From school children and retirees, to office workers who skipped their lunch breaks or took the day off especially to pay their last respects, thousands turned up yesterday to bid farewell to a man whom many Singaporeans had come to know as a down-to-earth man despite his position.

For over 12 hours, queues of Singaporeans young and old and from all walks of life meandered from the Padang to Parliament House, where Mr S R Nathan's body was placed for the lying-in-state. Companies, the labour movement, the Civil Service, schools and various organisations also sent delegations.

Mr Nathan, who was head of state from 1999 to 2011, died on Monday night, about three weeks after he was warded in hospital following a stroke. He was 92.

After a two-day private wake at his Ceylon Road home, a private hearse carrying Mr Nathan's body departed for Parliament House, for the lying-in-state until noon today.

At 2pm, a State Funeral Procession will start from Parliament House, and pass by landmarks of significance to the late leader, such as City Hall, Fullerton Hotel and NTUC Centre. It will end at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre, where a funeral service will be held from 3pm to 5pm.

Seven eulogies will be delivered by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large Gopinath Pillai, diplomat and retired politician Zainul Abidin Rasheed, businesswoman and former Community Chest chair Jennie Chua, and Fairfax Asia chief executive officer Ramaswamy Athappan.

'WE'VE LOST A GREAT MAN'

Earlier yesterday at Ceylon Road, eight pall-bearers placed the casket bearing Mr Nathan's body into the waiting hearse at around 8.45am.

Friends and family, including Mr Nathan's 87-year-old wife, Madam Urmila Nandey, who looked visibly distraught in a wheelchair, trailed closely behind on foot for a short distance in a solemn send-off.

At Parliament House, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob received the hearse, while a coffin-bearer party - comprising nine officers from the army, navy, air force and police force - draped the Singapore flag over Mr Nathan's casket. Medals representing the former president's achievements, including The Order of Temasek (First Class; 2013), were also displayed atop the casket.

One uniformed vigil guard stood at each corner of the casket, each with his head bowed, back turned away and ceremonial sword inverted.

President Tony Tan and his wife Mary were the first to pay their respects at about 9.50am. Mr Tan said: "We have lost a great man His heart and commitment to Singapore is an inspiration."

They were followed by scores of corporate, community, and public service contingents, and members of the public. Among them were labour chief Chan Chun Sing, who led a group of 750 people from the labour movement to bid farewell to the man who had played a key role in helping workers and unions in the 1960s when he was seconded to the Labour Research Unit.

"He has given the labour movement a strong foundation, reminded us to take care of each other as brothers and sisters, and also to take care of our country," said Mr Chan.

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung led students and teachers from 120 schools to pay tribute to the life-long learner who was well-accomplished in the "university of life".

Apart from Members of Parliament, others who came included Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, head of civil service Peter Ong, Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan, and Mufti Dr Fatris Bakaram.

Foreign leaders, such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Johor prince Tunku Idris Iskandar Ismail Abdul Rahman, also visited Parliament House yesterday afternoon to offer to their last respects to Mr Nathan.

Mr Abe had written a letter of condolence, in which he called Mr Nathan a "friend of Japan" who had played a significant role in furthering the friendship between the two countries.

By noon yesterday, about 3,000 people had showed up to pay their respects, with the waiting time approaching two hours at one point.

By 6pm, the number of visitors had increased almost five-fold, to 14,000, with officers from the Singapore Armed Forces setting up a second tentage. While the crowds had thinned by night, the final count when the lines were closed at 10pm was over 20,000.

Outside Parliament House, those in the waiting queues were organised and a diverse lot, from men in suits, to uniformed officers from the Singapore Armed Forces, to people who were more casually dressed in T-shirts and Bermuda shorts.

Several held bouquets and many were taking selfies with their mobile phones. Volunteers shuffled up and down the queues, reminding people to stay hydrated under the heat.

Inside Parliament House, the mood was sombre as people were led in groups of about 20 before the casket to pay their respects. Many bowed with their hands clasped while some knelt on the floor. At one point, a middle-aged lady broke the silence with uncontrollable weeping.

Many continued to be misty-eyed as they proceeded out of the building, recalling how the much-loved ex-president with the common touch had touched their hearts.

Member of Parliament for MacPherson, Ms Tin Pei Ling recalled how Mr Nathan had encouraged her during an "especially difficult period" in the 2011 General Election, when she was running for Parliament for the first time.

"Every other time that I met him, he will always ask about how I am and show genuine concern ... No one is too small for him," she said.

Source: Government of Singapore