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A grand send-off for one of Singapore's greatest sons
SINGAPORE on Friday said a final goodbye to a man hailed as a "super ambassador", loyal servant to the country, loving husband and down-to-earth leader who was both a friend and a mentor.
Emotions overflowed before, during and after the state funeral of Singapore's sixth and longest-serving president, SR Nathan.
The 92-year-old statesman was given a grand send-off, four days after he died peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital following a stroke.
Despite the hazy air, thousands of people lined the 15km route to catch a glimpse of the cortege as it travelled from Parliament House in the Civic District to the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus in Kent Ridge. The procession passed a number of landmarks of significance to Mr Nathan along the journey, including City Hall, Fullerton Hotel and NTUC Centre.
Singaporeans young and old cheered, applauded and wept when they saw the casket, draped with the national flag and protected by a tempered glass case atop a two-wheeled gun carriage.
There were cries of "Thank you, sir" and "Goodbye, Mr Nathan" as the crowds watched the funeral procession make its way down Commonwealth Avenue before turning onto Clementi Road towards its final stop, the NUS' University Cultural Centre.
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra performed JS Bach's Air from Overture No 3 in D Major on stage as the casket was carried into the auditorium and placed on the bier.
Civil Service head Peter Ong, the master of ceremonies, began the two-hour service by playing a Tamil song Mr Nathan was particularly fond of.
"It is about a dollmaker who collects sand, water, clay and other material from different parts of India to make a doll. Mr Nathan saw that as a metaphor for how various races and heritage that came to our shore created the Singapore we know," said Mr Ong.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the first of seven people to deliver a eulogy, said that it was with "great sorrow" that the nation was bidding farewell to one of its "greatest sons".
He thanked Mr Nathan's 87-year-old widow Urmila for being the "anchor" throughout her husband's distinguished career, and supporting him with grace, charm and warmth.
"The central and brightest thread in (Mr Nathan's) life was his love for Umi . . . their relationship spanned an astonishing 73 years, an inspiration to us all," said the Prime Minister.
Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, next at the lectern, recalled that Mr Nathan had, just a few months ago, hosted a lunch for a dozen officers that had helped him transform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "from no-class to a first-class one".
Said Prof Koh: "He wanted to thank them and explain why he was such a demanding boss. It was a poignant occasion because we knew that it would be the last reunion with 'The Boss'."
The others who spoke were among Mr Nathan's closest friends and associates: labour chief Chan Chun Sing, former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed, business leaders Jennie Chua and Ramaswamy Athappan, and ambassador-at-large Gopinath Pillai.
After the eulogies, Mr Nathan's only son, Osith Ramanathan, the chief mourner, laid a wreath in front of the casket; PM Lee did likewise on behalf of the state.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam presented the state flag and accoutrements to Mr Osith - the highest honour that the government can give to a statesman.
A lone bugler from the Singapore Armed Forces Military Band sounded the Last Post in a final salute, following which the audience observed a minute of silence.
Mr Nathan's casket was next placed back onto the gun carriage to head to Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium for a private cremation.
Throughout the day, more foreign leaders continued to pay their respects to Mr Nathan. Among them was Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who signed the condolence book at the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Najib thanked Mr Nathan for his many contributions, describing him as "a great advocate of closer ties" between Singapore and Malaysia. Mr Nathan was high commissioner to Malaysia from 1988 to 1990.
As the tributes continued to pour in from Singapore and abroad, it was evident to all that Mr Nathan thought nothing of placing nation before self, in service of his country.
State funeral of SR Nathan: More reports: