S R Nathan: 1924-2016

Ministers, former colleagues pay respects to S R Nathan

Among those who went to Singapore General Hospital last night to pay their respects to Mr Nathan were (from left) former Straits Times editor-in-chief Peter Lim, Ambassador to Mexico Jennie Chua and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Among those who went to Singapore General Hospital last night to pay their respects to Mr Nathan were (from left) former Straits Times editor-in-chief Peter Lim, Ambassador to Mexico Jennie Chua and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

Many pay tribute to his devotion, grit and effort in standing up for Singaporeans

It was 10pm and they were at meetings, working late, or at home.

But within an hour of former president S R Nathan's death, ministers, public servants and his former colleagues - some in tears - were at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to pay their respects to the man who had been their mentor and friend.

Mr Nathan died last night at 9.48pm at the age of 92. He had been hospitalised at SGH since July 31, when he suffered a stroke.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing arrived at the hospital separately between 10pm and 11pm. They were in a sombre mood and did not speak to the media.

Also at the hospital was Mr Nathan's family. Mr Nathan leaves behind his daughter Juthika, 57, son Osith, 53, and three grandchildren.

 

But the one who will find the hole most gaping will be Mr Nathan's wife Urmila Nandey, 87, his childhood sweetheart whose hand he finally won after a 16-year courtship, during which he overcame the objections of her higher-born family.

 

When asked how Mrs Nathan was doing, Juthika told The Straits Times over the phone last night that "she is fine, thank you".

Dr R. Theyvendran, chairman of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was visibly shaken. He spoke briefly to reporters, saying: "I thought he would have a chance to come out (be discharged from the hospital)."

Mr Nathan was a stalwart community leader and a former diplomat, and his former colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other organisations paid their respects as well. They included Ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan, Ambassador to Mexico Jennie Chua, and Mr Peter Lim, a former editor-in-chief of The Straits Times.

Dr Balakrishnan said on Facebook: "We will never forget his bravery, devotion, gumption, grit and energy in standing up for Singapore and Singaporeans."

Mr Chan had visited Mr Nathan hours before, for one final time.

"Words cannot do justice to what you have done for our labour movement. Neither can I sufficiently express my gratitude to you as a mentor," Mr Chan, who is also the labour chief, wrote on Facebook.

Last night, a table was set up at Block 5 of the hospital for members of the public to leave their tributes.

And on social media, many did.

Ms Vicky Li, who used to see Mr Nathan on his regular morning walks at East Coast Park, recalled that he had only one bodyguard with him despite being the president then. She wrote: "He was a very approachable and warm man who never put up barriers."

Mr Tan Eng Beng, who worked closely with Mr Nathan as his principal private secretary from 2005 to 2011, said: "He was always looking out for those who fell by the wayside... and how he can extend a helping hand so that they can stand up again with dignity. His own humble background helped make him a compassionate and caring person."

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Ministers, former colleagues pay respects'. Print Edition | Subscribe