Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 13) paid a special tribute to the late former President S R Nathan.
Mr Nathan passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital on Aug 22, three weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 92.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob paid tribute not just to Mr Nathan’s “distinguished career” in the trade unions and civil service, but also to his “humble disposition” and “deep abiding desire to help the less fortunate in society”. This drove him to set up the President’s Challenge and involve the community in helping the less fortunate, she said.
He was equally at home with ordinary citizens and those who held high positions, added Mdm Halimah. “He always had kind words for everyone, extending help whenever he could. He kept himself active even through the last days of his life, letting his conscience be his compass in all the decisions that he had to make,” she said.
“By any measure, Mr S R Nathan led an extraordinary life and was an exemplary citizen. I hope his life story will not just find a place in our history books, but will inspire successive generations of Singaporeans,” she added.
Mr Nathan’s role in the Laju ferry hijacking incident in 1974 was also highlighted in Parliament. In her speech, Leader of the House Grace Fu said the incident demonstrates his “unyielding sense of duty to the nation”. She added that few Singaporeans knew of his role in the episode until recently, but “with his passing, he has become a hero for a new generation.”
As a minority race President, Mr Nathan also embodied “the best of multi-racial Singapore”, said Ms Fu. “He was a friend to all Singaporeans, regardless of race or faith,” she said, recounting Mr Nathan’s words when he was sworn in as President in 1999. He had said then that he would be a President for all Singaporeans, with every community of Singaporeans as his parish.
“Mr Nathan’s warm embrace of Singaporeans across different races and religions and all strata of society is what all of us will remember fondly,” added Ms Fu. “He connected effortlessly with others from all backgrounds and was a familiar presence at countless events, big or small.
“He always made time for others, even as he occupied the highest office in the land.”