The nurturing 'tree-planter'

The nurturing 'tree-planter'
PM Lee recounted the many contributions of Mr Nathan at the latter's birthday celebration last night.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong celebrated former president S R Nathan's 90th birthday last night, recounting the many contributions Mr Nathan had made in his "long and full life".

From a tumultuous childhood fraught with difficulties, PM Lee said, Mr Nathan became the country's sixth and longest-serving president.

He wore many hats, from clerk to unionist, ambassador to president, but his most important role, said Mr Lee, was that of "tree planter".

"Wherever he went, he nurtured young seedlings into mature trees," said Mr Lee at the celebration at the Shangri-La Hotel, attended by more than 700 guests.

Mr Nathan, he explained, had grown young organisations like the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into mature institutions.

He had also mentored promising officers, helping them reach their potential.

Singapore under his care grew into a modern, prosperous, stable nation, said Mr Lee.

Mr Nathan, in turn, singled out the people who had impacted his life, including former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the late former president Devan Nair.

Mr Lee was an inspiration, he said. "He didn't suffer fools greatly, but he appreciated a job well done."

Mr Nair, meanwhile, "allowed me to share in his mission of transforming the labour movement into the NTUC of today".

PM Lee had earlier spoke of how Mr Nathan worked with Mr Nair to establish NTUC and keep communists from taking over the movement.

At the Security and Intelligence Division, Mr Nathan risked his life to accompany hijackers to Kuwait, in exchange for the release of Singaporean hostages.

"It was quintessential Mr Nathan: always placing country before self," Mr Lee said.

Elected President in 1999, Mr Nathan helped avert what could have been the country's worst economic recession in 2008. The Government sought his permission to draw on the reserves for the $20 billion Resilience Package.

Of this, Mr Lee said: "He understood the gravity of the situation, studied the issue carefully and approved the request decisively."

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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