S R Nathan: President Tony Tan, PM Lee, DPMs and other ministers pay tribute

Labour chief Chan Chun Sing at the Singapore General Hospital, where former president S R Nathan passed away. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Singapore General Hospital. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam were among those who paid tribute to former president S R Nathan on Monday night (Aug 22).

Mr Nathan died at 9.48pm, at the age of 92, having been in critical condition following a stroke on July 31.

Dr Tan, who was formerly Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, described working with Mr Nathan from 1996 to 1999 as a "privilege".

He credited Mr Nathan with initiating the President's Challenge fundraiser for charity and noted that during Mr Nathan's two terms in office, the President's Challenge raised more than $100 million for over 500 beneficiaries.

Dr Tan described himself and Mrs Mary Tan as "deeply saddened" by Mr Nathan's death, a phrase that Mr Lee and Mr Teo both used as well.

In his tribute message, Mr Lee recalled having known Mr Nathan for more than 40 years. They met when Mr Lee was a young Singapore Armed Forces officer.

"I remember him as a man guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation," wrote Mr Lee. "He stepped up each time duty called. He was a true son of Singapore."

In the same vein, Mr Teo thanked Mr Nathan for "a lifetime of service to Singapore".

He called Mr Nathan "a giant of our times" and mentioned Mr Nathan's "courage, fortitude and dignity" in negotiating the hostage release during the Laju incident.

Mr Tharman's tribute to Mr Nathan was a celebration of the former president's zest for life.

He observed Mr Nathan's keen memory and "human touch", saying that he received numerous handwritten letters of advice over the last few months up until Mr Nathan's stroke.

"I have met few people who lived and breathed Singapore the way he did," Mr Tharman wrote.

The handwritten notes were a cherished personal touch that Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong also remembered fondly.

Tributes to Mr Nathan stressed his diplomatic skills, his work for the labour movement, and his commitment to Singapore's multiculturalism.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam wrote that, in addition to the Laju incident, another standout of Mr Nathan's diplomatic career was his handling of the Michael Fay incident when he was ambassador to the United States.

"His charm and toughness showed the world that we were no pushovers," Mr Shanmugam said.

Meanwhile, labour chief Chan Chun Sing expressed his gratitude for having been personally mentored by Mr Nathan. "Blessed are we whom you have touched," wrote Mr Chan.

Mr Nathan was seconded as a government officer to the labour movement in 1962, and assigned the task of suppressing communists and bringing the unions into the fold of the government-backed National Trades Union Congress.

Mr Chan said that even though Mr Nathan juggled many portfolios during his long career, "we know your heart has always been with us here - in the Labour Movement". He extended condolences to Mr Nathan's widow Urmila on behalf of the movement.

Mr Nathan was also remembered for his commitment to multiculturalism in Singapore.

Mr Nathan was so concerned about protecting the fabric of society that he wrote a letter from his sickbed to denounce extremist religious views, recalled Mr Masagos Zulkifli, who is Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

Mr Masagos wrote: "He reminisced how he always felt like a family member living among the Malays when he was young. And he reiterated his concerns one last time, expressed poignantly through these words - 'Sometimes, I who lived and loved the Malays wonder where we are going.'

"Let us all maintain that cohesive and harmonious society that Mr Nathan loved us for," Mr Masagos concluded.

This sentiment was echoed by Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who first consulted Mr Nathan - a childhood friend of his father's - when contemplating an entry to politics in 2001.

Dr Balakrishnan said that they discussed how to establish racial and religious harmony in Singapore and that he was inspired by how Mr Nathan, besides contributing to the Hindu community, was passionate about collaboration with religious leaders of other faiths.

He said that he continued to seek Mr Nathan's advice over the years.

"He was always generous with his advice - based on his values and experience. He focused on practical and long term solutions to social and political challenges," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"We will never forget his bravery, devotion, gumption, grit and energy in standing up for Singapore and Singaporeans."

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