SINGAPORE – People from all walks of life turned up at the Istana early Tuesday morning (Aug 23) to pay their respects to the late President S R Nathan and pen messages for him and his family.
On their cards, they thanked Mr Nathan for his many years of service to the nation and expressed their condolences to his family.
On one card, Mr Nathan was referred to as a “gentle giant” with a big heart.
Mr Nathan, President of Singapore from 1999 to 2011, died on Monday (Aug 22). He was 92.
The first person to arrive at the Istana was Reverend Lee Tay Lang Shifarong, 60, who was there at 6.10am.
He said he was very sad, as he had met Mr Nathan many times during community events.
Mr Lin Rong Xiang, 34, a self-employed computer engineer, said he arrived on the first train.
Account executive Madam Celin Foong, 53, dropped by the Istana before heading to work. She had been following up on Mr Nathan's condition since he was admitted to the hospital.
“All the while I prayed for him,” said Madam Foong.
Ms Veron Ann Lincoln, 33, a clinical coder from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said she is saddened by the passing of Mr Nathan.
“He came over for the Eurasian Association dance group in 2009, 2010 and I took photo with him. I was a dancer,” she said.
Para-athlete William Tan, 59, told reporters about the time he received help from Mr Nathan after he was diagnosed with stage four leukaemia.
Mr Nathan autographed his book, which helped to raise funds for his cancer treatment.
Ms Cheren Kwong, freelance parenting coach, arrived around 8am. Trying to hold back tears as she spoke, the 49-year-old said Mr Nathan had done a lot for the nation.
“He’s definitely a great person,” she said.
Retiree Mr Mauricio V. Soliano told The Straits Times about his encounter with Mr Nathan at Robinsons last year when he was working as a salesman. He shared a light-hearted conversation with Mr Nathan, whom he said came across as as fatherly and caring.
“He asked me how old I was and I told him I was 77. He said: ‘Oh not to worry. You don’t look that age,” said 78-year-old Mr Soliano.
The retiree was shocked when he read news about his death this morning, adding that he had been praying for his speedy recovery.
A group of about 20 students from the School of the Arts nearby also went to the Istana. One student said that it was her history teacher’s idea to bring them here before their class started for the day.
Condolence boards have been set up outside the Istana for people to pen tributes to Mr Nathan.
At the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), where Mr Nathan had been warded since July 31, staff and members of the public also stopped to pen their thoughts.
Madam Tan Geok Cheng, 59, a patient service associate, said she was “quite sad”, and she often saw Mr Nathan when he came to SGH for treatment.
Breast surgeon Benita Tan, 45, said Mr Nathan "has done a lot for us".
“We should recognise that hope that our young will appreciate what he has done,” she said.
Mr Chang Ah Hua, a 61-year-old aircon technician, is a cancer patient at the hospital. He is recovering from surgery and chanced upon the tribute area when he was exercising.
“I’m very respectful of the president, it is a pity that he passed away,” he said.
He and his 53-yer-old brother, Reverend Chang Kah Soon, both paid their respects to Mr Nathan.
Mr Nathan died peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital on Monday night. He turned 92 last month, suffered a stroke on July 31, and had been in intensive care since then.
The hearse carrying his casket arrived at Mr Nathan's family home at Ceylon Road at about 10.30am on Tuesday. There will be a private wake for the family until Wednesday.
Mr Nathan will lie in state on Thursday at Parliament House, where people can go and pay their last respects. A state funeral service will be held on Friday.