebrations," Mr Chandra Das recalled.

"To him, it was an opportunity to meet up with old friends."

He added: "I promised him I would organise a party for his 95th. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen." He also said Mr Nathan's wife Urmila was doing better yesterday and was holding up well.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife, Mrs Mary Tan, as well as Old Guard minister Othman Wok, 91, visited the home to pay their respects too.

Other ministers included Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, and Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng.

Mr Nathan's contributions in various fields, from strengthening the labour movement to helping the community, were lauded by many.

When employers and unions were clashing in the 1960s, Mr Nathan, seconded from the civil service to the labour movement, helped develop a labour research unit that made a strong case for protecting workers' rights through tripartism, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

The way Mr Nathan "always put workers' interests upfront, as the top priority, is something we as a labour movement should never forget", he added.

Representatives of organisations that Mr Nathan worked in or was the patron of, including self-help group Sinda and the Inter-Religious Organisation, turned up in force.

Sinda chief executive K. Barathan remembered Mr Nathan as a man who cared deeply about the underprivileged in all communities.

Mr Nathan wanted to ensure equal opportunity for all, especially in education for the common people, said Mr Barathan.

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) chief executive Alan Chan said that when Mr Nathan was appointed executive chairman of The Straits Times Press - the predecessor of SPH - he was met with suspicion from many journalists.

He was given a corner office on a floor away from The Straits Times newsroom, Mr Chan recalled some older journalists telling him.

Instead of taking offence, Mr Nathan instituted "coffee breaks".

"He would come down three times a week and sit with the editors... and they would go through issues of the day, and that alleviated a lot of suspicion," he added.

Mr Nathan was executive chairman from 1982 to 1988.

Former MP Wan Hussin Zoohri recalled Mr Nathan's concern for greater documentation of the Malay community's heritage.

"He wanted to document the Malay pioneers' contributions before independence and before the war," he told reporters at the wake.

S R Nathan: Caring boss who led by example rather than rebuke

Former aide-de-camp remembers the day he made a mistake and expected a tongue-lashing
By Chong Zi LiangThe Straits Times, 25 Aug 2016

When Mr Redhza Abdul Rahim saw the President wearing batik, he realised he had made a big mistake.

The aide-de-camp (ADC), who was supposed to ensure that presidential events ran smoothly, had informed the President's guests at the Istana that the dress code required them to be in lounge suits.

But he had asked Mr S R Nathan to wear batik instead, resulting in the faux pas. "He looked at me and his face turned a bit red. Of course he wasn't happy, but he didn't say anything," Mr Redhza said of the incident that took place when he was a full-time ADC to the President from 1999 to 2001.

The next morning, when Mr Nathan called Mr Redhza into his office, he expected a tongue-lashing, as it was not his first day on the job and he had no excuse for his error.

But all that the President did was to speak to him calmly about the importance of checking and double- checking the smallest details.

For Mr Redhza, who was an assistant superintendent of police during the posting, that incident typified Mr Nathan, the boss: He was exacting and expected excellence from his staff, but it was not his style to turn to rebuke when they fell short.

Instead, Mr Nathan preferred to lead by example.

For his own swearing-in ceremony in September 1999, he personally went through every detail, from the seating arrangements, down to the minute-by-minute programme flow, to make sure the event ran smoothly.

This inspired respect from his staff, who were spurred on to do better so as to not disappoint him, said Mr Redhza, 47.

Despite his position, Mr Nathan had no airs.

Before their first meeting in the President's office, Mr Redhza was feeling nervous. But his anxiety dissipated when he saw Mr Nathan stroll in wearing a short-sleeved white shirt.

"I expected him to be in a suit, all businesslike, but he was very disarming when he spoke.

"There was just something in his demeanour that made people feel comfortable," Mr Redhza said.

Mr Nathan was also someone who truly cared about the welfare of his staff, and organised gatherings for those who worked at the Istana every few months so that they could let their hair down.

At these gatherings, he and Mrs Nathan made the effort to chat with everyone and took photos with every staff member who wanted a picture with the President.

"He made time for everybody, from the butlers, to the cooks, to the drivers," said Mr Redhza, who retired from the police force as a superintendent in 2014 and now runs a business that helps companies source for manpower.

When he received gifts of food, such as special fruit from overseas, Mr Nathan never kept them, preferring to distribute those items to the staff. He also made sure to set the right tone from the top when it came to work and matters of propriety, Mr Redhza said.

For instance, Mr Nathan made clear that he did not want special treatment, and expected the same of his staff. During a family holiday at a beach resort in Phuket, he reminded Mr Redhza to get the bill quickly so that he could pay out of his own pocket. He did not want the resort to pick up the tab just because he was Singapore's head of state, said Mr Redhza.

"He wanted us to be committed and devoted to the job. And it was easy for us to do so because we saw that he was a president who was devoted and committed to his office. So everything fell into place."

A social worker at heart who always tried to help, say community leaders

By Jalelah Abu Baker and Lim Yan LiangThe Straits Times, 25 Aug 2016

Mr S R Nathan was at heart a social worker, leaders of self-help groups said yesterday.

"He was happiest when he was in the company of fellow social workers, and he was engaged in trying to help all the time," said Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) trustee K. Kesavapany.

The leaders and staff of SINDA, the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Mendaki and the Eurasian Association got together at SINDA's building in Beatty Road to remember Mr Nathan, who they said remained concerned for the plight of those with the least throughout his life, especially as president.

Mr Nathan died on Monday aged 92.

Mr Kesavapany, 79, a retired diplomat who had known Mr Nathan for 48 years, recounted an incident in 1968 where a seaman approached Mr Nathan for help.

Mr Nathan first wanted to know if the man had eaten, and when he found out he had not, gave him money to buy food first. "He was looking at the person, not issues or what was wrong with the system. That's what I learnt from him, putting the person first," Mr Kesavapany said.

Eurasian Association vice-president Alexius Pereira shared how Mr Nathan, the association's patron, privately funded two brothers' university education and asked that it not be publicised.

Mr Nathan wanted to help students who would otherwise have to work part-time, so they could focus on their studies, he said.

Mendaki chief executive officer Tuminah Sapawi and CDAC executive director Pok Cheng Chong lauded him for helping students of all races and starting the S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund, which gives financial aid to needy tertiary students.

Mr Nathan's deep concern for the poorest in society was also recounted by Senior Minister of State (Defence and Foreign Affairs) and South East District Mayor Maliki Osman at a memorial service by the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) at its Maxwell Road office yesterday.

Dr Maliki recalled that in 2010, when he was at the National Development Ministry, he was invited to the Istana by Mr Nathan to discuss ways to better help lower-income Malays.

"It felt like, from a social worker to a social worker, we were talking about how we can uplift a group of Singaporeans who need extra help.

"I saw the sincerity in his eyes and I teared at that point, because it just struck me that the man who's holding the highest office of the land is sharing with me a personal concern of my community."

Leaders of the 10 faiths in the IRO observed a one-minute silent prayer for Mr Nathan, who was their first patron till his death.

IRO president Rustom Ghadiali shared with 120 guests how Mr Nathan thought often about how to preserve Singapore's religious harmony, and had asked to meet him four days before Mr Nathan had a stroke on July 31. Mr Nathan had asked him to be IRO president once more, as the organisation needed seasoned leadership at a time when terrorism poses a strong threat.

"Mr Nathan's major concern was that in case there was an attack by ISIS or any other organisation, the religious leaders of IRO must be ready with a strong, convincing statement and ensure that religious harmony in Singapore continues," he said.

"Now we understand why he was called the 'People's President': He so cared for the people of Singapore, even in his last days."

'Rest easy Boss, we will not let you down': Bilahari Kausikan

The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2016

To those privileged to have served him, Mr S R Nathan will forever be The Boss, said ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan yesterday at a remembrance ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Here are extracts from his eulogy:

"One of Mr Nathan's best friends was the late Chia Cheong Fook, who was also once permanent secretary of MFA. Mr Chia was my father's best friend. I grew up vaguely conscious of Mr Nathan as a background presence - obviously a personality to be reckoned with, but without clear resolution.

It was only in the earlier part of the 1970s that Mr Nathan acquired sharp focus in my consciousness. I was then pretending to study in the University of Singapore. I did something that could potentially have had serious ramifications... but things began to go pear-shaped and I thought I'd better come clean before everything crashed.

I telephoned my father, then (Singapore's ambassador) in Moscow... my father said he knew about it and told me to tell Mr Chia. I dutifully called Mr Chia. Again, before I could say anything, he said he knew about it and told me to go and meet Mr Nathan at MFA, which was then in City Hall, now our National Gallery. With more than a little trepidation, I made my way to City Hall and was tremblingly admitted into Mr Nathan's presence... Again, he already knew all about what in the innocence of youth I had thought was secret.

'Why did you do it?' he demanded. I answered the best I could. Mr Nathan sat in grim-faced silence, apparently pondering what I had said. 'Who else was involved?' he suddenly barked at me. 'No one,' I said. 'Don't lie,' he said. 'No one,' I insisted. Again he pondered in silence. I sat before him nervously for what seemed an eternity. 'Will you take responsibility?' he finally asked. Exasperation momentarily overcame fear. 'That's what I've been trying to do,' I snapped.

'What's the worst that can happen to you?' Mr Nathan snapped back. 'I don't know,' I replied, puzzled. 'Will you be hanged?' he asked. 'I don't think so,' I replied, by this time thoroughly discombobulated, which I now realise was his intention.

Mr Nathan broke into a smile - and those of you who know him should know he had a very charming smile. 'So what are you worried about? You did what you thought was right. It was stupid, but you won't be hanged. Go,' he said. I got up and made for the door. He called me back. 'Good that you are willing to take responsibility for what you thought was right,' he said. 'Never evade responsibility, but if you want to play such games again, ask someone who knows how,' he said. I fled.

... I tell this story in his memory because it eventually dawned on me that the lessons he intended to impart were of great and continuing relevance to foreign service officers...First, clever as you may be, you are not as clever as you may think. You need others. Work as a team. Second, take responsibility for what you do; do your duty without fear. Be loyal to your team.

That was not to be the last time I made my way to Mr Nathan's office with trepidation. Subsequent occasions were as a foreign service officer. Mr Nathan was tough on us. He had to be to whip us into shape. He had high standards that he would not compromise. He treated service to the country with high seriousness and taught us to take service seriously too. He was our mentor - a lifelong mentor.

Mr Nathan left an indelible mark on MFA and all who worked for him. All subsequent PSs (permanent secretaries) only built on the foundations Mr Nathan laid. Today, MFA is an organisation that is respected worldwide. You can be proud of being part of an organisation Mr Nathan shaped. MFA is his monument. Do not let him down.

In March this year, Mr Nathan hosted lunch for a group of the survivors of MFA's City Hall days... 'I was hard on you,' he told us, 'but you all always served me faithfully and I may not have told you before, but I want all of you to know that I appreciate it as this may be the last time we can meet together.' These were not his exact words - I was too moved to remember exactly; in the old days, if he had known I didn't take precise notes, I would have been in for a scolding, but that was the gist. As hard-bitten a crew as those at that lunch all were, I'd bet that the others were as moved as I was.

When Mr Nathan was taken ill, I went to see him in hospital. His daughter told me that of all the many and varied appointments in which Mr Nathan served, he told his family that MFA was special to him, the others were duty.

We may have on occasion grumbled about him being a hard taskmaster, but I think all those who served him knew that MFA was special to him. Mr Nathan demanded loyalty: Loyalty to colleagues, loyalty to the organisation and, above all, loyalty to Singapore. But he more than amply repaid loyalty with loyalty; he took responsibility for us and never denied responsibility for us even when we were the brunt of well-deserved criticism. He scolded us when he had to; he never let us down. Work done, he treated us as family. Long after he left MFA, he kept a paternal eye on us. I suspect he's doing so still.

And thus Mr Nathan, in turn, inspired loyalty, respect and affection. That is why to those of us who were privileged to serve him, Mr Nathan will forever be The Boss. I can now almost hear Mr Nathan's shade growling in my ear: Stop the long palaver and get back to work! Rest easy Boss, we will not let you down."

An unexpected journey to the Istana

The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

Former president S R Nathan was too humble to ever think of his life as exceptional. But there is no other way to view the path that took him from childhood adversity to public service and later to the Istana - described simply by him as "unexpected". It is a term one would not apply to Singapore's clear-eyed, meritocratic system of picking the best person for the job on the basis of proven credentials. That Mr Nathan, the longest-serving president, succeeded extraordinarily within the system - coming as he did from a school of hard knocks and armed with a diploma acquired only later - speaks volumes about the man. Alongside his natural ability to focus unremittingly on what was essential and to get things done, Sellapan Ramanathan demonstrated conviction and an uncanny knack to connect with a range of people.

With the loss of Mr Nathan, the nation has one fewer precious source of first-hand experiences and memories spanning key periods and relating to critical events. Books, photos, videos and websites capture useful representations of past times. But these are a poor substitute for nuanced judgments based on the knowledge and experiences that Mr Nathan and other leaders of his generation accumulated. As a top-ranking civil servant, media chief and ace diplomat, he had what he described as a "ringside seat" to the vicissitudes of the nation's young life. He was in fact very much in the ring himself, risking his life four decades ago to avert bloodshed when terrorists hijacked the ferry Laju. By offering to be guarantors of safe passage for them, Mr Nathan and his team secured the release of the hostages.

He worked closely with pioneer leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam and former president Devan Nair. And he interacted with royalty, captains of industry and leading lights of arts circles. But he always remained a people's person. "He will dive into a crowd and Mr Nathan will know the uncle, brother or cousin of every Ah Tan, Ahmad or Arokiasamy," noted a community leader and ambassador-at-large. "He puts at ease everyone he comes in contact with." That included the many children he met at his President's Challenge events in aid of charity and ordinary people he saw at public gatherings. No official protocol or schedule could prevent him from stopping to have a chat and to grant Singaporeans a photo opportunity or autograph. He was simply a man who genuinely liked and remembered people. Archived photos show Mr Nathan, before his nomination as president, greeting people outside his home with no airs whatsoever, clad in a sarong and barefoot. Such was the authenticity associated with him that will be long remembered by many, alongside his distinguished contributions. Characteristically, Mr Nathan summed it up thus: "I am what I am."


Remembering S R Nathan: A Final Farewell

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