Thousands say goodbye to S R Nathan

Representatives of the labour movement making their way towards Parliament House and (below) members of the public paying their last respects to Mr Nathan yesterday as the former president lay in state, ahead of today's state funeral. The doors at Pa
Representatives of the labour movement making their way towards Parliament House and members of the public paying their last respects to Mr Nathan yesterday as the former president lay in state, ahead of today's state funeral. The doors at Parliament House opened at 10am yesterday, but queues had started forming as early as 7.30am.PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN, KUA CHEE SIONG
Representatives of the labour movement making their way towards Parliament House and (below) members of the public paying their last respects to Mr Nathan yesterday as the former president lay in state, ahead of today's state funeral. The doors at Pa
Representatives of the labour movement making their way towards Parliament House and (above) members of the public paying their last respects to Mr Nathan yesterday as the former president lay in state, ahead of today's state funeral. The doors at Parliament House opened at 10am yesterday, but queues had started forming as early as 7.30am.PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN, KUA CHEE SIONG

Students, retirees and office workers join long queues to pay their last respects

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Thousands say goodbye to S R Nathan'. Print Edition | Subscribe