S R Nathan: 1924-2016

MPs and community leaders pay tribute to generous mentor, guide

MPs and community leaders remembered former president S R Nathan as an inspiring mentor and elder yesterday.
MPs and community leaders remembered former president S R Nathan as an inspiring mentor and elder yesterday.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

An inspiring mentor and elder.

This was how several MPs and community leaders who knew former president S R Nathan remembered him yesterday.

Taking to social media to share their vignettes of how Mr Nathan had shaped their journeys, they described a teacher who was generous with his counsel, and who always made time for others, often despite his poor health and demanding schedule.

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung remembered how he got to know Mr Nathan over Indian rojak lunches while working at the Istana in 2004. He was then principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Even after he stepped down as President in 2011, Mr Nathan continued to keep in touch, and the two had "many interesting conversations about the past, the present and the future" at both Mr Nathan's office at the Singapore Management University - where he was a Distinguished Senior Fellow - and at his home, said Mr Ong.

When Mr Ong's Aljunied GRC team lost the 2011 General Election, Mr Nathan gave him a handwritten letter and told him not to lose heart. "After I informed him I would contest in the 2015 General Election, he wrote to me again, advising me to take lessons in public speaking because communication was even more important in modern politics," Mr Ong added.

"This was his SkillsFuture message to me... Personally, I have lost a mentor and a teacher."

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and labour chief Chan Chun Sing wrote in a Facebook post: "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." Noting that Mr Nathan fought for workers' rights in the early days at a time when they were often the least taken care of, Mr Chan added: "You touched everyone with sincere, brotherly care. You were always there by our side through trials and tribulations.

"When I joined the labour movement, you took time to share with me your perspectives and experiences. You have always made time for the labour movement as recently as May this year, when you came back to talk to us despite your health and busy schedule."

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli remembered Mr Nathan as a father figure who thought often of the Malay community. He recalled how Mr Nathan would privately share his concerns about how external influences were dividing the Malay community, threatening its culture and identity. "His last message of his concern for our community was a letter he wrote from his hospital bed a while back," said Mr Masagos.

"In these times when members of my community are arrested for their terrorist intent and extreme views, it sickened him. He reminisced how he always felt like a family member living among the Malays when he was young."

National University of Singapore (NUS) president, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, who worked closely with Mr Nathan while he was NUS chancellor, recalled how the university benefited greatly from Mr Nathan's unstinting contributions.

"Whenever he attended university functions, Mr Nathan had always made himself available to students and generously shared his perspectives and experiences with them," he said.

"All of us at NUS mourn the passing of a distinguished alumnus and an inspirational leader."

The business community also lost a mentor who advocated for commerce and expanded Singapore's international space, said Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit.

"He was an inspiring mentor who never failed to share his analytical assessment with our business delegations on the different prospects, opportunities and obstacles in the countries visited," Mr Ho said. "Where possible, Mr Nathan also spared no effort in tackling the issues faced by businesses, by helping to remove the barriers to entry in the respective countries."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'MPs and community leaders pay tribute to generous mentor, guide'. Print Edition | Subscribe