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PM Lee pays tribute to S R Nathan on his 90th birthday

Former President S R Nathan's "most important role" was that of "tree planter", says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

SINGAPORE: Former President S R Nathan took on many roles throughout his distinguished career, including those of a unionist and an ambassador for the country, noted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. But perhaps his most important role was that of a "tree planter", he said, alluding to Mr Nathan's ability to nurture young organisations and mentor promising officers.

"He built up young, sometimes nascent organisations into mature institutions, for example NTUC, the SID, in the MFA, in the elected presidency. And he mentored promising young officers and helped them fulfil their potential, and I count myself a beneficiary. He helped Singapore to build and to grow into a modern, and prosperous, and stable nation."

Mr Lee was speaking at Mr Nathan's 90th birthday party celebrations on Thursday (July 3) evening at the Shangri-La hotel.

He said that the former President has lived a long and full life, and has played a significant part in Singapore's nation building.

He then pointed to several highlights of Mr Nathan's career, including his stint as Singapore's ambassador to the USA, where he defended Singapore's interests firmly and courteously during the Michael Fay incident.

In 1994, American teenager Fay pleaded guilty to various charges of vandalism, mischief and retention of stolen property. He was sentenced to four months' jail, fined S$3,500 and caned. The caning sentence saw appeals by then-US President Bill Clinton, and other US senators and congressmen.

As President, Mr Nathan also made tough decisions - particularly during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, where he gave the Government permission to draw on the reserves for the S$20 billion Resilience Package.

Said the Prime Minister: "He understood the gravity of the situation, studied the issues carefully, took advice from the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA), arranged for the CPA to be briefed by the ministries, and to quiz the ministers. And having satisifed himself, he approved the request decisively. As a result, we averted what might have been our worst economic downturn ever. We did so well that many Singaporeans didn't even realise that they had gone through a grave crisis, and emerged - not only survived - but emerged unscathed."

Mr Lee also commended Mrs Nathan for the role she had played as a support and comfort to Mr Nathan over the years. "She made many sacrifices whenever Mr Nathan stepped forward to serve Singapore," he said, adding that Singapore owes her a debt of gratitude too.

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