Third President of
the Republic of Singapore
(24 Oct 1981 to 28 Mar 1985)
Mr C V Devan Nair was elected President of the Republic of Singapore by Parliament on 23 October 1981. Prior to this, he led the Singapore trade union movement, transforming the trade unions into a well-knit and forward-looking force dedicated to the welfare of labour under the principle of joint labour, management and government partnership. He also initiated the establishment of the NTUC insurance co-operative INCOME, the taxi co-operative COMFORT and the WELCOME chain of co-operative supermarkets.
Born in Malacca on 5 August 1923, Mr Nair came with his family to Singapore at the age of 10. He received his education first at Rangoon Road Primary School and then at Victoria School, where he passed his Senior Cambridge examination in 1940.
At the end of World War II, Mr Nair began to teach. As a Normal Trained teacher, he taught at St Joseph's Institution and later, at St Andrew's School. Teaching led to his involvement in trade unionism, and he became General Secretary of the Singapore Teachers' Union in 1949. In 1951 he was detained by the British authorities as part of a general drive against anti-colonial activities and remained under detention until April 1953. On his release, he again became active in the trade union movement, as Secretary of the Singapore Factory and Shopworkers' Union.
In 1954, Mr Nair was one of the convenors of the People's Action Party and became a member of the Central Executive Committee. In 1956, he was again detained by the British and remained in custody until 1959 when the PAP came to power and appointed him Political Secretary to the Minister for Education. Resigning that appointment a year later, he returned to teaching. In the same year, he was appointed Chairman of the Prisons Inquiry Commission and launched the Adult Education Board, becoming its first Chairman, serving from 1960 to 1964.
In 1961, Mr Nair helped to found the Singapore National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and was elected the first Secretary-General of the NTUC. In 1964, when Singapore was in Malaysia, he stood for election to the Malaysian Parliament and won the seat in Bungsar constituency. He served the full five-year term, founding the Democratic Action Party of Malaysia in the process. He was its first Secretary-General.
In 1969 with his term in the Malaysian Parliament over, he decided to return to Singapore to help modernise and expand the labour movement. He resumed the post of Secretary-General of the NTUC and remained in it until 1979 when he became its President. Mr Nair was also president of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Asian Regional Organisation, from 1976 to October 1981.
In 1979, Mr Nair stood for election in a by-election for the Anson constituency and won. He stood for election again in the 1980 General Election, and retained his seat as Member of Parliament for Anson. He resigned in October 1981 when he became President of the Republic of Singapore.
In recognition of Mr Nair's achievements and his leadership of the labour movement, he was awarded the Public Service Star in 1963. In 1976, the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore) conferred on him an Honorary Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa).
Mr Nair is the author of four publications, namely "Who Lives If Malaysia Dies?", "Tomorrow: The Peril and the Promise", "Singapore: Socialism that Works", and "Asian Labour and the Dynamics of Change".
Mr Nair was married to Madam Avadai Dhanam and had three sons and a daughter. He passed away on 7 December 2005.