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."