Ex-President S R Nathan gets touching surprise tribute from people he helped in the past

Former president S R Nathan gives his assessment of Singaporean youths.
Former President S R Nathan holding up the thank you card that was presented to him after the surprise tribute.
Former President S R Nathan holding up the thank you card that was presented to him after the surprise tribute. PHOTO: ZUL FAHMY

SINGAPORE - Former Singapore President S R Nathan was recently treated to an unexpected but heartwarming surprise when he was honoured at an event disguised as an awards presentation ceremony.

The ceremony, which took place at the Eurasian Association in Ceylon Road on April 23, saw Mr Nathan turn up as the guest of honour.

The 91-year-old, the country's longest-serving President after a 12-year term that concluded in 2011, had been told that he would be presenting an award to an "outstanding Singaporean".

But Mr Nathan was instead treated to a video featuring his friends, former colleagues and ordinary Singaporeans whom he had interacted with in the past, who recounted anecdotes of how he had touched their lives with his acts of kindness and contributions.

They included former postman Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman, who used to deliver letters to Mr Nathan's office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) before he got a recommendation to work as an office attendant in the MFA

Another, Captain Vincent Pang, spoke about how his family benefited from the Government's social welfare system, thanks to Mr Nathan's help.

Describing it as a surprise amid giggles and laughter from those gathered, a visibly touched Mr Nathan said: "I was told that I was coming here to inaugurate the Eurasian community for this year.

"It's nice to know that your old friends are still your friends. Most people forget you when you are out of office, but these people remember me.

"It is very touching."

He was also given a book, titled With Gratitude, that featured stories from past acquaintances who remembered his kindness. Funded by donors and supporters of Mr Nathan, it was put together by Ms Khalijah Masud, Ms Luenne Angela Choa and Ms Eleanor Yap with the help of design firm Oculus Design. 

Said Ms Choa, who conceived the book project with Ms Khalijah and Ms Yap as they wanted to showcase a side of Mr Nathan that not many people had seen: "He believes in the importance of paying it forward and was very appreciative of what he received in his early days, which is why he touched so many people - as seen in the book."

The surprise video was specially commissioned by social start-up The Hidden Good,  which regularly conducts social experiments and holds events that attempt to highlight the good in Singaporeans.

Mr Nathan posing for a photo with the organisers of his surprise tribute. PHOTO: ZUL FAHMY

A video of the ceremony that was uploaded on Facebook on Thursday (May 26) has since garnered more than 130,000 views.

The Hidden Good's executive director, Ms Wu Jiezhen, told The Straits Times that the aim was to surprise a "selfless and caring man who has quietly been doing good for others".

"We wanted to appreciate him for not only what he has done for Singapore, but for who he is, the contributions he has made to people and the lives that he has touched," she added.