To tweak an old adage, the greatness of a man is measured by the way he treats a boy with disability.

Substituting “a boy with disability” for…

…”the little people” in the original, I can use this as a yardstick to assess the true quality of a distinguished personage.

That man in the saying is President S R Nathan and that boy is me. My verdict: He is without doubt a great man.

I am delighted that he was returned unopposed for another six-year term. He deserves the highest office in the land because he has all the qualities required for the position and more.

Were there a contest, his opponents would have been facing a giant of a man.

My first meeting with President Nathan was in September 2002 during the National Treasure Hunt that ended at the National Stadium.

The prospect of seeing him had my heart racing. I felt like I was waiting for my turn to take an oral English test.

I asked my mother to wheel me to him, but she was stopped by a security officer. Luckily for me, someone ordered: “It’s okay, let him through.”

My excitement turned to apprehension. The question running through my mind and making me anxious was: Would he ignore me, or, worse, turn me away?

My thoughts stemmed from my previous unpleasant experiences – I had been snubbed before by people holding lesser positions, so I was hoping that I would not be embarrassed again.

My anxiety was misplaced. President Nathan revealed his warm personality with his disarming smiles. We shook hands and exchanged some pleasantries that made me feel very relaxed.

He obliged me by allowing our photographs to be taken and even directed the “photography session”. I was impressed by his charm and kindness.

Our paths crossed again in November 2003 at Denyse Tessensohn’s book launch at Singapore Recreation Club.

On that occasion, I had also the good fortune of meeting the gracious and warm-hearted Mrs Nathan. President Nathan was the guest of honour while I was there to perform my duties as the Young Ambassador for the NKF Children’s Medical Fund.

The attention both President Nathan and the First Lady gave me made me feel on top of the world. But that was not all.

Despite his hectic schedule, President Nathan took time, after that second meeting, to send me words of encouragement – in his own handwriting. He has sent me the occasional note since.

I owe the President a debt of gratitude for helping me to maintain a positive outlook on life.

Whenever I feel down, I find solace in reading his messages. One of them urges me to keep up my spirits and have faith in God.

More recently, he sent me this message: “Dear Jeremy, I read in today’s issue of Today that you will be celebrating your birthday this week. I hasten to send you my warm good wishes and those of Mrs Nathan for many more good years, despite the handicap you gallantly face each day.”

That’s my President – humble, compassionate and thoughtful, not to mention competent, experienced and honest.

I have seen lesser men who are arrogant and think very highly of themselves. They have total disregard for the “little” people, let alone those who have disabilities.

They show no respect for those who serve them; take things for granted; and slight those they think unworthy. Some are snobbish simply because of their status, wealth or ability.

To this “special” group of people, I say: Learn from President Nathan. He has shown that greatness is not about power, position or prestige. It is about humility, service and character.

At the start of his new term, I would like to salute President Nathan and wish him and Mrs Nathan continued good health and happiness.

(The article was printed on 1 September 2005 of TODAY)