26th August 2001
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Stanley Kalpage


A perfect gentleman

The road ahead had always been for Stanley Kalpage, a challenge. The decisions he made and his work stood as a unifying force of achievement for the country. In his life situations whether driven by economic imperatives, the language of academic institutions or International Conferences, he was a true Sinhalese absolutely correct, supremely confident with ideas that were never locked in a cultural time warp.

Stanley was first a teacher par excellence, lecturer and professor at the Peradeniya University and later at Universities in Kuala Lumpur, and West Berlin.

As a diplomat he was Ambassador of Sri Lanka in India and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. He headed Delegations to the 46th, 47th, 48th UN General Assembly and the 23rd and 24th UNESCO General Conferences in Paris and Bulgaria and often attended International Conferences. He was chairman of the Board of Governors Arthur Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies. 

When I first met Stanley in 1965, it wasn't at a black tie dinner or Convocation. At 10 p.m. one night I was perched on top of the massive iron gates of his University Residence, Alsatian dogs below barking furiously. The occupants of my car driven against the gate were shouting and yelling "don't get down", "get back", "don't fall", "be careful", "the dogs look fierce" etc.

The house lights came on.

Stanley opened the front door to this unbelievable scene. I climbed back onto the bonnet of my car and was helped down by Lennie Ratwatte, A.C.M. Faleel and C.D.L. Fernando, men who always walked through the front door.

Stanley was one of the best Sinhala speakers the UNP had on the campaign trail of 1965. He was in great demand. They wanted him for every meeting, but he was overtired, hoarse, and said he just couldn't make it to another. The organizers were desperate. His phone was off the hook. I offered to drive the crew to his residence only to find the massive gates locked. The tooting of horns had no effect so I volunteered to get on the car bonnet, climb the gate and bang on the verandah doors. Nobody bargained for the dogs.

But it all worked out. Stanley went to the meeting and helped the UNP win the election.

Like many developing countries Sri Lanka faces extremes of ostentatious wealth and dire poverty. Human resource development and economic complexities aside, we needed trained, self-effacing, dedicated social workers and community educators. Men and women who while they fuelled the enthusiasm of others for development would lead not by political power, but by deep knowledge and an enormous capacity to persuade.

As Chairman University Grants Commission there was no great necessity to try to convince Stanley on this issue. He summoned a meeting "to discuss a proposal to elevate the Sri Lanka School of Social Work to University status". The meeting was held on November 23, 1982 at the UGC. Present was Y.Y. Kim of the UNDP. Today social service is very dependent on 'fund raising' with coffee mornings, bring and buy sales, fetes, bazaars, fairs and polas. It certainly serves as a multiplier approach for doing-good and communal harmony but it is sad that Stanley's initiative 20 years ago, still awaits affiliation to an University!!

The Kalpage family firmly adhered to the Asian belief that friends and extended family were vital to survive the travails of daily living. Theirs was truly a home. 

When the Kalpages were in Sri Lanka there never was a Sinhala/Hindu New Year's day that a telephone call did not inform me of the nakath time, when I, a Roman Catholic should be at their home. Spirituality and fellowship, combined with community ties was the prime source of socialization of values, they believed in as practising Buddhists. Religion did not reflect greed and ugliness, but its beauty in love of others showed God's handiwork - the best hope for children and youth.

When the Moratuwa Campus at Katubedda became Moratuwa University in 1979 students were on a hunger strike. A ragging session had taken place. Social inequalities lead to some youth taking out their frustrations in the pain and humiliation of another. A student was suspended.

They turned to student and youth sympathizer of the day Fr. Tissa Balasoriya.

Fr. Tissa and Stanley met in an air of cultivated uncertainty - wryly courteous. Dr. Kalpage read extracts from the reports submitted by the Committee of Inquiry into the Ragging.

Their minds were made up. They swapped timeless yarns for an hour. Then parted in the glow of scholarly brotherhood fully realizing that in the crucible of actual day to day living, love for their fellow beings without dignity, discipline and commitment was an imposter.

It is a loss to the country that men of Stanley's calibre are not here to-day. He was authoritative as distinct from authoritarian. Freedom and self-respect to him were non-negotiable. For problems, abuses, discrimination he would often observe would always be there, but that did not mean progress made since Independence was minimal or immaterial. 

Stanley was a perfect gentleman. He will be remembered especially on his birthday, August 30. 

-Lorna Wright

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