S. R. Nathan
S. R. Nathan
DUT (First Class), PJG, BBM, PPA(P)
|6th President of Singapore|
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|
3 July 1924|
Singapore, Straits Settlements
|Died||22 August 2016
Singapore General Hospital, Singapore
|Alma mater||University of Malaya|
Sellapan Ramanathan, DUT (First Class), PJG, BBM, PPA(P) (pronunciation: / /; 3 July 1924 – 22 August 2016), usually referred to as S. R. Nathan, was the sixth President of Singapore from 1999 to 2011, having been elected in uncontested elections in 1999 and 2005. In 2009, he surpassed Benjamin Sheares to become Singapore's longest-serving President.
Nathan experienced a troubled youth – his father committed suicide, his three brothers died at an early age, he was twice expelled from school, and he ran away from home. After living by his wits as a translator for the Japanese during World War II, he completed his secondary education through a correspondence course, and then earned a diploma from the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1954. This was followed by a distinguished career in the Singapore Civil Service, which he joined in 1955. Between 1962 and 1966 he was seconded to the National Trades Union Congress, and then worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs. He was with the Security and Intelligence Division of the Defence Ministry when the Laju incident happened in 1974, and was among the government officers who agreed to accompany terrorists who had bombed petroleum tanks to Kuwait to secure the release of civilian hostages and ensure the terrorists' safe passage. He served as First Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry from 1979 to 1982.
Nathan left the Civil Service in 1982 to take up the executive chairmanship of the Straits Times Press; he also held directorships in other companies. Between 1988 and 1996 he served as Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador to the United States, before his 12-year term as President of the Republic from 1999 to 2011.
Following retirement, Nathan turned to writing and also became a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the School of Social Sciences of Singapore Management University (SMU), and at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He died in 2016 and was accorded the honour of a state funeral by the Government.
Among the awards and honours Nathan received were the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 1964, the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Perak) (Public Administration Medal, Silver) in 1967, the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) in 1975, and the Darjah Utama Temasek (Order of Temasek) (First Class) in 2013; and honorary degrees from the National University of Singapore and SMU.
Sellapan Ramanathan, of Tamil Indian descent, was born in Singapore on 3 July 1924. He spent his childhood with his parents, V. Sellapan and Abirami, and two older brothers in Muar, Johor, in a house overlooking the sea. Nathan would eventually be one of seven siblings; his three older brothers died in childhood. 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.
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. However, he was expelled from school twice and, after quarrelling with his mother, ran away from home at the age of 16. During the Japanese occupation of Singapore, Nathan learned Japanese and worked for the Japanese Kempeitai (Keimubu branch) as a translator. After the war, whilst working, he completed his secondary education through a correspondence course with Wolsey Hall, Oxford, and entered the University of Malaya (then in Singapore) where he graduated in 1954 with a Diploma in Social Studies (Distinction).
Civil service career
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 National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), first as Assistant Director and later as Director of the Labour Research Unit until January 1966. Nathan negotiated Singapore's membership of the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organisation. He later served as a member of the NTUC's Board of Trustees from 1983 to April 1988.
In February 1966, Nathan 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). In the Laju incident on 31 January 1974, members of the terrorist Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine 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 and flown to Kuwait to secure the release of civilian hostages and ensure the terrorists' safe passage. For his bravery, in August 1974 he was awarded the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal).
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. The appointment was viewed dimly by journalists who felt that the Government was trying to limit freedom of the press; they wore black armbands in protest. According to Nathan in a 2010 interview, "[W]hen they saw I was not doing what they expected me to do, they began to have confidence." 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.
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. 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.
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. His candidacy was supported by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and former President Wee Kim Wee. Nathan succeeded the fifth President of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong, and was sworn in on 1 September 1999.
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.
For the 2005 presidential election, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) declared Nathan as the only eligible candidate on 13 August, rejecting three other applications based on constitutional criteria. Thus, Nathan was elected unopposed for a second term on 17 August 2005. He was sworn in for a second term of office on 1 September 2005, and as of 2016, is the only person who has served two terms as President.
On 21 January 2009, Nathan approved in principle the Government's request to draw $4.9 billion from the nation's past financial reserves to fund the Government's Resilience Package consisting of two schemes aimed at preserving jobs and businesses during the financial downturn: the Jobs Credit scheme, which provided employers with financial assistance to pay employees' salaries; and the Special Risk-Sharing Initiative, which helped mid-sized companies to obtain credit. This was the first time the President's discretionary powers had been exercised for this purpose. The President's formal approval of the drawdown was subsequently signified in two notifications dated 13 March 2009.
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. A few weeks later, on 19 September, his book An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. At the same time, the S. R. Nathan Educational Upliftment Fund was inaugurated to provide bursaries, scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to needy Institute of Technical Education, polytechnic and university students.
As President, Nathan had been the patron of Singapore Management University from 2000 to 2011, and after completing his term of office he became a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the SMU School of Social Sciences. He held a similar position at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He was also the first patron of the Inter-Religious Organisation from 2012 till his death.
Death and funeral
Nathan suffered a stroke on the morning of 31 July 2016 and was taken to Singapore General Hospital's Intensive Care Unit. He died in hospital on 22 August 2016 at 9:48 pm SST, aged 92. He was survived by his wife Urmila Nandey (known as Umi), their daughter Juthika and son Osith, three grandchildren, and his sister Sundari.
As a mark of respect, the Government directed that the National Flag would fly at half-mast from all government buildings from 23 to 26 August. Nathan's body lay in state at Parliament House on 25 August to enable members of the public to pay their respects.
On 26 August, a state funeral was held to honour Nathan. His body was conveyed by a ceremonial 25-pounder gun carriage from Parliament House to the University Cultural Centre of the National University of Singapore (NUS). The state funeral procession passed by landmarks of significance to his life, including City Hall, where he had attended three National Day Parades; The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, formerly the Fullerton Building which had housed the Marine Department where he had worked; and NTUC Centre, recalling Nathan's time in the labour movement. Speakers who delivered eulogies at the state funeral included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Ambassadors-at-Large Tommy Koh and Gopinath Pillai. The music played at the ceremony included the song "Thanjavooru Mannu Eduthu" ("The Sands of Thanjavur") from the Tamil film Porkkaalam (Golden Age, 1997), about a dollmaker who moulds a doll of a beautiful lady with sand, clay and water from different lands, and eventually gives life to the doll. It was Nathan's favourite song as he saw it as a metaphor for Singapore's multiracial heritage.
Awards and honours
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. On 8 August 2013, Nathan was conferred the Darjah Utama Temasek (Order of Temasek) (First Class).
Nathan, who had been Chancellor of NUS from 1999 to 2011 during his Presidency, was conferred an Eminent Alumni award by the University in 2007, and an honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) on 5 July 2012. SMU also conferred on him an honorary D.Litt. on 14 July 2014. In 2015, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of NUS gave him its Distinguished Arts and Social Sciences Alumni Award for lifetime achievement.
Nathan was the Singapore Scout Association's Chief Scout when he was President. He received the Asia-Pacific Regional Distinguished Scout Award in 2005, and the Association's Distinguished Service Award (Gold) in 2010.
Nathan's achievements were also recognised abroad. During a state visit to Bahrain in November 2010 he was given the Al-Khalifa Order, and while on a state visit to Mauritius in June 2011 he was conferred an honorary Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) degree by the University of Mauritius for his contributions to education and culture. 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.
- Nathan, S. R. (2008), Singapore's Foreign Policy: Beginnings and Future, Singapore: MFA Diplomatic Academy, ISBN 978-981-0808-34-1.
- Nathan, S. R. (2010), Tan, Bernard T. G.; Wee, Seo Lay, eds., Why Am I Here?: Overcoming Hardships of Local Seafarers, Singapore: Centre for Maritime Studies, National University of Singapore, ISBN 978-981-0850-91-3.
- Nathan, S. R.; Auger, Timothy (2011), An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, ISBN 978-981-4260-73-2.
- Nathan, S. R. (2011), Winning against the Odds: The Labour Research Unit in NTUC's Founding, Singapore: Straits Times Press, ISBN 978-981-4266-87-1.
- Nathan, S. R. (2013), The Crane and the Crab, Singapore: Epigram Books, ISBN 978-981-0735-90-6.
- Nathan, S. R.; Auger, Timothy (2013), S. R. Nathan: 50 Stories from My Life, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, ISBN 978-981-4385-34-3.
- Nathan, S. R.; Auger, Timothy (2015), S. R. Nathan in Conversation with Timothy Auger, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, ISBN 978-981-4610-03-2.
- "Singapore's 6th president SR Nathan dies, age 92", Today, 22 August 2016, archived from the original on 22 August 2016.
- Alvin Chua (2011), S. R. Nathan, Singapore Infopedia, National Library Board, archived from the original on 31 October 2013.
- Rachel Chang (23 August 2016), "An exceptional life spurred on by call of duty", The Straits Times, pp. A4–A5, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- 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
- Goh Chin Lian (5 December 2008), Youth see different side of President, AsiaOne, archived from the original on 14 October 2012.
- S. R. Nathan; Timothy Auger (2011), An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 141, ISBN 978-981-426073-2.
- S R Nathan a 'worker's keeper and people's leader': NTUC, Channel NewsAsia, 23 August 2016, archived from the original on 24 August 2016.
- Mr S R Nathan, The Istana, 25 January 2013, archived from the original on 10 April 2016.
- "Civil service reshuffle", The Straits Times, p. 10, 6 August 1971.
- "The late former president S R Nathan's role in Laju incident: 7 things to know", The Straits Times, 24 August 2016, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- "N-Day honours for Laju heroes", The Straits Times, p. 1, 9 August 1974.
- "Nathan to join Straits Times board ... and will be nominated to be executive chairman", The Straits Times, pp. 1 and 11, 8 February 1982.
- 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.
- S R Nathan is elected President of Singapore: 18 August 1999, HistorySG, National Library Board, 2014, archived from the original on 2 May 2015; "In pictures: The life of former president S R Nathan", The Straits Times, archived from the original on 24 August 2016, retrieved 23 August 2016.
- Introduction, President's Challenge, 2010, archived from the original on 27 March 2016.
- 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.
- Zakir Hussain (23 January 2009), "A Budget first: Govt to draw $4.9b from past reserves", The Straits Times; "Concerns about economy go back to mid-2008: President makes public for first time his decision to allow use of reserves", The Straits Times, 18 February 2009; Chua Mui Hoong (20 February 2009), "Turning of the second key went smoothly", The Straits Times.
- Supply Act 2009: Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Gazette Notification No. 628/2009 dated 13 March 2009) and Supplementary Supply (FY 2008) Act 2009: Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Gazette Notification No. 629/2009 dated 13 March 2009): see Jeremy Au Yong (13 March 2009), "President gives formal approval for draw on past reserves", The Straits Times.
- President Nathan not seeking third term in office, Channel NewsAsia, 1 July 2011.
- Former president S. R. Nathan launches memoirs, AsiaOne, 19 September 2011, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- About the S R Nathan Educational Upliftment Fund, Community Foundation of Singapore, 2016, archived from the original on 25 August 2016; Pearl Lee (23 August 2016), "A champion of the less privileged and an advocate for inclusivity", The Straits Times, p. A8, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- Mr S.R. Nathan shares insights with Social Sciences students, Singapore Management University, 1 April 2013, retrieved 25 August 2016.
- Pearl Lee (24 August 2016), "He reached out to various faith and community groups: Nathan remembered for efforts to foster multiracialism and inter-religious harmony", The Straits Times, p. A5, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- 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.
- "Sellapan Ramanathan (S. R. Nathan) [obituary]", The Straits Times, p. A9, 23 August 2016; Felicia Choo (22 August 2016), "Former president S R Nathan's family at SGH; Mrs Nathan holding up well, says daughter Juthika", The Straits Times, archived from the original on 23 August 2016.
- "State flag to fly at half-mast; public can pay last respects on Thursday", The Straits Times, p. A3, 23 August 2016, archived from the original on 24 August 2016.
- State Funeral Procession for S R Nathan to pass significant landmarks, Channel NewsAsia, 25 August 2016, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- Zakir Hussain (27 August 2016), "'Few answered nation's call so often, and served so well': PM Lee pays tribute to ex-president's 'abiding sense of duty' at state funeral to honour his life of service", The Straits Times, p. A1, archived from the original on 27 August 2016.
- "Love for music and movies", The Straits Times, p. A8, 27 August 2016, archived from the original on 27 August 2016.
- Sharon See; S. Ramesh (9 August 2013), S'pore former president S R Nathan conferred Order of Temasek, First Class, Channel NewsAsia.
- "Nathan given Eminent Alumni award by NUS", Today, p. 4, 30 June 2007.
- Citation by Professor Brenda Yeoh, Dean, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Public Orator for Mr S R Nathan, Honorary Degree Recipient at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Commencement 2012, 5 July 2012, 11 am, NUS University Cultural Centre (PDF), National University of Singapore, 5 July 2012, archived from the original (PDF) on 25 August 2016; Former President S R Nathan receives honorary doctorate, National University of Singapore, 5 July 2012, archived from the original on 22 September 2015.
- Chitra Kumar (15 July 2014), Former President Nathan conferred honorary doctorate at SMU: SMU confers honorary doctorates to former President S R Nathan and Professor Katherine Schipper, describing them as "extraordinaire personalities" (PDF), Channel NewsAsia (reproduced on the SMU website), retrieved 25 August 2016; Honorary Degree Citation: Mr. S. R. Nathan (PDF), Singapore Management University, 14 July 2014, archived from the original (PDF) on 25 August 2016.
- Distinguished Arts and Social Sciences Alumni Award, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore, 2015, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- "Singapore Scout Association to set up fund in Nathan's name", Today, 25 August 2016, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs press statement: State Visit of President S R Nathan to the Kingdom of Bahrain 22–24 November 2010, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 22 November 2010, archived from the original on 25 August 2016.
- MFA press statement: State Visit of President S R Nathan to the Republic of Mauritius, 4–7 June 2011, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 3 June 2011, archived from the original on 4 November 2015.
- "Top honour for ex-Singapore president S.R. Nathan", Business Standard, 9 August 2013, archived from the original on 30 June 2016.
- 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.
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- Official website of The Istana and the President of the Republic of Singapore
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Ong Teng Cheong
|President of Singapore
Tony Tan Keng Yam
|Party political offices|
Ong Teng Cheong
|Nonpartisan nominee for President of Singapore
1999 (no ballot)
2005 (no ballot)
Tony Tan Keng Yam