S R Nathan: Big Man, Little Stories

TL;DR – Sometimes, it’s all about the little things.

Many Singaporeans woke up the sad news of Mr SR Nathan’s passing. Singapore’s sixth and longest-serving President has passed away at the Singapore General Hospital at 9:48pm last night. He was 92.

Members of the public may pay tribute and share their thoughts of Mr S R Nathan at the official Remembering S R Nathan website. An official Facebook page has also been created here. Details of his funeral arrangements can be found here.

The local mainstream media has been sharing his life story since news of his passing last night, paying tribute to our former president whose life story was remarkably dramatic. People whose lives he had touched had also taken to sharing their grief and also their own personal encounters with him.

Here are some of the little stories about the big man.

Baey Yam Keng

is the Parliamentary Secretary at Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), and he is also the MP for Tampines GRC. here’s his own little story about how kind and nice Mr Nathan was.

‘Some years ago, I was invited by a resident S Varahan, who is a Cultural Medallion winner to a Tamil play written and directed by him. I was privileged to be seated next to President SR Nathan who was the guest of honour.

Obviously I don’t understand the language and there were no subtitles. But Mr Nathan did the most amazing thing, he translated for me throughout the entire production!

I was so honoured and taken aback that he took the trouble so that I could understand the story.
He has my deepest respect and I am saddened by his passing. He had lived a full life and done a lot for Singapore. In his own way, he had touched the lives and hearts of many. My deepest condolences to Mrs Nathan and his family.’

Bertha Henson

of The Middle Ground was formerly Associate Editor of The Straits Times and worked as a journalist in Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) for 26 years. Her first years in SPH was also the period Mr Nathan was Executive Chairman (1982 to 1988), she has shared some stories. Go read the whole article, quite a gem of a read! Meanwhile, here are two interesting little ones.

‘I’ve never worked directly for him as so many civil servants have. I knew he didn’t have a good reception when he was put in charge of the newspapers and had to endure black armband wearing journalists who greeted his arrival. To us journalists, he was the man in a white shirt and blue pants who would walk through the newsroom on his way in and from his upstairs office. Such an unthreatening figure. So much so that one journalist mistook him for an office assistant once and asked him to return some files to the library. He did it without a murmur. The journalist never lived down the gaffe.’

When he became President, I asked to be invited to the Istana for lunch. Yes, I asked. Because I was put in charge of an editorial project and wanted to hear his views on how to operate the business. I can’t remember what transpired at lunch but I remember what happened later. Knowing that I couldn’t drive, he got his butler to take me in the Istana buggy to the main gate. In the end, I was driven to nearby Plaza Singapura where there was a taxi stand. It’s probably illegal I know and there were so many pairs of eyes on us that I think I blushed to the roots of my hair. But… what a ride!

Facebook user David Sim

also shared his personal encounter with Mr Nathan.

‘The shoe and Mr. Nathan: One year ago, Mr. Nathan heard of a student in my neighbourhood school who was so poor, he didn’t have proper school shoes to wear (yes, in 2015 Singapore). He contacted the school and wanted to know how he can help (we at first thought it was a prank call!). Subsequently he met and inspired the boy. Through his network, he set up a support system for the boy and his single father.

After that, he volunteered to attend my school’s retreat to speak to the teachers…on his own accord and less than 3 months after his first stroke. He came and inspired us all with his personal testimony of how, as an impoverished boy, it was good and inspiring teachers that made a difference to his life and encouraged us not to give up on the neighbourhood kids we come across each and every day.

He left about an hour later but his words and his heart towards helping the disadvantaged will always inspire us’

Ong Ye Kung

is currently Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence. He’s also the MP for Sembawang GRC. Here’s his story.

‘I got to know him when I was working in the Istana in 2004 and 2005, when he was President of Singapore. He would call me up occasionally to have lunch with him, over Indian Rojak. After he stepped down, we continued to keep in touch. I would visit him regularly at his office at SMU, or at his home. We had many interesting conversations about the past, the present and the future.

After the 2011 General Elections when our team lost in Aljunied GRC, he hand wrote a letter to me, telling me that I should not lose heart. After I informed him I would contest in the 2015 General Elections, he wrote to me again, advising me to take lessons in public speaking because communications was even more important in modern politics. This was his SkillsFuture message to me. I did take lessons after that.

We lost an outstanding Singaporean today. Personally, I have lost a mentor and a teacher. Mr S.R. Nathan will be missed.’

Sylvia Lim

Chairman of Workers Party and the MP for Aljunied GRC, also took to Facebook to share her thoughts on Mr Nathan.

‘It is with sadness that I learn of the passing of President SR Nathan.

President Nathan has been a public servant practically all his life. He believed in Singapore, from the early days before independence when our survival was by no means guaranteed. My father had the privilege of working alongside him in the MID (Ministry of the Interior and Defence), and they became friends for life.

I benefitted from their friendship too. When I became NCMP in 2006, President Nathan was very kind to me and generous with his precious time. He always made it a point to summon me when the occasion presented itself, just to say Hello and to ask how things were going.

I shall miss his warmth and grace.

My family and I send our deepest condolences to President Nathan’s family for their loss. May he rest in peace.’

Chan Chun Sing

is a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and concurrently, he’s also the Secretary-General of NTUC and Deputy Chairman of PA. He is also MP for the Tanjong Pagar GRC. Although he didn’t exactly share a specific encounter with Mr Nathan, his Facebook post last night was rather personal, so I decided to include it anyway. Here, the Labour Chief’s goodbye letter to the man who helped the modernised NTUC.

‘Dearest Mr Nathan,

I visited you this evening at the hospital, but it was for the final time.

Words cannot do justice to what you have done for our Labour Movement. Neither can I sufficiently express my gratitude to you as a mentor.

In the early days, you fought for the rights of our workers. They were often the poorest and least taken care of. You touched everyone with sincere, brotherly care. You were always there by our side through trials and tribulations.

Even as you served the nation with distinction in other capacities, we know your heart has always been with us here – in the Labour Movement. I know this. When I joined the Labour Movement, you took time to share with me your perspectives and experiences. You have always made time for the Labour Movement, as recent as May this year when you came back to talk to us despite your health and busy schedule.

We will always remember what you firmly believe in. That in all that we do, we must take care of our working people and our country. You have also showed us how to serve beyond our call of duty – never for ourselves, but always for our fellow Singaporeans and Singapore.
Thank you, Mr Nathan. Thank you for being such a wonderful mentor to me. Thank you for being such a fine example of what it means to be a Singaporean. Your life is an inspiration to me. You continue to inspire many others and, I am sure, for generations to come. Your wisdom and selfless contributions will always inspire us to do more for Singaporeans and Singapore.

Blessed are we whom you have touched. ‪#‎RIPPresidentSRNathan‬.

Mrs Nathan, on behalf of the Labour Movement, I extend our deepest condolences to you and your family.

Chun Sing’



Author: Maggie Wang

Hello, I'm probably your most socially awkward cave-woman this part of town. In the day, I work to put wanton mee on the table and chocolate ice-cream in the fridge. At night, I read a lot and write a little.


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