S. R. Nathan

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In this Indian name, the name Sellapan is a patronymic, not a family name, and the person should be referred to by the given name, Ramanathan.
His Excellency
S. R. Nathan
செல்லப்பன் ராமநாதன்
Cellappaṉ Rāmanātaṉ

DUT (First Class), PJG, BBM, PPA(P)
President of Singapore SR Nathan.jpg
6th President of Singapore
In office
1 September 1999 – 31 August 2011
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
Lee Hsien Loong
Preceded by Ong Teng Cheong
Succeeded by Tony Tan Keng Yam
Personal details
Born (1924-07-03)3 July 1924
Singapore, Straits Settlements
Died 22 August 2016(2016-08-22) (aged 92)
Singapore General Hospital, Singapore
Spouse(s) Urmila Nandey
Children 2
Alma mater University of Malaya
Religion Hinduism

Sellapan Ramanathan, DUT (First Class), PJG, BBM, PPA(P) (3 July 1924 – 22 August 2016),[1] usually referred to as S. R. Nathan, was a Singaporean politician who was the sixth President of Singapore from 1999 to 2011, having been elected in uncontested elections in 1999 and 2005. In 2009, he surpassed Ong Teng Cheong to become Singapore's longest-serving President.

Early life[edit]

Sellapan Ramanathan, of Tamil Indian descent, was born in Singapore on 3 July 1924. His childhood was spent with his parents, V. Sellapan and Abirami, and two older brothers in Muar, Johor, in a house overlooking the sea. His father had been posted to the Malayan town as a lawyer's clerk for a firm that serviced rubber plantations, but the Great Depression and rubber slump of the 1930s sent the family's fortunes crashing. Nathan's father accrued debts and eventually committed suicide when Nathan was eight.[2]

Returning to Singapore, Nathan received his primary education in Anglo-Chinese Primary School and Rangoon Road Afternoon School, and his secondary education at Victoria School. He started working before completing his studies. During the Japanese occupation of Singapore, Nathan worked for the Japanese Civilian Police as a translator.[3][4] After the war, whilst working, he completed his secondary education through a correspondence course with Wolsey Hall, Oxford,[5] and entered the University of Malaya (then in Singapore) where he graduated in 1954 with a Diploma in Social Studies (Distinction).[2]

Civil service career[edit]

Nathan began his career in the Singapore Civil Service as a medical social worker in 1955. He was appointed Seamen's Welfare Officer the following year. In 1962, he was seconded to the Labour Research Unit of the Labour Movement, first as Assistant Director and later as Director of the Labour Research Unit until January 1966.[2] He continued as a Member of its Board of Trustees until April 1988.[6]

S. R. Nathan with then United States Secretary of Defense, William Cohen

In February 1966, he was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as Assistant Secretary and rose to be Deputy Secretary before being appointed Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs in January 1971. On 6 August of the same year, Nathan moved to the Ministry of Defence where he was Director of the Security and Intelligence Division (SID).[7] In the Laju incident on 31 January 1974, members of the terrorist Japanese Red Army bombed petroleum tanks on Pulau Bukom off the coast of Singapore; Nathan was among a group of government officers who volunteered to be held hostage by the JRA to secure the release of civilian hostages.[8][9] In August 1974, he was awarded the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal).[10]

In February 1979, Nathan returned to the Foreign Ministry and became its First Permanent Secretary until February 1982, when he left to become the Executive Chairman of the newspaper company the Straits Times Press. At various times between 1982 and 1988, Nathan also held directorships of several other companies, including the Singapore Mint, The Straits Times Press (London), Singapore Press Holdings and Marshall Cavendish. He held a directorship in the Singapore International Media between September 1996 and August 1999. He was Chairman of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Singapore, a ship-repairing and engineering joint venture with the Mitsubishi Group of Japan, from 1973 to 1986. From 1983 to April 1988, Nathan was Chairman of the Hindu Endowments Board. He was a founding member of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), and its term trustee until August 1999.[6]

In April 1988 Nathan was appointed Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia, and in July 1990 he became Ambassador to the United States, serving until June 1996.[6] On his return, Nathan was made an Ambassador-at-Large and was concurrently Director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the Nanyang Technological University. He resigned as Ambassador and Director of the Institute on 17 August 1999 to become a candidate in the Singapore presidential election, 1999.[6]

President of Singapore[edit]

During the 1999 presidential election, as two other prospective candidates were found to be constitutionally ineligible, Nathan was elected unopposed as President on 18 August 1999.[2] His candidacy was supported by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and former President Wee Kim Wee.[2] Nathan succeeded the fifth President of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong, and was sworn in on 1 September 1999.[11][12]

Nathan launched the annual President's Challenge charity fundraising initiative in 2000. Continued in 2012 by his successor, President Tony Tan Keng Yam, as of 2016 about S$160 million had been raised by the movement.[13]

For the 2005 Singaporean presidential election, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) declared Nathan as the only eligible candidate on 13 August 2005, rejecting three other applications based on constitutional criteria.[14] Thus, Nathan was elected unopposed for a second term on 17 August 2005.[2] He was sworn in for a second term of office on 1 September 2005,[6] and as of 2016, is the only person who has served two terms as President.[1]

Retirement and death[edit]

On 1 July 2011, Nathan announced that he would not be seeking a third term in office as President. He cited his age as one of the reasons, as he did not believe he could undertake indefinitely the heavy responsibilities and physical demands of the position of head of state at 87. He left office on 1 September 2011 and was succeeded by Tony Tan.[15] A few weeks later, his book, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency,[5] was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.[16]

Nathan suffered a stroke on the morning of 31 July 2016 and was taken to Singapore General Hospital's Intensive Care Unit.[17] He died in hospital on 22 August 2016 at 9:48 pm SST, aged 92.[1] He was survived by his wife Urmila Nandi, their daughter Juthika and son Osith, three grandchildren, and his sister Sundari.[1][18]

Awards and honours[edit]

In addition to the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) he was awarded in 1975 for his actions during the Laju incident, Nathan was conferred the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 1964 and the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Perak) (Public Administration Medal, Silver) in 1967.[2]

In 2012, the Government of India conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Award) to Nathan in recognition of his contribution in building closer links between Singapore and India.[19] On 8 August 2013, Nathan was conferred the Darjah Utama Temasek (Order of Temasek) (First Class).[20]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Singapore's 6th president SR Nathan dies, age 92", Today, 22 August 2016, archived from the original on 22 August 2016 .
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Alvin Chua (2011), S. R. Nathan, Singapore Infopedia, National Library Board, archived from the original on 31 October 2013 .
  3. ^ Zuraidah Ibrahim; Lydia Lim (22 August 1999), "He ran away from home when he was 16", The Straits Times (reproduced on the Ministry of Education website), archived from the original on 17 July 2007 
  4. ^ Goh Chin Lian (5 December 2008), Youth see different side of President, AsiaOne, archived from the original on 14 October 2012 .
  5. ^ a b S. R. Nathan; Timothy Auger (2011), An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 141, ISBN 978-981-426073-2 .
  6. ^ a b c d e Mr S R Nathan, The Istana, 25 January 2013, archived from the original on 10 April 2016 .
  7. ^ "Civil service reshuffle", The Straits Times, p. 10, 6 August 1971 .
  8. ^ "N-Day honours for Laju heroes", The Straits Times, p. 1, 9 August 1974 .
  9. ^ "Nathan to join Straits Times board ... and will be nominated to be executive chairman", The Straits Times, pp. 1 and 11, 8 February 1982 .
  10. ^ Yap Boh Tiong (10 February 1974), "Hijackers say: We are sorry", The Straits Times, p. 1 ; "Two get awards at ceremony", The Straits Times, p. 1, 11 January 1975 .
  11. ^ "In Pictures: The life of former president S R Nathan". The Straits Times. Retrieved 23 August 2016. 
  12. ^ "S R Nathan is elected President of Singapore". National Library Board. Retrieved 23 August 2016. 
  13. ^ Introduction, President's Challenge, 2010 .
  14. ^ Press Statement by the Presidential Elections Committee on Applications for Certificates of Eligibility (PDF), Presidential Elections Committee, Elections Department, 13 August 2005, archived from the original (PDF) on 22 August 2016 .
  15. ^ President Nathan not seeking third term in office, Channel NewsAsia, 1 July 2011 .
  16. ^ "Former president S.R. Nathan launches memoirs". AsiaOne. Retrieved 23 August 2016. 
  17. ^ Lee Min Kok; Chong Zi Liang; Yuen Sin (1 August 2016), "Former president S R Nathan in critical condition at SGH after suffering a stroke", The Straits Times .
  18. ^ "Sellapan Ramanathan (S. R. Nathan) [obituary]", The Straits Times, p. A9, 23 August 2016 ; Felicia Choo, "Former president S R Nathan's family at SGH; Mrs Nathan holding up well, says daughter Juthika", The Straits Times, retrieved 23 August 2016 
  19. ^ "Top honour for ex-Singapore president S.R. Nathan", Business Standard, 9 August 2013, archived from the original on 30 June 2016 .
  20. ^ Sharon See; S. Ramesh (9 August 2013), S'pore former president S R Nathan conferred Order of Temasek, First Class, Channel NewsAsia .

Further reading[edit]

  • Lee, Siew Hua (19 October 2007), "President's tip on ageing: Don't think about it", The Straits Times, p. 29 .
  • Yap, Sonny; Lim, Richard; Leong, Weng Kam (2009), Men in White – The Untold Story of Singapore's Ruling Political Party, Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 145, ISBN 978-981-4266-24-6 .

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ong Teng Cheong
President of Singapore
Succeeded by
Tony Tan Keng Yam
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ong Teng Cheong
Nonpartisan nominee for President of Singapore
1999 (no ballot)
2005 (no ballot)
Succeeded by
Tony Tan Keng Yam