Mr S R Nathan was Singapore's ambassador to the United States in 1994 when American teenager Michael Fay was sentenced here to be caned for vandalism.
Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Mr Nathan took the brunt of vicious attacks against Singapore by some in the US media, which campaigned against the sentence.
Professor Koh said: "My American friends have told me how much they admired the calm and rational way in which he defended Singapore against vicious attacks.
"He held high the flag of Singapore. Because of his example and precept, although Singapore is a small country, it is a country which cannot be bullied by other countries, not even the major powers."
PM Lee recalled that Mr Nathan went on television talk show Larry King Live: "He was grilled, but defended our position with conviction, and persuaded quite a few Americans that what Singapore was doing was not wrong."