Remembering Mr S R Nathan: 'Serve with compassion, heart': Civil Service head on S R Nathan's legacy
The late former President S R Nathan was an "extraordinary founding leader and a dedicated public officer" who played a significant role in Singapore's nation building, said Mr Peter Ong, head of Civil Service, in an open letter to public officers on Tuesday (Aug 23).
Singapore's longest-serving President passed away peacefully at Singapore General Hospital on Monday (Aug 22).
"Over his 40-year career in the public service and two terms as President of Singapore, Mr Nathan was an inspiration to many. No matter what position he held, he never wavered from placing our nation’s interests above self," Mr Ong wrote.
Below is his letter in full:
Dear colleagues, you would have heard by now the sad news that Mr S R Nathan, Singapore’s former President, passed away last night, Aug 22, 2016, at 9.48pm. An extraordinary founding leader and a dedicated public officer, he played a significant role in Singapore’s nation building.
Over his 40-year career in the Public Service and two terms as President of Singapore, Mr Nathan was an inspiration to many. No matter what position he held, he never wavered from placing our nation’s interests above self. His role in the Laju ferry hijacking incident in 1974, Singapore’s first encounter with international terrorism, was one of the clearest demonstrations of this. 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. Mr Nathan’s courage, decisive leadership and clarity of thought when faced with such emergencies were qualities I will always remember and admire.
At 75, he became the sixth President of Singapore, and the longest-serving President to date. With his people-oriented disposition, Mr Nathan actively engaged and interacted with Singaporeans and various groups and communities even when he was well-advanced in years.
Most importantly, Mr Nathan had a heart for ordinary people. He was warm, gracious and well-loved by Singaporeans. Spurred by his deep personal desire to help those who were less fortunate, Mr Nathan founded the President’s Challenge in the year 2000. Aimed at fostering a cohesive and caring Singapore, the Challenge brought Singaporeans from all walks of life together to raise funds and volunteer their time to help the less fortunate. This legacy of his compassionate vision still burns strong within the Public Service. Every year, I am heartened to see our public officers and agencies actively contributing their time and energy towards helping our society’s less privileged members through the President’s Challenge. Mr Nathan’s admirable qualities have earned him a place in our hearts and minds.
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. As he said, “Sometimes we may be given a lousy hand, early, midway or late in life. Don’t give up on it.” I hope Mr Nathan’s inspirational life and words will guide and motivate us to likewise remain steadfast in overcoming the obstacles and challenges in our work and personal lives.
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.