Tributes continue to pour in for former president S R Nathan

Former president S R Nathan seen at his residence on June 25, 2015.
Former president S R Nathan seen at his residence on June 25, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Tributes to the late Mr S R Nathan, Singapore's longest-serving president, continued to pour in on Tuesday (Aug 23), a day after he died at Singapore General Hospital.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said on Facebook that he had the “honour and privilege of knowing Mr Nathan as a President, civil servant, mentor and friend”.

“He was President when I was sworn in as Minister of State in 2006. It was a very meaningful and memorable experience for me and my family especially as he had made a special effort to be there even though he was not well.

“That was Mr Nathan. Always putting duty and country before self,” Mr Iswaran wrote.

On Facebook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong changed his profile photo to a sombre-looking shot, and his cover photo to a picture of the Singapore flag, illuminated by the sun.

The caption read: “(Mr Nathan) lived a long and full life, and will be missed by family, friends, and the people of Singapore.”

In a condolence letter to Mrs Nathan on Tuesday, Mr Lee said that Mr Nathan’s life was an inspiration to everyone.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, in a separate letter of condolence, wrote that Mr Nathan was “a loyal son of Singapore who dedicated his life to service his country and countrymen”.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu wrote that she was saddened to hear of Mr Nathan’s death, but grateful for his contributions to the country.

In her Facebook post, Ms Fu hailed Mr Nathan’s efforts to help the less fortunate. “He was a champion of inter-faith harmony and a friend to all, regardless of race, language or religion.”

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that Mr Nathan treated all alike, whether foreign dignitary or junior hotel staff.

“Few have as rich an experience as he. Few have done so much for the people as he. We will all miss him!”

Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah called Mr Nathan "a President for all Singaporeans" in a Facebook post early on Tuesday.

She shared how as a new Member of Parliament after the 2001 General Election, she had been worried about how to introduce herself to the then head of state.

"I needn't have worried. He looked up, saw me, beamed, called my name and crossed the room to clasp my hands in a fatherly manner to congratulate me on being elected.

"A simple thing - but it says so much about the man. He was unassuming and without airs despite his high office."

Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo also penned a tribute on Facebook, describing Mr Nathan as his "mentor, guru and boss" when they were in the Ministry of Defence.

 
 

"He was one of the most savvy and street-smart persons I have ever met. Even though he lacked formal academic qualifications, he was extremely intelligent and shrewd, and very knowledgeable and well-read," Mr Teo wrote.

He added that Mr Nathan was trusted with "the most sensitive and difficult jobs" because the Government knew that he "was very capable and absolutely dependable".

"Mr Nathan never refused them, and always fulfilled his duty diligently and with total dedication."

Member of Parliament Edwin Tong said on Facebook on Tuesday morning that Mr Nathan's two terms as President were "marked by his grace, humility and a remarkable common touch for every Singaporean from every walk of life".

"He will be sorely missed, but fondly remembered."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Mr Nathan spent a large part of his career, detailed his achievements in the positions he had taken up through the years.

These included deftly managing relations with Malaysia during a difficult time in bilateral ties, as High Commissioner to the country between 1988 and 1990, the ministry said.

It added: “A diplomat par excellence, Mr Nathan was much loved, admired and respected for his warmth and compassion. In MFA, he was legendary for his ability to recall the names of everyone who had worked with him. He always had a kind word for his colleagues, no matter how senior or junior.

“Mr Nathan has seen Singapore through many seminal moments. From social worker, unionist, bureaucrat to being elected to the highest office of the land, he is a defining part of the Singapore Story. We mourn the loss of one of Singapore’s most distinguished sons.”

Civil service head Peter Ong, in a note to all public officers, said that regardless of what position Mr Nathan held, “he never wavered from placing our nation’s interests above self”.

He added: “I hope Mr Nathan’s inspirational life and words will guide and motivate us to likewise remain steadfast in overcoming the obstacles and challenges in our work and personal lives.”

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, on behalf of the judiciary, said that Mr Nathan will be “fondly remembered for his warmth, generosity and the common touch, elements which truly made him a President of and for the people”.

He added: “Today, the ideals which Mr Nathan stood for remain just as relevant and his actions just as inspiring.”

Dr Ho Yew Kee, the president of The Boys’ Brigade in Singapore, said that Mr Nathan never failed to talk to or take a photo with participants at the brigade’s community programmes. Mr Nathan was the brigade’s patron from 1999 to 2011.

“Mr Nathan was a very supportive Patron of The Boys’ Brigade. He made time to attend our volunteer appreciation events to personally meet and thank our volunteers...

“He had a personal touch that made us all feel special. We will dearly miss him,” Dr Ho said in a statement. 

The S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund, set up by the former president in 2011, will continue to be administered by the Community Foundation of Singapore, its chief executive Catherine Loh said in a statement.

The fund has helped close to 1,000 ITE, polytechnic and university students to date.

“We are saddened by the passing of former president Mr S R Nathan and wish to express our heartfelt condolences to his family,” Ms Loh said.

The Singapore Scouting fraternity said that Mr Nathan, who was Chief Scout of Singapore during his Presidency, spared no effort in promoting the scout movement.

“In doing his best both in the exercise of his duty as leader and citizen and in helping other people, President Nathan was a shining example of what scouts aim to attain and live by. 

“He lived up to the exhortations in Baden-Powell’s last message, having left Singapore better than when he found it.”

Former MP Irene Ng said that Mr Nathan was “generous in sharing his insights, sense of mission and experiences”.

She wrote on Facebook: “My heart is heavy at his passing. The world seems a harsher and lonelier place without him.”

Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations president Chua Thian Poh said that Singapore has lost “a great leader, a respected elder and a true People’s President”.

The Religious Rehabilitation Group said Mr Nathan was like “a father to all Singaporeans” and said that his “true grit, resilience and passion will forever serve to light the path for those inclined to live a full life and to be an outstanding leader”.

Mr Thomas Chua, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said that Mr Nathan’s humility “touched the hearts and minds of the entire community”.

Federation of Indian Muslims president Haji Farihullah said that Mr Nathan was always there to offer advice and encouragement.

Mrs Mildred Tan, National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre chair, called Mr Nathan a “tireless giver” and said that his life “epitomises the spirit of generosity and giving”.

Mr K F Seetoh, founder of food guide Makansutra, shared his encounters with Mr Nathan, including one at East Coast Park while the former president was on his daily run.

“You wanted to try our nasi lemak but your aide said no as it would defeat the purpose of the run,” he wrote.

“I know you have touched many more people in your meaningful life.”

These joined the tributes that were posted on Monday night following Mr Nathan's death, from President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Cabinet ministers.

Dr Tan described working with Mr Nathan as a "privilege", while PM Lee said that he was deeply saddened and recalled having known Mr Nathan for more than 40 years, having met when Mr Lee was a young officer in the Singapore Armed Forces.

 

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