Tanjong Katong Secondary's founding principal dies at 102

The founding principal of Tanjong Katong Secondary School (TKSS) died of pneumonia on Monday (Sept 18) at the National University Hospital.
The founding principal of Tanjong Katong Secondary School (TKSS) died of pneumonia on Monday (Sept 18) at the National University Hospital.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The founding principal of Tanjong Katong Secondary School (TKSS) died of pneumonia on Monday (Sept 18) at the National University Hospital.

Mr Naganathan Vaithinathan, who led what was then Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School from 1956 to 1968, was 102 - one of the more than 1,100 centenarians in Singapore.

His former student, retired teacher Koh Chin Lye, 73, remembers him as a strict principal who showed concern for his students.

"We used to see him every morning, walking around the school to observe the students and see how things could be improved around the school. He was not the type to just sit in his office the entire day. He taught me how to be a caring teacher," said Mr Koh, who graduated from Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School in 1961.

Born in Tamil Nadu, India, Mr Vaithinathan was one of nine children, and the fifth son in the family. He earned a degree in chemistry and came to Singapore, where he met his wife, former social worker Esther Abisheganaden, who is in her 90s. He taught mathematics and science at Raffles Institution from 1941 to 1956.

After TKSS, he served for a year as principal of Upper Serangoon Integrated Technical School before retiring from education in 1971.

At the age of 57, he earned a barrister-at-law certificate in England, and ran his own law firm for the next 18 years. On top of Tamil and French, which he learnt in school, he also taught himself how to read Russian, Spanish and Portuguese.

After retiring from law in 1997, he devoted himself to reading and translating. In 2005, he published a translation of three Russian short stories, which was launched to raise funds for TKSS' new premises in Haig Road. In a Straits Times interview that year, he said he had a lifelong passion for literature.

"He was a brilliant man who didn't rest on his laurels and kept looking for new challenges in his life," said his oldest grandson, lawyer Peter Doraisamy, 45, who described Mr Vaithinathan as a family-oriented man.

Mr Vaithinathan is survived by his wife, three children, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. A funeral service will be held on Thursday (Sept 21) at the St John's-St Margaret's church in Dover.