Ministers pay tribute to Mr S R Nathan at private family ceremony
From the crowd at the private wake of Mr S R Nathan at his family home yesterday, it was evident just how big an impact he had made.
Mr Nathan, who was President from 1999 to 2011, died on Monday - three weeks after he was admitted to Singapore General Hospital following a stroke. He was 92.
By 8.30am yesterday, many had gathered outside the Nathans' house in Ceylon Road.
The media took up spots across the road, next to the Eurasian Association.
A group was solemnly preparing for the hearse carrying Mr Nathan's body to arrive from the hospital.
The eight pallbearers, comprising his former security officers, went over the steps several times to make sure that everything would go smoothly.
Mr Nathan's family and close friends gathered inside. The family had asked for privacy and declined comment to the media.
PAYING RESPECTS: (Above) Mr Murali Pillai was among the visitors at the private wake yesterday. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told reporters that Mr Nathan's widow, Madam Urmila Nandi, was holding up well.
He said: "In the presence of so many visitors, she's very calm, very composed and holding up well. But when you touch on certain subjects, like when my wife was talking to her, I could see her tearing.
"You won't know, until she's alone with just a few members of the family, how she's holding up. But in the presence of others, she's holding up very well.
"They had been together for many years. You must expect her to feel the loss at some time. Not immediately now, but at some time."
At 10.45am, the hearse arrived. With precision, the pallbearers marched slowly and solemnly, Mr Nathan's casket on their shoulders, into his family home.
Shortly after, Cabinet ministers streamed in and out of the house, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching arriving around noon to pay their respects.
PAYING RESPECTS: (Above) Madam Noor Aishah, widow of former president Yusof Ishak. TNP PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
In his condolence letter to Madam Urmila, PM Lee said most Singaporeans will remember Mr Nathan as "our longest serving president who served Singaporeans with dignity and distinction".
"I have known Mr Nathan for almost 40 years. I remember him as a man who lived his life guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation. Without fail, he stepped up each time. He was a true son of Singapore," said PM Lee.
At 12.45pm, Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam arrived.
I have known Mr Nathan for almost 40 years. I remember him as a man who lived his life guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation. Without fail, he stepped up each time. He was a true son of Singapore.
- PM Lee Hsien Loong (above)
'A giant of his time'
Both DPMs spoke of the former president's dedication and efforts in nation-building.
DPM Tharman told reporters: "He was multiracial to the core, not just as a matter of principle or belief, but in the way he conducted his life, the friends he kept and the friends he looked after, the people he went out of his way to help. He was Singapore.
"He would always look for the person who was third or fourth in line, always making a U-turn to greet someone in a wheelchair, to reach out to a young child. He had a common touch. That was just him. He was like that and that was the way he will always be remembered."
DPM Teo called Mr Nathan "a giant of his time".
"He was dedicated to his service, duties and values which pervaded his whole life. ... During the Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) period (2013), he called me and said, 'Please remember thermometers for the special needs children.' His values inspire the whole nation," he said.
VISITORS: (Above) Ms Idranee Rajah hugging Mr Nathan's daughter Juthika Ramanathan.
Other anecdotes by former politicians and civil servants offered a glimpse into Mr Nathan's personal life.
Some, like former DPM S. Dhanabalan, 79, knew Mr Nathan to be a food lover.
He said: "He was rather simple in his taste for food. He loved food but was one of those who never liked very exotic food. Simple food that he liked, he ate in great quantities."
VISITORS: (Right, from left) Mr Lim Chee Onn, Mr S Dhanabalan and wife Christine.
Singapore's first Chief of Defence Winston Choo agreed.
He said the two things he would miss the most about Mr Nathan was his laugh and his "desire for food".
Former senior parliamentary secretary Yatiman Yusof, 79, recalled Mr Nathan's penchant for penning notes.
"Even for the smallest things... he would send a note in a nice card in his own handwriting to say, 'Thank you, Yatiman,'" he said, adding that Mr Nathan's most touching note was in a book the former president gave to him.
"He wrote, 'Thank you for being my friend.' That, indeed, is a deep expression of how he valued friendship with other people."
He was multiracial to the core, not just as a matter of principle or belief, but in the way he conducted his life, the friends he kept and the friends he looked after, the people he went out of his way to help. He was Singapore.
- Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (above)