S R Nathan's state funeral: He walked with kings, but was still humble, says Zainul Abidin Rasheed

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Mr S R Nathan at the Inter-Religious Organisation 50th anniversary dinner in 1999. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE
Mr Zainul and Mr Nathan on the former president's official visit to Kuwait in 2008. PHOTO: MICA

SINGAPORE - In July this year (2016), a month before Mr S R Nathan died, he took the time to have an hour-long conversation with former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed.

"For nearly an hour at SGH (Singapore General Hospital), we talked about Malay community matters, a topic that was close to his heart," said Mr Zainul, who knew Mr Nathan from his time in Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It was to be his final conversation with Mr Nathan, who died on Monday (Aug 22) at the age of 92.

In a eulogy at his state funeral on Friday, Mr Zainul recalled how he first met Mr Nathan in the early 1980s, when he was then the young editor of Malay daily Berita Harian and Mr Nathan was the executive chairman of SPH.

Speaking in Malay, he recounted how Mr Nathan would often take the time to meet him and guide him on matters outside of journalism, especially in understanding human nature and various aspects of national and community development.

Later, Mr Zainul worked in the MFA and accompanied Mr Nathan as president on his visits to many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

"He walked with kings, sultans, emirs, presidents and prime ministers, but in a special way, he retained the simple and ordinary in him," said Mr Zainul.

Mr Zainul also recalled how despite his ailing health, Mr Nathan attended the launch of a book on the 50 years of the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore last May (2015).

"He had always wanted Malays to see themselves as modern and fully-integrated Singaporeans, instead of just as a minority community," said Mr Zainul.

He also shared some quirks and habits of his friend, reminiscing about the time they would spend at his home chatting over tea and durian puffs. He added that he would never forget hislove for food: "Just mention briyani, nasi lemak, and of course, durians, and a smile will light up his face."

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