Mr S R Nathan: Life Before Presidency

Mr S. R. Nathan, the sixth president of Singapore, had an illustrious career distinguished by multiple awards, was of a humble background fraught with hardship.

The Man Before His Rise

When Nathan was eight, his father lost his clerical job and subsequently committed suicide. Nathan’s comfortable and stable life was shattered by the tragedy. His family only survived due to the charitable graces of his relatives.

At 16, Nathan was accused of stealing his classmate’s books and was expelled by the principal. As he did not want to hurt his family, he left home and decided that he would only return when he became successful in life.

He worked as a clerk in Muar and  only reconciled with his family four years later. After the war, he received a bursary from Shell and graduated with a distinction in diploma in social studies and became a Seamen’s Welfare Officer with the Marine Department.

Key Appointments

Jan 1964 – Jan 1966: Director, Labour Research Unit

Aug 1971 – Feb 1979: Director, Security and Intelligence Division, Ministry of Defence

Aug 1979 – Feb 1982: First permanent secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Apr 1988 – Jul 1990: High commissioner to Malaysia

Aug 1991 – Aug 1999: Founder member and term trustee of Singapore Indian Development Assosication

Jul 1990 – Jun 1996: Ambassador to the United States

Jul 1996 – Aug 1999: Ambassador-at-large

1 Sept 1999 – 31 Aug 2011: President of Singapore; concurrent chancellor of the National University of Singapore


1964: Public Service Star
1967: Public Administration Medal (Silver) 
1974: Meritorious Service Award
2000: Temasek Sword, (Singapore Police Force)
2005: Asia-Pacific Regional Distinguished Scout Award
2007: Eminent Alumni, National University of Singapore
2010: Al Khalifa Order, Bahrain
2010: Distinguished Service Award (Gold), Singapore Scout Association
2011: NTUC 50 Special Recognition Award
2011: Honorary Doctor of Civil Law, University of Mauritius
2013: Order of Temasek (First Class)
2015: Lifetime Achievement Award, National University of Singapore

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.

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