Surprise for MP Baey at Tamil play

Then President Nathan sat beside Mr Baey at a Tamil play, translating it for him.
Then President Nathan sat beside Mr Baey at a Tamil play, translating it for him.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/BAEY YAM KENG

MP Baey Yam Keng was invited by Cultural Medallion winner S. Varathan to watch a play in Tamil that he had written and directed.

Mr Baey, parliamentary secretary for culture, community and youth, knew most of it would be lost on him as there would be no surtitles. But he went as a show of support for Mr Varathan, who was a resident of Tanjong Pagar GRC, where Mr Baey was then an MP.

A surprise, however, awaited him. Seated next to Mr S R Nathan, who was then the President, he received a first-rate translation service.

"Mr Nathan knew I wouldn't understand anything, so he started translating for me. I thought he would just tell me a brief outline of the story, but he explained the plot and the characters to me throughout the play."

It was not his first encounter with Mr Nathan, but it was definitely his closest and most memorable.

Now a Tampines GRC MP, Mr Baey said: "Not everyone can say the President had translated a play for them. But Mr Nathan was like that - very personable and friendly, and with no airs."

Past and present MPs have gone on social media since the former president died on Monday, at age 92, to share their stories of how they were moved by his warmth and actions.

Former MP Irene Ng said she had witnessed at first hand how he "had endeared himself to many heartlanders with his humility and his genuine care for them".

In 2004, Mr Nathan and his wife visited the family of the late Heng Yeow Peow in their Tampines flat, which was in Ms Ng's ward.

Mr Heng, known as Hero Heng, was a foreman who died saving eight workers 12 years ago in the Nicoll Highway collapse. His body was never found.

"It was a quiet visit, without any media publicity. Their visit brought great comfort to the family," she wrote on her Facebook page.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob recounted the letters she had received from the late president.

"When my mother passed away last year, Mr Nathan wrote me a very lovely, handwritten letter offering his condolences and telling me he had missed the funeral because he did not know about it. I was deeply touched."

In 2013, he had also written her a congratulatory letter on her appointment as Speaker of Parliament.

He also said he would "pray for me in the discharge of my duties".

Said Madam Halimah: "It is such gestures that make such a huge difference and which will forever make me remember the man."

Pearl Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Surprise for MP Baey at Tamil play'. Print Edition | Subscribe