11 Facts About The Late SR Nathan You Probably Didn’t Know


News announced on the night of 22 August and morning of 23 August about the passing of Singapore’s former President, Mr. SR Nathan. Announcements have been made months before regarding his failing health and a stroke that added on to his ailments. Growing up in the 90s, we lived a comfortable life with President Nathan taking care of all aspects of Singapore. But besides knowing that he’s the only President who served two-term periods before retiring, did we really get to know who Mr. Nathan was? Here are 10 facts we probably didn’t know about the admirable President of Singapore.

He became the President when he was 75 years old

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Image: news.asiaone.com

Just when he was about to retire after 40 years of work in the civil industry, working alongside security and diplomacy, he was asked to run for President in the elections. Many ministers and the public believed that he was the perfect fit to be the head of state. He took on a second term at 81 years old, becoming the longest running President in Singapore.

He worked as a translator in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation

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Image: theindependent.sg

His education got interrupted during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore and he was given a dictionary and ordered to learn the Japanese language, which led to him working as a translator during that period. Mr. Nathan stands, wearing a Japanese soldier cap, 3rd from left in the picture above.

He held an honorary doctorate

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Image: smu.edu.sg

Believing that learning never stops, he received his honorary doctorate, Doctor of Letters at the age of 90 years old in a private ceremony.

He was an author

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Image: likesuccess.com

He wrote, published and collaborated a few books in his life, documenting the insights, memoirs and life as a President. In 2011, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency, in 2013, S.R. Nathan: 50 Stories from My Life and in 2015, S.R. Nathan in Conversation with Timothy Auger.

He was the one that started the annual President’s Challenge

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Image: straitstimes.com

He was not one who only appears during the National Day parades or wave his hand and smile at the crowd. Mr. S. R. Nathan was genuinely caring and places the nation’s interest before his. He started the President’s Challenge charity fundraising event in 2000 and the program has since raised over $120 million which has helped the ones in need greatly.

He grew up with a difficult childhood

Image: straitstimes.com

He didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth or with his future laid out for him. Growing up in a humble background and simple environment, his life was situated around his parents and two older brothers where they lived in a house overlooking the sea in Malaysia. However, the Great Depression happened and it led the family to incur debts and unfortunately, caused his father to commit suicide at his workplace when Mr. Nathan was 8 years old.

He ran away from home at 16 years old


Image: straitstimes.com


In his memoir, he wrote about his childhood and when talked about, his voice wavered and his eyes watered at his childhood memories. When his father passed when he was 8 years old, he was at the age where he couldn’t understand what was going on and frequently asked when his father would be coming back. When he grew much older, the situation is his family life was unstable and after a quarrel with his mother about school, he ran away from home and found work as an office boy after fending for himself for 3 days. Afraid that his estranged family would find him, he decided to leave for Singapore.

He was an executive chairman of our local The Straits Times newspaper

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Image: straitstimes.com

Before he became Singapore’s President, he worked many jobs over the years including the role of executive chairman in The Straits Times. He mentioned in his memoir that at that time, the Government was unhappy with The Straits Times as there was a sense that the paper was deliberately portraying the Government in a negative light. He worked there for a total of 6 years which garnered him the respect from many journalists.

He has a daughter, son and three grandchildren

Image: straitstimes.com
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Image: todayonline.com

Most of us probably didn’t know much about S.R Nathan’s family as he preferred to keep his family life low-profile and private. He is blessed with his wife, daughter Juthika, son-in-law, Gay Eng, son Osith and 3 grandchildren, Monisha, Kiron and Kheshin that he loved dearly.

He spent 16 years courting Urmila (his wife) before marrying her

Image: straitstimes.com

During the war, he fell in love with a Bengali girl, Urmila, that would become his wife in the later years. The relationship started out with Urmila’s parents opposing but after 16 years of courtship including 2 years of maintaining a long distance relationship, they relented and he married Urmila in 1958 and they have been inseparable ever since.

He decided to get his degree to prepare a better life for his future wife, Urmila


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Image: straitstimes.com


Apart from getting a degree for future career prospects, another reason why he decided to get a degree is due to his motivation of wanting a better life for his wife. She has been his biggest supporter and mentioned that he started out with nothing and would have responded with utter disbelief if anyone had ever suggested that he would one day, become President. On the day that he was appointed to be President, she said that it was the proudest day of her life.

The public can pay their last respects at Parliament House from 10am to 8pm on Thursday, Aug 25. A State Funeral Service will take place 4pm on Friday, Aug 26, at the University Cultural Centre (NUS) and will be open to Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Condolence boards will be available at Istana for those who want to pen tributes to the late Mr. Nathan from Aug 23 at 6am. Condolence books will also be opened at all Overseas Missions for overseas Singaporeans and friends.

This article was first published on goodyfeed.com.


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Dawn is a marketing student and in-house writer in sunny Singapore. When she's not busy listening to her lecturers with a pen in hand, she can be found discovering new hacks, anything DIY or ways to make her life simpler.