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TRIBUTES and condolences continued to pour in following the death of SR Nathan, Singapore’s longest-serving president, who died on Monday night at the age of 92. Mr Nathan had suffered a stroke some three weeks ago and was admitted to the Singapore General Hospital.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the former president “a true son of Singapore” and “an inspiration” to everyone, in a condolence letter to Mrs Nathan.
Recounting how Mr Nathan strove to triumph over his circumstances, PM Lee said: “It was a story of how Mr Nathan always put his nation before self, often at great personal sacrifice. It was a story of perseverance, duty, and a man’s indomitable will.” He also touched on Mr Nathan’s “varied and stellar public service career”, the role he played in preventing the Communists from taking over Singapore and building up the nation’s diplomatic networks.
Even after two terms as president, Mr Nathan continued giving back to Singapore and shared his experiences and insights with the younger generation of diplomats, students and Singaporeans, Mr Lee said.
“I have known Mr Nathan for almost 40 years. I remember him as a man who lived his life guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation. Without fail, he stepped up each time. He was a true son of Singapore,” PM Lee wrote.
Head of civil service Peter Ong wrote in a blog post, “Nation above self”, published on Tuesday, the enduring lessons in dedication, tenacity and service to the nation – qualities Mr Nathan embodied.
Pointing to Mr Nathan’s role in the Laju ferry hijacking incident in 1974, Mr Ong said the late president never wavered from placing Singapore’s interests above self – qualities that are admirable.
“Mr Nathan and his team risked their lives to accompany four international terrorists on a Kuwait-bound plane, in exchange for the release of the hostages on board the ferry. This brave act was instrumental in ensuring the safety of the hostages while not undermining Singapore’s sovereignty,” he said.
Describing Mr Nathan as “warm, gracious and well-loved by Singaporeans”, Mr Ong noted he became the sixth president of Singapore at age 75. And even as he was well-advanced in years, Mr Nathan actively engaged and interacted with Singaporeans and various groups and communities, he said.
Exemplifying the Singapore story, the ups and downs of Mr Nathan’s life showed that one can succeed as long as one perseveres in the face of setbacks, Mr Ong said, adding: “As we mourn the loss of Mr Nathan, let us reflect on his contributions to Singapore and his unwavering dedication and tenacity in serving our country. We too can learn from him, to serve with compassion and from our heart, and always do our best to ensure Singapore’s future success.”
The judiciary also joins the nation in mourning the passing of Mr Nathan, with Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon saying: “Mr Nathan shared with the judiciary the same deep commitment to safeguarding the progress of the nation through a sound, effective and principled legal system uniquely suited to our needs. He understood that this was not merely an aspirational ideal; it was an existential necessity...Today, the ideals which Mr Nathan stood for remain just as relevant and his actions just as inspiring.”
Emeritus senior minister Goh Chok Tong wrote in his condolence letter Mr Nathan’s life was one that was “an exceptional story of fortitude, courage and service”. He described Mr Nathan as a man who was sincere, humble and who had the people’s touch.
“Sadly, Nathan is no longer with us. I grieve but take solace in that his spirit of public service will continue to live on within Singaporeans,” said Mr Goh.
On Monday night, many colleagues and Cabinet ministers also expressed their condolences.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam said in a Facebook post that Mr Nathan had served with dedication and distinction, including years in leadership positions in the labour movement, and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean described Mr Nathan as “a giant of our times”, adding that “together with his generation, helped secure the peace, harmony and stability we enjoy today”.
His courage, fortitude and dignity in dealing with difficult issues is an inspiration to all of us, said DPM Teo on his Facebook page, adding that Mr Nathan had risked his life in exchange for the safe release of the hostages back to Singapore during the Laju hijack.
Said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in a Facebook post: “I have met few people who lived and breathed Singapore the way he did. His fondness for friends of every race and from all walks of life. His complete absence of airs. His love of food. And his remarkable memory of events in our history, small and big, and of everyone he had met along the way.” He also recalled how Mr Nathan was active to the end and “never lost his human touch”.
The National University of Singapore (NUS), of which Mr Nathan was an alumnus, said in a statement on Monday that as chancellor of NUS from 1999 to 2011, he had extended strong support to a wide range of educational initiatives at his alma mater.
“Mr Nathan also provided strong support for the university’s fundraising efforts for education and research initiatives. Under his distinguished patronage, the NUS Centennial Campaign, which was launched in 2002, surpassed its goal ahead of NUS’ Centennial celebrations in 2005. For the launch of the University’s Annual Giving drive in 2005, Mr Nathan’s personal appeal letter to fellow alumni helped raise about S$1 million,” NUS said.