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

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman (at right in dark shirt) and leaders from the 10 faiths represented in the Inter-Religious Organisation holding a memorial service for Mr Nathan at the group's Maxwell Road office
Signing the condolence books at Sinda are (from left) Mr Saritharan Krishnan of NTUC Income, Dr Alexius Pereira of the Eurasian Association, Mr Pok Cheng Chong of the Chinese Development Assistance Council and Ms Tuminah Sapawi of Mendaki. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman (at right in dark shirt) and leaders from the 10 faiths represented in the Inter-Religious Organisation holding a memorial service for Mr Nathan at the group's Maxwell Road office
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman (at right in dark shirt) and leaders from the 10 faiths represented in the Inter-Religious Organisation holding a memorial service for Mr Nathan at the group's Maxwell Road office yesterday. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman (at right in dark shirt) and leaders from the 10 faiths represented in the Inter-Religious Organisation holding a memorial service for Mr Nathan at the group's Maxwell Road office
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) chairman Lee Boon Yang leaving the home of Mr Nathan in Ceylon Road after attending the private wake yesterday. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman (at right in dark shirt) and leaders from the 10 faiths represented in the Inter-Religious Organisation holding a memorial service for Mr Nathan at the group's Maxwell Road office
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (far left) and Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo joining other officials at MFA to pay tribute to Mr Nathan, who played a key role in the fledgling ministry during his two stints, first from 1966 to 1971, and then again as First Permanent Secretary from 1979 to 1982.PHOTO: VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN/FACEBOOK

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."

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'A social worker at heart who always tried to help, say community leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe