15th July 2001
Sports| Mirror Magazine
Cheerful and smiling, wherever you went
Shimali Edirisinghe and Dinuk Senanayake
The death anniversary of S.A. Wijayatilaka fell on June 22. He was the fifth in a family of nine.
Ariyaratne (Ari to his friends, colleagues and relatives) started his schooling at the Buddhist Institute (now Vijaya College), but joined Christ Church School a few years later. Having completed his primary education at Matale, he joined St. John's College, Panadura and after the seventh standard joined Ananda College, Colombo.
He had a brilliant career at Ananda, where he won several prizes. He joined the University College in 1921 at a time when Professor Mars was the Head.
He passed his B.A. (London) obtaining a First Class. Incidentally, he was the first graduate that Matale produced.
Although he could have obtained a lucrative post under the government, he deliberately chose teaching as a career. His brothers took to law and S.R.Wijeyatilaka became a Supreme Court Judge and was also Principal of the Ceylon Law College for some time. Ari's first appointment was to Dharmaraja College, Kandy. Later he joined Ananda College, Colombo at the request of P.de S.Kularatna. After Mr. Kularatna founded Nalanda Vidyalaya, he moved over there. From Nalanda, he was transferred back to Dharmaraja College as Vice Principal.
He was later appointed Principal and served there for nearly eight years. residing at 'Lake View', the official quarters where author D.H.Lawrence had spent a holiday years before. When the post at Ananda College fell vacant, Ari was the popular choice. After his retirement from Ananda, he functioned as a member of several boards and commissions. He had a fearless and independent outlook on life. He was an ardent Buddhist but he respected other faiths.
At Dharmaraja College he was my English teacher and later my Principal. He had the greatest influence on my life. Due to circumstances beyond my control I was compelled to study at different schools for short periods and no teacher was able to exert any influence on me, but Ari did. All his pupils had the highest respect for him and are proud that they studied at Ananda, Nalanda or Dharmaraja during the 'Wijayatilaka era'.
H.I De Zoysa
Twelve months ago (on July 14, 2000) there passed away from our midst a humble schoolmaster whose life must be judged not by its length - though in his case it was a long and productive 85 years. His achievements should be measured by the extent of service he rendered to the community, by the firm yet benign influence he brought to bear upon hundreds of young students, by his humility and simplicity, by his many acts of kindness, care and concern for those who needed it most, by his deep concern for his family, extended family, friends and relations, members of his staff and students, old boys and parents, and so many others whose lives he touched at some point or other. Lastly and most importantly his unswerving faith and trust in his Maker.
Such a life was that of J.S.L. Fernando, the legendary former Headmaster of S. Thomas' Preparatory School, Kollupitiya.
John Shelton Leslie Fernando (known as "J.S.L.," except by his students who mischievously called him "Hedda",) was the eldest in a family of five children. He was born at Moratuwa on August 30, 1915 to wealthy parents both of whom had inherited considerable wealth and property at Moratuwa, Borella and Pettah. J.S.L.'s father John Simon Fernando built up a flourishing business that took its place as the second largest furnishing house in the island bearing the name of his father - P.S. Fernando & Company founded around 1900 at Keyser Street, Pettah. J.S. Fernando was a lay representative of the Methodist Synod of the South Ceylon District of the Methodist Church and his mother Dona Elsie Fernando (nee Peiris) was the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. D.F. Peiris of Donnington, Ward Place, Colombo 7.
Mr. Fernando started his primary education at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa, from where he gained admission in the mid - 1920s to the best school of all, the one by the sea at Mount Lavinia, during the time that the Revd. Kenneth MacPherson was its Warden. He continued his secondary education under the stewardship of its most illustrious Warden, the late Revd. Canon R.S. de Saram.
J.S.L. enjoyed the great privilege while at school of coming under the tutelage and influence of three spiritual giants - Warden de Saram himself, Dr. Rollo L. Hayman (Sub-Warden) and the saintly six-foot Revd. Canon Arthur John Foster, Chaplain of the school. J.S.L. later entered the University College, Colombo, and read for a General Arts degree (offering economics) and graduated subsequently from the University of London. Having made arrangements to pursue post-graduate studies in England, J.S.L. had to abandon these plans as a result of his father falling ill and World War II raging over Britain and Europe. He was compelled to embark upon a career in Ceylon, and also perhaps as his father wished to take over and manage the flourishing family business. The young graduate, however, had other ideas and apparently fulfilled them without disappointing his ailing father. He had originally wanted to become a Chartered Accountant but his mother wanted him to become a Minister of the Methodist Church, but at the end of the day he became neither!
Conscious of being the eldest in the family and therefore, expected to set standards and examples to those junior to him, J.S.L. could easily have walked in- to any profession. But none of these attracted him. Forsaking the prospects, rewards, monetary benefits and glamour of ascending to the topmost heights of the then professional, academic and business fields, J.S.L. typically chose to serve his fellowmen in the humblest and most demanding (yet least paid perhaps) of professions. Having taught for a short period at Richmond College, Galle, in or about 1941, he was invited by W.T. Keble to join the staff of S. Thomas' Preparatory School, Kollupitiya, which he did on January 1, 1942, when that school was still in its infancy.
From this point onwards he never turned back until he laid down the reins of office on December 31, 1994, after a record innings of 53 years during the first 25 of which he served on the tutorial staff and the latter 28 as Headmaster.
This must surely be a world record. In his teaching career he moved with ease from one end of the spectrum to the other, taking in his stride classes/lessons in Scripture, History, English Literature, English Language, Poetry, Civics and so on. Oliver Goldsmith must surely have had schoolmasters of his ilk in mind when he wrote his celebrated poem 'The Deserted Village', wherein these two lines would aptly fit J.S.L.:-
".... And still they gazed and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew......."
Having been nurtured and trained both by his parents and teachers at S. Thomas Mt. Lavinia, J.S.L. imbibed and cultivated old-world values and standards so that he in turn was able to pass on these admirable qualities to his own young wards at the Preparatory School. Here discipline with a capital 'D' and his own unassailable integrity became the hallmarks of his administration as Headmaster.
J.S.L. Fernando's record of work as Headmaster is too numerous to itemise, but some important matters must necessarily be highlighted in fairness to him, even though he never cared personally for publicity of any kind. He toiled for the school and the staff and students loved and respected him deeply because whatever he did was a labour of love.
On September 1, 1966, when J.S.L. took office as the third Headmaster, began what must unarguably be called the golden age of the Prep. School.
The writer makes no apology for concluding this appreciation on a personal note. I have known the late Headmaster ever since I gained admission to the Prep. School in May 1944 and closely associated with him and subsequently with his family until the very last day of his life.
J.S.L. truly led from the front. What struck everyone who knew him was undoubtedly his strong abiding Christian faith; he could be seen Sunday after Sunday worshipping at the Kollupitiya Methodist Church almost to the very end of his life. On several visits to his residence, this writer observed him seated all by himself reading the Bible with pen and notebook in his hand. He lived his faith and practised his religion not by mere lip service but by his own witness and example.
No assessment of the life and work of the late Headmaster Fernando would be complete if reference is not made to the part played so unobtrusively, quietly and effectively by his wife Erica Fernando (nee Amarasuriya) in the valuable support she graciously extended to him in his arduous duties. To write of J.S.L. and not to mention Mrs. Fernando would be a gross omission. Having been a much loved and efficient teacher at Bishop's College, Colombo, one is amazed at the role she playe as our Headmaster's wife. Her quiet dignity, gentleness and sense of fairness are admired by all.
On December 31, 1994, J.S.L. Fernando bade an emotional farewell to the Prep. School, handing over the reins to Attorney-at-Law Nicholas Yohesan Casie Chetty. Even though given a generous bonus, as it were, beyond the Biblical span of three score years and ten, retirement did not sit easy with him. On the contrary, though slow in movement and physical activity, his mind and faculties were, for his age, reasonably alert and sharp.
His patronage was quickly sought and freely given to the Ceylon Bible Society, the Scout Council, the Salvation Army, the Revd. Celestine Fernando Memorial Foundation and some other societies.
J.S.L. Fernando's personal motto could very well have been the one chosen by a King of England for the Prince of Wales - "Ich Dien" (I serve) and by love, he served. Generations of Prep. School boys will remember for all time his utter commitment and every Prepite, young and old, whose life he touched at some point or other will at any time, anywhere stand up and salute the memory of a humble Headmaster who spent his very life in the service of his school. It would seem therefore that, in the final analysis, J.S.L. needs no bronze or marble, portrait or plaque, to be remembered by.
Even though he lived a long and fruitful life of 85 years, his death, somewhat suddenly, came as a rude shock and caused great disquiet among all who knew him. "........ they told me you were dead, they brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed. I wept as I remembered how often you and I, had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky".
He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.
May the peace and rest he has earned and deserved, be his reward in the hereafter.
An Old Boy of S. Thomas' Prep.
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