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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

DUT (First Class)
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
Personal details
Born (1924-07-03) 3 July 1924 (age 92)
Political party Independent
Spouse(s) Urmila Umi Nandey
Children 2
Alma mater University of Malaya
Religion Hinduism

Sellapan Ramanathan,[1] DUT (First Class) (born Cellappaṉ Rāmanātaṉ, 3 July 1924) is a Singaporean politician who was the sixth President of the Republic of Singapore. Usually referred to as S. R. Nathan, he was first sworn in on 1 September 1999. In 1999 and 2005, he was elected President in uncontested elections. In 2009, he surpassed Benjamin Sheares to become Singapore's longest-serving President. His 12-year term ended on 31 August 2011. Since then, he has been the nation's only living former President.

Early life[edit]

Ramanathan is a Singaporean of Tamil descent; his childhood was spent with his two older brothers and parents, V. Sellapan and Abirami, 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]

The young Nathan returned to his birthplace, Singapore, to live. He 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 self-study via 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).[citation needed]

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. He continued as a Member of its Board of Trustees until April 1988.[citation needed]

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

In February 1966, he was transferred to the Foreign Ministry. 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).[6] 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.[7][8] In 1975, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.[9][10]

In February 1979, he returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and became its First Permanent Secretary until February 1982, when he left to become the Executive Chairman of the Straits Times Press (1975) Ltd, the Singapore newspaper company. At various times from 1982 to 1988, Nathan also held the directorship of several other companies, including the Singapore Mint Pte Ltd, The Straits Times Press (London) Ltd, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd and Marshall Cavendish Ltd. He held a directorship in the Singapore International Media Pte Ltd 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.[citation needed]

From 1983 to April 1988, Nathan was Chairman of the Hindu Endowments Board. He was a founding member of SINDA, the Singapore Indian Development Association, 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 of America, where he served until June 1996.

On his return, Nathan was made Ambassador-at-Large and was concurrently Director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the Nanyang Technological University. He resigned as Ambassador-at-Large and Director of the Institute on 17 August 1999, and was elected unopposed as President of the Republic of Singapore on 18 August 1999.

Nathan was conferred the Public Service Star in 1964, the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1967, and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1974.


During the presidential elections in 1999, a Straits Times survey showed that nearly 80 per cent of Singaporeans hoped for a contest, but Nathan was elected unopposed as President on 18 August 1999. His nomination was strongly supported by Lee Kuan Yew. He succeeded the fifth President of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong, and was sworn in on 1 September 1999.

On 12 July 2005, Nathan announced that he was seeking re-election as President. He submitted an eligibility application to the Presidential Elections Committee; by 6 August 2005, three more people had also submitted forms. On 13 August 2005, after considering the candidates' applications, the Committee issued a Certificate of Eligibility to Nathan but declined to do so for the other candidates. Nathan returned unopposed on nomination day, 17 August 2005. He was sworn in for a second term of office on 1 September 2005 as he is Singapore's first ever two-term President in office.[11]


On 1 July 2011, he announced that he would not be seeking a third term in office as President. He cited 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 and he left office on 1 September 2011, succeeded by President-elect, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam.[12] A few weeks later, his book, "An Unexpected Journey—Path to the Presidency", was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

In 2012, the Indian government conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman to Nathan in recognition of his contribution in building closer links between Singapore and India.[13]

On 8 August 2013, Nathan was conferred the Order of Temasek, First Class[14]

President's Challenge[edit]

After Nathan's appointment as President of Singapore, he took interest in building a caring society for the nation.[citation needed] He started the President's Challenge initiatives in 2000. The initiative has been a success so far, raising over $80 million for more than 400 of its beneficiaries.

Personal life[edit]

Nathan, a Tamil, is married to Urmila (Umi) Nandi, a Bengali of Indian descent. They have a daughter, a son, and three grandchildren.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Yap, Sonny; Lim, Richard; Leong, Weng Kam (2009). Men in White – The Untold Story of Singapore's Ruling Political Party, p.145. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd., Singapore, ISBN 978-981-4266-24-6
  2. ^ "S. R. Nathan". Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Youth see different side of President". Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  4. ^ Zuraidah Ibrahim and Lydia Lim (22 August 1999). "He ran away from home when he was 16" (reprint at Ministry of Education, Singapore). The Straits Times. 
  5. ^ An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency, S.R. Nathan, Page 141,+war+office&source=bl&ots=S-9GQ-bnSM&sig=Rht7zvIScZTd401R82j9McaS_BI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiRv5T-x4bKAhWEXhQKHcWzC_E4ChDoAQgxMAc#v=onepage&q=wolsey%20hall%2C%20war%20office&f=false
  6. ^ "Civil service reshuffle". Newspapers. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  7. ^ "Nathan played vital role in Laju affair". Newspapers. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  8. ^ "N-Dayhonours for Laju heroes". Newspapers. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  9. ^ "Two Get Awards at Ceremony". Newspapers. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  10. ^ "Hijackers say: We are sorry". Newspapers. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  11. ^ Press Statement by the Presidential Elections Committee on Applications for Certificates of Eligibility (PDF), Singapore Presidential Elections Committee, 13 August 2005 
  12. ^ "President Nathan not seeking third term in office". ChannelNewsAsia. 1 July 2011. 
  13. ^ "Top honour for ex-Singapore president S.R. Nathan". Business Standard. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  14. ^ "S'pore former president S R Nathan conferred Order of Temasek, First Class". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 'President's tip on Ageing: Don't Think About It.' Straits Times. 19 October 2007.

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