Submitted by hema@itd on Tue, 08/23/2016 - 18:50

SINGAPORE - Friends and ex-colleagues of former President S R Nathan remembered his lifelong commitment to Singapore at a funeral service at the University Cultural Centre on Friday (Aug 26) afternoon.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who led the series of seven tributes, called Mr Nathan "one of Singapore's greatest sons", and spoke of his selfless service to the nation.

Read also: Singapore says goodbye to former President S R Nathan

From a great leader to a humble man, here is how each of the speakers remembered Singapore's longest serving president:

A president who placed nation before self

Prime Minister Lee's eulogy for Mr S R Nathan

The Prime Minister remembered Mr Nathan as a President who "cared deeply about racial and religious harmony" in Singapore.

He had a long, illustrious career in public service, and served a significant and influential role in our nation-building, Mr Lee said.

Despite humble and extremely trying circumstances in his childhood, Mr Nathan never gave up. It was this lesson of perseverance that Mr Nathan hoped Singaporeans would draw from his life story.

"He overcame extremely trying circumstances in his childhood and rose in the public service through grit, determination and ability, guided by a deep and abiding sense of duty," Mr Lee said.

Not only that, the former President also placed the nation before himself, and "quietly gave his best years and more, to Singapore".

Mr Lee recalled Mr Nathan's integrity and commitment in the 1974 Laju incident, when he risked his life by leading a team of officials to accompany terrorists to Kuwait as hostages.

Apart from his career, Mr Nathan was also centred on his love for his wife of 73 years, Madam Urmila Nandey.

"SR loved and honoured Umi all the days of his life. And she in turn was his anchor throughout his career, including the 12 years that he was President, when she supported him with grace, charm and warmth," Mr Lee said before thanking Mrs Nathan who nodded in response.

'Our super ambassador' to the world

Dr Tommy Koh's eulogy for Mr S R Nathan

Singapore's ambassador-at-large spoke of the former President's contributions to Singapore.

One of these is his work as Singapore's representatives overseas, first as high commissioner to Malaysia and then as the nation's ambassador to the United States.

However, his most important diplomatic role was as the sixth President of Singapore, Dr Koh said.

As Singapore's longest serving President, Mr Nathan visited more countries than all his predecessors put together, he said.

Because of him, Singapore's links with other countries were strengthened and more opportunities were made available to the nation.

Recalling that Mr Nathan had a flair for dealing with foreign leaders, Dr Koh said the former President managed to establish a good rapport with his interlocutors and to put them at ease.

"He had the memory of an elephant and could remember people he had befriended in his previous assignments, no matter how long ago".

"He was our super ambassador to the world," Dr Koh said.

'His concerns transcended race and religion'

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed's eulogy for Mr S R Nathan

Former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin said he first met Mr Nathan in the early 1980s when he was working at the Straits Times Press as editor of Berita Harian. At the time, Mr Nathan was appointed as executive chairman of the company.

When Mr Nathan became President, Mr Zainul had joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Senior Parliamentary Secretary, and accompanied the President on his visits to many countries.

Calling Mr Nathan "an extraordinary man", Mr Zainul said that despite walking with royalty and state leaders, the then-President "retained the simple and ordinary in him".

"He was always his humble ordinary self with all of us. Mr Nathan was very much a man after our hearts," Mr Zainul said.

He helped to raise money for the publishing of a book on Malay heritage, and also launched the biography of his good friend, the late Haji Ridzwan Dzafir, who was president of the Islamic Religious Council (MUIS) and Chief Executive Officer of Mendaki. Despite his ailing health, Mr Nathan also made it a point to attend the launch of the book Majulah! 50 Years of the Malay/Muslim in Singapore, which records the challenges and contributions of the Malay/Muslim community since Singapore's independence.

"Truly, his concerns transcended race and religion," Mr Zainul said.

Mr Nathan even took a personal interest in the Nagore Dargah monument project, which is now the Indian Muslim Heritage Centre.

"He had always wanted Malays to see themselves as modern and fully-integrated Singaporeans, instead of just belonging to a minority," Mr Zainul added as he recalled how Mr Nathan spoke to him about the topic while in hospital in July.

He loved to write letters

Ms Jennie Chua's eulogy for Mr S R Nathan

Dressed in a jacket made from a sari gifted to her by Mrs Nathan, business leader and ambassador to Mexico, Ms Jennie Chua, spoke fondly of her friendship with Mr Nathan.

He loved to write letters to his friends - handwritten ones, not e-mails, she said. These letters were sincerely written "with a $2.20 Uniball Signo broad-tipped black pen, in his characteristic cursive handwriting, always dated and signed," she said.

The contents of the letter were always warm and encouraging, much like Mr Nathan's personality. Each letter he wrote was personalised for its recipient and no two letters were the same.

One of the letters she received from him was written after a Community Chest event, where Ms Chua was tired and had to deal with difficult donors.

In his note to her, Mr Nathan said: "Some of us have greater burdens to bear, I know it was not easy for you."

Another letter he wrote was to then-chairman of National Museum of Singapore GK Goh. He encouraged and thanked museum staff for the successful launch of Presidential Presents, an exhibition on state gifts received by the presidents of Singapore.

"I must compliment all the museum officials for a well laid out and tastefully presented display. Kindly convey to them my appreciation and in particular to Iskander Mydin for enlightening me about each item," he wrote.

Ms Chua also spoke of Mr Nathan's commitment to social service, and described him as being personally involved in engaging beneficiaries, donors and organisers. One of the best examples of his commitment to charity was the establishment of the President's Challenge.

"Thank you Mr Nathan for your kindness and generosity, and for giving all of us in the social service space - donors, caregivers, volunteers and beneficiaries - courage and hope," she said.

He knew his "heart is getting weaker by the day"

Mr Ramaswamy Athappan's eulogy for Mr S R Nathan

"My days are somewhat numbered. I will be 92 in July. My heart is getting weaker by the day. My only wish is to see you well and successful in your life."

Mr Nathan wrote this in a note attached to a gift he personally delivered to his friend, Ramaswamy Athappan in April this year.

The gift was a statue of Vinayagar, another name for the Hindu god Lord Ganesh worshipped as a remover of obstacles.

Such is the love that Mr Nathan showed those who had the privilege of knowing him, even as he felt life slowly slip away.

The chairman and CEO of Fairfax Asia and CEO of First Capital Insurance first met Mr Nathan 16 years ago at East Coast Park, where the then President took early morning walks daily.

Mr Athappan said: "I personally witnessed how he paid close attention to the everyday concerns of ordinary Singaporeans. He conversed and listened kindly, courteously and attentively to the concerns of people he met during his morning walks."

#RememberingSRNathan: A lone bugler from the SAF Military Band has sounded the Last Post. Traditionally, the Last Post...

Posted by The Straits Times on Friday, August 26, 2016

He also shared how Mr Nathan, despite being hospitalised, tried to help visitors from India who were stopped at the Singapore immigration checkpoint at the Causeway in July this year.

The group of four women were on the last leg of their trip on their motorbikes around Asia to raise awareness about female fetecide in India.

But they did not have the proper vehicle insurance to enter Singapore, and one of the bikers' contacts who knew Mr Nathan contacted him for help.

It was late at night, but that didn't stop Mr Nathan from calling Mr Athappan from the hospital to request his assistance.

He possessed rich experience and great insights of our Labour Movement

Mr Chan Chun Sing's eulogy for Mr S R Nathan

Even though he suffered from deteriorating health and had a busy schedule, Mr Nathan took time to share his perspectives with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), NTUC Secretary-General and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said.

In his eulogy, Mr Chan said that Mr Nathan possessed rich experience and great insights of the labour movement and helped shape its current mission and vision.

Mr Nathan first worked as a medical social worker in 1955 before becoming a welfare officer who fought for the rights of maritime workers the next year. He was seconded to the labour movement during a tumultuous period in 1962, when unions were rife with pro-communist elements.

In May this year, Mr Nathan still spoke passionately and incisively about the direction of the labour movement, Mr Chan said.

Mr Nathan said that the Labour Movement must possess that special ingredient that helps create that unique competitive advantage for Singapore so that lives can be improved and the next generation can have a better future.

"He asked us if we were just unionists or were we a Labour Movement? He reminded us to stay focused as a Labour Movement that not only takes care of our working people, but also our country," Mr Chan recalled.

He loved to watch Tamil and Malayalam movies

Mr Gopinath Pillai's eulogy for Mr S R Nathan

Thanjavooru Manneduthu, the song that played at the beginning of Mr Nathan's state funeral, was his favourite, his friend Mr Gopinath Pillai said.

The ambassador-at-large and chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies at NUS added: "It speaks volumes of the man that this Tamil song resonated with him precisely because he heard it in a tale of Singapore - how from many, we became one; how despite our different traditions, cultures and religions, we could be 'one people'."

Mr Pillai also revealed that Mr Nathan loved to watch Tamil and Malayalam movies, and appreciated both classical Carnatic music and light film songs.

The two got to know each other more after Mr Nathan was appointed Chairman of the Hindu Endowment Board in 1983.

Mr Pillai spoke of how the new chairman "brought in an excellent finance member who not only cleaned up the accounts, but also instituted strict measures to ensure there were no leakages" as they were handling money from a large number of devotees.