I have nothing but admiration Mr Sellapan Ramanathan and his impeccable service to our nation. His extremely long list of accomplishments include holding office as Director of the Security Intelligence Department, Executive Chairman of The Straits Times Press, and Singapore’s sixth and longest-serving President. Monumental appointments aside, it was this great leader’s actions that won the hearts of Singaporean citizens, and I think men everywhere can stand to learn a few things from him. Here’s a list of lessons we can take away from the life of this giant of a man:
1) Always help the less fortunate
In 2000, while holding office as the President of Singapore, Mr Nathan began the President’s Challenge, an annual campaign that raises funds for charity through a number of events and activities. According to Channel NewsAsia, the campaign has “raised about S$160 million for more than 800 charities” since its inception. The money raised has gone to the aid of youth at risk, children with special needs, the elderly, and those with disabilities. With this campaign, Mr Nathan showed us that a president can be someone who we feel connected with. He also taught us that we should never consider ourselves too busy to spare a thought for the less fortunate. Inadvertently he has set a very high bar for his successors, where community involvement is concerned.
2) Put country before self
Among other things, S R Nathan was greatly admired for his willingness to put Singapore before himself. As some may recall, relations between Singapore and the US became a little strained in 1994 when an American youth named Michael Fay was caned for vandalism. Singapore then came under immense pressure from the U.S. government, including then- President Bill Clinton to grant the youngster clemency. Mr Nathan, serving as Ambassador to the United States at that point in time, went on the popular talk show “Larry King Live” and firmly yet diplomatically defended our rule of law. Our Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam couldn’t have put it better when he said,”(Mr Nathan’s) charm and toughness showed the world that we were no pushovers”. His willingness to appear on a live television show and defend our country’s point of view is proof of his dedication to our nation.
3) Lead by example
The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew once called Mr Nathan an ‘indispensable man for all seasons’. He also said, “Every time there was a tricky task which required a steady hand, someone dependable and who could get things done, his name would pop up. Many people believe that, as a government, we select people by their academic credentials. Yes we do, but only in part. We place much greater weight on character.” It was this character that made Mr Nathan a phenomenal leader, and he displayed it during the Laju Incident in 1974 where 4 terrorists had hijacked a ferry and taken its crew hostage. Then holding office as Director of the Security Intelligence Department, Mr Nathan risked his life as he led a group of 12 other guarantors as they accompanied the hijackers to Kuwait in exchange for the release of the hostages. Years later, in an interview with The New Paper, Mr Nathan revealed that he wasn’t sure if he would return alive. Thankfully, he and his team returned unscathed. If nothing else, this episode showed us that the late Mr Nathan did not only talk the talk. When push came to shove, he was willing to lead by example – even if it meant risking his life.
Thank you for your years of service, Sir. May you rest in peace.