|3rd President of Singapore|
23 October 1981 – 28 March 1985
|Prime Minister||Lee Kuan Yew|
|Preceded by||Benjamin Sheares|
|Succeeded by||Wee Kim Wee|
|Secretary-General of the|
National Trades Union Congress
|Preceded by||Seah Mui Kok|
|Succeeded by||Lim Chee Onn|
|Succeeded by||Steve Nayagan|
|Secretary-General of the|
Democratic Action Party
11 October 1965 – 30 July 1967
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Goh Hock Guan|
|Secretary-General of the|
People's Action Party
14 August 1965 – 9 September 1965
|Preceded by||Lee Kuan Yew|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|Member of the Singapore Parliament|
10 February 1979 – 13 October 1981
|Preceded by||P. Govindaswamy|
|Succeeded by||J. B. Jeyaretnam|
|Member of the Malaysian Parliament|
18 May 1964 – 20 March 1969
|Preceded by||V. David|
|Succeeded by||Goh Hock Guan|
Chengara Veetil Devan Nair
5 August 1923
Jasin, Malacca, Straits Settlements (now Malacca, Malaysia)
|Died||6 December 2005 (aged 82)|
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
|Cause of death||Dementia|
|Resting place||Hamilton, Ontario|
|People's Action Party|
Democratic Action Party
Malayan Communist Party
|Spouse||Avadai Dhanam Lakshimi|
|Alma mater||Victoria School|
Politically active in both Malaysia and Singapore, Nair was a communist as a young adult, having been affiliated with the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). He harboured anti-colonial sentiments and campaigned for the self-determination of Singapore, which was then a British colony, causing him to be detained by the British in 1951. In 1954, he joined the People's Action Party (PAP). He was detained again by the British in 1956, and remained so until the PAP won the 1959 general election and helped secure his release.
During his parliamentary career, Nair was the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Malaysian constituency of Bangsar between 1964 and 1969 and for the Singapore constituency of Anson between 1979 and 1981. Prior to his presidency, Nair was Secretary-General of the People's Action Party of Malaya prior to Singapore's expulsion from Malaysia, and continued to serve after the expulsion under its new name Democratic Action Party (DAP) which he founded until 1967.
Nair would soon return to Singapore and echoed his leftist beliefs by becoming involved in the labour movement, including serving as Secretary-General of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) between 1970 and 1979, before taking up the presidency in 1981. After his presidency in 1985, Nair retired from politics and briefly moved to the United States before moving again to live out his final years in Hamilton, Canada, when he died there at the age of 82 of dementia in 2005.
Early life and education
Nair and his family emigrated to Singapore when he was ten years old and he received his primary education at Rangoon Road Primary School before enrolling into Victoria School for his secondary education where he passed his Senior Cambridge examination in 1940.
After the Second World War, Nair became a teacher at St Joseph's Institution and later, at St Andrew's School. In 1949, he became General-Secretary of the Singapore Teachers' Union. His disdain for colonial rule was apparent in those days, as he changed the lyrics of Rule Britannia to anti-British ones in a school choir performance before a British guest-of-honour.
Nair was initially a member of the Communist Anti-British League before joining Lee Kuan Yew's People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954. Nair had been detained in 1951 by the British for anti-colonial activities. In 1955, Nair contested the 1955 Singaporean general election but lost—becoming the only PAP candidate who did not get elected.
In 1956, he was detained again under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance Act together with trade unionists Lim Chin Siong and James Puthucheary as suspected communist subversives after the Chinese middle schools riots. Nair was released in 1959 when the PAP won the 1959 Singaporean general election in a landslide victory. He was subsequently appointed political secretary to the Minister for Education. He returned to teaching after a year. In 1960, he became Chairman of the Prisons Inquiry Commission and launched the Adult Education Board.
Involvement in PAP, DAP and NTUC
He was the only PAP member contested in the 1964 Malaysian general election and won Bangsar, near Kuala Lumpur. This contrasted with his 1955 election defeat. He stayed in Malaysia after the separation, forming the Democratic Action Party (DAP), but returned to Singapore to lead the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the labour union movement which he helped to established in 1961. Nair and P. P. Narayanan were advocates for the concerns of developing countries and voiced their concerns at the ICFTU as they saw economic and social policy documents that were biased towards industrialized nations. They wanted greater attention paid to extreme poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment of their countries. These proposals were accepted and later reflected in the work of ICFTU's Economic and Social Committee.
President of Singapore
He entered the Parliament of Singapore in 1979 by winning the Anson seat in a by-elections and retained the seat in the 1980 general election, but resigned the seat in 1981 to accept the then largely ceremonial office of President as the country's head of state. This resulted in the 1981 Anson by-election which was notably won by opposition leader J. B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party (WP), the first time in Singapore since 1963 when an party candidate not from the PAP had won a parliamentary seat.
On 28 March 1985, Nair suddenly resigned in unclear circumstances. Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong stated in Parliament that Nair resigned to get treatment for his alcoholism, a charge Nair hotly denied. According to Nair's counterclaim, he resigned under pressure when their political views came into conflict and Goh threatened him during a game of chess to oust him as president. Nair also alleged that he was fed drugs to make him appear disoriented and that rumours were spread about his personal life in an attempt to discredit him.
However, Nair's claims were never substantiated. In 1999, an article about the case in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail resulted in a libel suit by Goh. Some claimed that the suit was thrown out of court after Nair's counterclaim. However, in a letter to The New York Times, it is said that Goh agreed to discontinue the suit only when two of Nair's sons issued a statement, reported in The Globe and Mail on 1 July 2004, maintaining that Nair was no longer mentally competent to give evidence in court. The Globe and Mail statement concluded that "having reviewed the records, and on the basis of the family's knowledge of the circumstances leading to Mr. Nair's resignation as President of Singapore in March 1985, we can declare that there is no basis for this allegation (of Mr. Nair being drugged)."
Death and legacy
After his resignation as President, Nair and his wife migrated first to the United States in 1988 where they settled in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They later moved to Bloomington, Indiana. The couple later moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where they lived for the rest of their lives. His wife, Avadai Dhanam Lakshimi, died on 18 April 2005 in Hamilton, whilst Nair, who had developed severe dementia, died on 6 December of the same year as his wife in Hamilton, Canada.
Devan Nair Institute
Nair's legacy remains highly respected in Singapore, especially in regards to his association with the labour movement. The Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability located in Jurong East was opened on 1 May 2014 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to recognise his contributions to the labour movement when he was Secretary-General of National Trades Union Congress. The goal of the institution is to establish a network for workers and employers seeking employment and employability solutions in Singapore.
Nair was survived by his daughter, three sons, and five grandchildren. His eldest son, Janadas Devan, was a senior editor with The Straits Times and is currently Chief of Government Communications at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and also a director at the public policy think-tank Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). Janadas Devan is married to literary scholar Geraldine Heng. His second son, Janamitra Devan, was the former Vice-President of the International Finance Corporation, and the World Bank. His third son, Janaprakash Devan died in 2009. His only daughter, Vijaya Kumari Devan continues to reside in Hamilton, Ontario.
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- Dodsworth & Brown Funeral Home (Robinson Chapel)
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