5 things you didn't know about the late S.R. Nathan

5 things you didn't know about the late S.R. Nathan

Rest in peace

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Facebook | Remembering S.R. Nathan

An incurable romantic and school drop-out turned out to be Singapore’s sixth and longest running President. Here’s what you might not have known about the late S.R. Nathan

1. He didn't have the easiest childhood
After his father lost his job as a lawyer's clerk, Nathan senior committed suicide by drinking household disinfectant. S.R. Nathan was only eight at the time. A slew of events troubled the young man's life: He was expelled from Anglo-Chinese Middle School at standard 5 and Victoria School before completing standard 8. He then ran away from home when he was 16, and was uneducated, jobless and sleeping on the streets for a number of years.

S.R. Nathan family

2. Learning Japanese turned his life around
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya and Singapore, Nathan met a Japanese officer while in Muar who asked him for directions to the market. He soon became the officers' errand boy, and picked up Japanese from an English-Japanese dictionary given to him by an officer. He was soon getting noticed by other Japanese officers, and got a job with the Japanese civilian police as a translator.

3. He used to court his future wife in secret
Nathan first met his future wife, the former first lady Urmila Umi Nandey as she was by the window of his neighbour's house. She was his neighbour's younger sister. Their relationship began in their teens, although it was kept discreet. Nathan used to run errands for the Japanese officers on a bicycle, and he began to take a certain route. "I found myself passing in front of her house more and more — perhaps more often than strictly necessary," he said in an excerpt from the book, An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency. "I only had one shirt at that time — it was sort of mauve in colour, and I have it on reliable record that it made quite an impact." They used to exchange notes with each other when he'd sneakily come by. They finally married in 1958.

SR Nathan

4. He's appeared on Larry King Live
Nathan went international when he appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the controversial caning of American Michael Fay, who was convicted of vandalism in Singapore in 1994. As Singapore's ambassador to the United States at that time, he went on the live television appearance with Larry King to firmly defend Singapore's stand in the case and stressed on the importance of not giving special treatment to any particular foreign national — in spite of an appeal by then-President Bill Clinton.

5. He's tried to retire twice
Nathan has tried to retire twice in his life. He first formally retired in 1979 under the terms of his civil service engagement that required him to retire at the age of 55. But he continued to work — with Straits Times Press, as High Commissioner to Malaysia, as Ambassador to the US and as Director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. After these stints, he retired again only to be elected President in 1999. He finally retired when his term ended in 2011.

S.R. nathan

For more information, visit the official Remembering S.R. Nathan Facebook page.