Image: ST File Photo
SINGAPORE – Fond memories of moments shared with the late former president S R Nathan have found their way onto social media, as Singaporeans from all walks of life recalled tales of inspiration, comfort and humour involving the “People’s President”.
Mr Nathan, 92, died peacefully on Monday (Aug 22) at the Singapore General Hospital where he had been warded since July 31 after suffering a stroke.
BRAVING THE RAIN
Neralo, a user on Reddit’s Singapore subreddit, shared how Mr Nathan braved a downpour as the reviewing officer of a commissioning parade at Officer Cadet School in January 2011.
“Normally there’s a parade review, but if it rains, that part is taken out so that the reviewing officer doesn’t need to get drenched. Except he did get absolutely soaked. Because he chose to do the review,” Neralo wrote.
Months later, Neralo got the chance to ask a warrant officer about the parade with Mr Nathan.
“He told me they tried to stop the review but Nathan himself refused. He even refused an umbrella, saying: ‘If the cadets who give their lives in service of our nation can stand in the rain, the least I can do is stand with them’.
“That incident cemented my utmost respect for the man.”
In his address that day, Mr Nathan told the new officers: “My charge to you today is to be leaders who are professional, committed, caring and who always act with integrity.
“Win over their hearts and minds, for it is the resilience and fighting spirit of our people that will ultimately make the difference.”
SHOWING SUPPORT FOR A SICK MAN
When Paralympian and medical doctor William Tan was diagnosed with stage four leukaemia in 2009, Mr Nathan wrote to him and showed him support.
“He autographed many copies of my book No Journey Too Tough, and those copies were auctioned at a National University of Singapore function, which raised quite a huge sum of money towards my leukaemia treatment, my chemotherapy and my bone marrow transplant,” Dr Tan said on Tuesday (Aug 23) at the Istana.
“So last night I had a very difficult time.”
ASKING A GURU FOR FOOD
Makansutra founder and food guru K F Seetoh shared his encounters with Mr Nathan over the years, all of which involve – what else – food.
“You once stopped your daily run to ask me what I was filming and cooking at East Coast Park. You wanted to try our nasi lemak but your aide said no as it would defeat the purpose of the run,” he wrote.
And on two separate occasions, Mr Nathan asked him for food recommendations – once for old-school mee goreng.
“I know you have touched many more people in your meaningful life,” Mr Seetoh said.
CHEERING A TEAM UP A MOUNTAIN
Before taking on Mount Everest in 2009, the Singapore Women’s Everest Team was invited to meet Mr Nathan, they wrote on Facebook. While they had expected the dinner to be formal and even uncomfortable, it turned out to be anything but.
“Mr Nathan made us feel welcome and at ease, peppering our dinner conversation with jokes that we need to put on some weight before heading to Mt Everest for our gruelling climb.
“He suggested that we write a book to document our five-year journey towards Everest, and gamely volunteered himself to write the foreword for our book. He joked, ‘If you summit I’ll write the foreword for the book, if you don’t summit, I’ll write the backward,'” they wrote.
They called him from Everest’s summit with the good news. “He congratulated us, and sounded genuinely happy that we’re safe.
“That’s probably the way we would like to remember him. A friend we can call, and who we know genuinely cares.”
A PRESIDENTIAL PRANK
A “presidential prank”, posted on Facebook by The Hidden Good in May, has found a new audience after Mr Nathan’s death.
Told that he would be presenting an award to an outstanding Singaporean in April, Mr Nathan found the tables turned when he was presented with a video featuring friends, former colleagues and ordinary Singaporeans he had interacted with in the past.
They recounted anecdotes of how he had touched their lives with his acts of kindness and contributions.
Among them were former postman Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman, who used to deliver letters to Mr Nathan’s office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before he got a recommendation to work as an office attendant in the ministry.
Another, Captain Vincent Pang, spoke about how his family benefited from the Government’s social welfare system, thanks to Mr Nathan’s help.
The touching video was shared by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, among others, after the news of Mr Nathan’s death broke.
PUTTING A NEW MP AT EASE
Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah recounted worrying about how to introduce herself, as a new Member of Parliament after the 2001 General Election, to the then President.
She said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Aug 23): “I was a new MP. I had not met President Nathan before. I thought I should introduce myself and worried what the protocol for approaching the head of state was.
“I needn’t have worried. He looked up, saw me, beamed, called my name and crossed the room to clasp my hands in a fatherly manner to congratulate me on being elected.
“A simple thing – but it says so much about the man. He was unassuming and without airs despite his high office.”
DISHING OUT ADVICE
Mr Ong Ye Kung’s team lost in Aljunied GRC during the 2011 General Election, prompting Mr Nathan to hand-write him a letter, telling him not to 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,” Mr Ong wrote on Facebook.
Mr Ong was voted into Parliament during that GE, and he was subsequently appointed Acting Minister of Education (Higher Education and Skills).
“Personally, I have lost a mentor and a teacher,” Mr Ong said.
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on August 23, 2016. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.
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