Six years ago, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam was sworn in as Singapore's seventh president after a very tense contest marked by misperceptions about the role of a president.
Dr Tan offered himself as a unifying figure and a steady hand.
Yesterday, as his six-year term came to a close, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore has benefited greatly from his calm and dignified presence, wealth of knowledge and steady judgment.
Paying tribute to Dr Tan, 77, at a farewell reception in the Istana's chandelier-lit banquet hall attended by over 200 guests, PM Lee thanked Dr Tan for working tirelessly at being a unifying figure at home and projecting Singapore vigorously abroad.
Dr Tan gave support and recognition to volunteer groups and others, and helped deepen Singaporeans' sense of unity and attachment to the nation as they celebrated SG50. He was also a conscientious custodian of the nation's reserves and the integrity of its public service, roles he played smoothly and effectively.
"Your office and the Government have had a close and constructive working relationship, based on mutual trust and respect," PM Lee said, adding that he admired Dr Tan's clarity of focus, imperturbable demeanour and sense of duty.
"On behalf of the Government, my Cabinet colleagues and all Singaporeans, I thank you once again for your dedication and distinguished service to the nation."
PRIVILEGED TO SERVE
Thank you, my fellow citizens, for giving me the opportunity to serve as the president of Singapore. It has indeed been an honour and a privilege.
PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM, in a speech at his farewell reception.
Earlier, Dr Tan packed his belongings and bade farewell to Istana staff personally. Responding to PM Lee last night, he said mutual trust and respect underpinned their roles as prime minister and president.
"When I took office, I pledged to be a president for all Singaporeans. I was committed to the understanding that our nation's president is not a centre of political power. But the president can be a resource. Our president must be a symbol."
He added: "I am glad that my experience has been a resource to you and your colleagues in Government. More importantly, I was determined that the President's Office should symbolise and champion the role we all can play to make Singapore a better society."
Singapore's progress, however, is measured not only by global rankings but by "how we care for those less fortunate than ourselves", he said, adding these ties - or "social reserves" - that bind people are vital.
Dr Tan also said SG50 was the highlight of his term, a reminder of all the nation has achieved. While founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's death tempered the joy, it revealed Singaporeans' deep ties as one people. "My time as president has been the highlight of my career. It has been a deeply moving opportunity to see Singapore in all its diversity and to meet Singaporeans from all walks of life," he added.
Dr Tan ended his speech to applause and a warm hug from Mrs Tan, followed by a farewell parade.
Council of Presidential Advisers chairman J.Y. Pillay will be acting president until a new president is elected later this month.