S R NATHAN 1924 — 2016

Brightest thread in his life - Umi

Mr Nathan with Umi in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 4, 1952, before she flew off to Britain for her studies. He first met her in 1942, when she was 13 and he was 18. They got married after a courtship which lasted 16 years.
Mr Nathan with Umi in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 4, 1952, before she flew off to Britain for her studies. He first met her in 1942, when she was 13 and he was 18. They got married after a courtship which lasted 16 years.PHOTO: COURTESY OF S R NATHAN

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Related Stories: 

"On those trips, we saw a side of Mr Nathan that few outside his family saw," said Mr Pillai. "He was, above all, a family man."

"The childhood love between Mr and Mrs Nathan seemed to have grown with the passage of time. Their marriage is an extraordinary tale of devotion that inspires us all."

The family is a close-knit one: their children Juthika and Osith, their children's partners Cheong Gay Eng and Hooi, and grandchildren Monisha, Kiron and Kheshin.

"Mr Nathan lives on in them as he does in our hearts," said Mr Pillai. "At this time of sorrow, we share the loss Mrs Nathan and her family feel, and pray that they will have the strength to withstand it."

Janice Heng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Brightest thread in his life - Umi'. Print Edition | Subscribe