gentleman of a past era was he
"Every blade in the field,
Every leaf in the forest,
Lays down its life in its season
As beautifully as it was taken up.”
wrote these lines? I do not know, nor can I recall when first I
came upon them. I have often sent the verse to friends grieving
over someone who had lived a full life and had passed away. An early
telephone call from Melbourne, Australia woke me on the Sunday morning
of February 13, with the sad news that Vernon Abeysekera - "Pop"
to colleagues and friends-had breathed his last: by Sri Lanka time,
late, the previous night. "In its season", Vernon has
passed away - as a leaf in the forest is blown away in the wind
or a blade of grass dies in the field.
first met "Pop" Abeysekera as a schoolgirl when sitting
for my Senior School Certificate. He was an undergraduate at the
time and came to coach me in Latin. The link stayed with us over
the years - though our paths in life went their divergent ways.
was an intellectual, specializing in the Classics-Greek, Latin and
old languages. He made a bid for the Civil Service - the cream of
achievement at the time for aspiring young men from the Ceylon University.
Seeing the potential in him, my father encouraged Vernon and was
his sponsor for the Service. It took the young Civil Servant Cadet
to the outstation kachcheris and later as Government Agent to Polonnaruwa
and Galle. We continued to keep in touch during this period, Vernon
spending long evenings chatting to my father in the study, whenever
he drove up to Colombo. "Pop" widened my knowledge when
I was maturing from school to university, lending me books - Arthur
Koestler's "Darkness at Noon", Roger Manuel's Film, on
the poets like John Donne and T.S. Elliot.
transferred back to Colombo, our paths converged more closely again.
It was Vernon Abeysekera as Director of Radio Ceylon, who challenged
me to leave my teaching job for the Schools' Service of Broadcasting.
Then, with Lorraine, who he had married, the Foreign Service drew
Vernon away - for a few years at the Ceylon High Commission, London.
When he returned, it was back to the Public Service, and he went
as Government Agent, Jaffna. Vernon Abeysekera's Administrative
Reports were "literary gems", a now retired Civil Servant
colleague said to me particularly recalling the Reports Vernon sent
in as G.A. Jaffna. December, Vernon had described as the month of
weddings in the peninsula "and the cool breezes that wafted
in from the lagoon, blend deliciously with the nathusuram".
interpolations that lift the reader's imagination from the dull,
official document. Finally Vernon reached the height of his career
as Postmaster General and remained in Colombo.
Vernon retired he decided to settle in Australia. He never however
renounced his Sri Lankan citizenship or changed his Sri Lankan passport.
It was nostalgia and sentiment for all that he remembered of the
old country - its scenes and the feel of it, its people and fond
associations. Rosemary, who had by now come into his life, looked
after him caringly, in the years he was growing old, when his life
moved on slowly and placidly.
's interest - one could say it was his passion - was radio and the
stage, theatre and film. In Melbourne he produced and presented
a weekly radio programme for several years featuring personalities,
events and news of Sri Lanka, its festivals and traditions. He invited
me to do a series of talks on this beam, when I was holidaying in
Abeysekera was gifted with a clear, resonant speaking voice, of
a rich timbre. He knew this and used it to captivate the attention
of a listener be it over radio or from the stage. I would often
tease him over this vanity. Even at the age of 85 when last we had
a long-distance telephone conversation I drew attention to his "radiophonic"
speaking voice, that had not lost its quality! We laughed together
- and that was the last time.
is not of Vernon's career or his achievements, his path of life
or the good of him that I write. It is of the friendship we kept
through the years. So we bid "goodbye" - to a gentleman
of a past era. For, as the poet Longfellow so beautifully expressed
that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing. So on the
ocean of life..only a look, and a voice, then darkness again and
spirit of generosity was an inspiration
The Women’s Aglow International Evangelic Conference held
in Colombo, brought back nostalgic memories of a gracious lady.
Amelia Deraniyagala, despite her almost 90 years always attended
was a source of encouragement and inspiration to most of us. I remember
the lunch breaks at the conference. To her it was an opportunity
to share what she had with all around her. Such were her qualities
and generosity. I would wish to go back in time, to understand and
trace the threads, that would have moulded her character and way
of life. She was a unique personality, so simple and unassuming
in her ways, that one could never imagine who she really was.
upbringing and religious outlook could well have been fashioned
by her parents. Amelia came from an old and distinguished aristocratic
family. Her father was Donald Obeyesekere, the younger brother of
Sir James P. Obeyesekere, the ADC to the then British Governor.
Donald, a product of Royal College, Colombo and Cambridge University
was known, as the father of Sri Lankan boxing. He was a barrister-at-law
and the family lived in their palatial walawwa in Rajagiriya. He
was the first Chairman of the Kotte Urban Council and served in
office for over three decades.
entire schooling had been at CMS Ladies’ College, Colombo.
She was a brilliant student and a star athlete. Together with her
sister Cornelia, they formed an invincible duo, that took Ladies
College to great heights in tennis, netball and athletics. The school's
scripture prize stands even today under her name. It could well
be her thankfulness to her parents, Donald and Edith Obeyesekere,
for their pioneering efforts, to set up the Ceylon Bible Society.
married early in life. Her husband Louis Pieris Deraniyagala too
hailed from a celebrated family that had served Sri Lanka for generations
with distinction. He was the nephew of Sir Paul. E. Pieris Deraniyagala,
civil servant, judge, Sri Lanka's trade commissioner and reputed
historian. Her husband was a product of S. Thomas College, Mount
Lavinia and had continued his studies in the U.K. He was an outstanding
tennis player, who had represented the country. The mutual interest
in sports would have been the driving force that brought them together.
was a happy and exemplary married life. However with his unexpected
and sudden demise, Amelia had to become both father and mother to
her children, all still in school. The girls at Ladies’ College
and her only son at S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia. The heavy
burden, fate so cruelly placed on her, so early in life would have
taught her many lessons, that would have borne fruit in her latter
years. While she doted on her children, each one of them, in their
own right, brought honour and credit to her and Sri Lanka.
lived her life to the fullest. She was an enthusiastic traveller
and enjoyed the beauty and serenity of nature. She loved to visit
places of historic interest and scenic beauty. She was very fond
of birds and animals and her team of dogs would always be around
her, the times we visited her home. She was a prolific letter writer.
She always acknowledged a letter in the shortest possible time.
long letters encouraged and gave solace to many a weary soul. She
was also frank and forthright in what she said. There was no guile
or malice in word or deed and people knew where they stood. Amelia
loved to create opportunities for people to meet and share their
problems and settle their differences. This she did by having an
open door and by celebrating her birthday year after year, when
she would invite her friends and relations in their numbers. It
was a time of fellowship and peacemaking and would always end on
a happy note with all participating in a sing-a-long round the piano.
association with Amelia blossomed, when I used to meet her at her
prayer meetings at her daughter’s home. She made it a point
to attend these meetings, despite her growing years and failing
health. She was so understanding and had a word of goodwill for
all present. She was not only kind, and thoughtful, but also magnanimous
to a fault. If there was anyone, who was in need, she would always
notice and her generosity would know no bounds.
kind acts were executed so silently that the left hand did not know,
what the right hand did. I have often heard the younger generation
asking her questions on theology at these prayer meetings. Her reply
would be," I may not know the answer, but I certainly know,
that my Master, Saviour and Redeemer lives.” Such was her
faith, even to the very end.
February 5, last year we stood in reverence, to pay our last respects
to a gracious, loving friend. The Bishop of Colombo, the Rt. Revd.
Duleep de Chickera, who offered prayers, as she then lay in peace
with her Maker, spoke of her smile, that would light up any darkness.
How very true.
spontaneous and radiant smile was heart-warming. At her Thanksgiving
Service, held at her family church, All Saints Church, Hulftsdorp,
the Archdeacon of Colombo, Ven. Godwin Weerasuriya, who knew her
well mentioned her humility, benevolence, loving kindness, faithfulness
and exemplary life. We shall miss her. Our solace would be to know
that, Amelia has gone, to be in the nearer presence of the Lord.
we love, don't go away
They walk beside us every day;
Unseen, unheard, but ever near
Still loved, still missed, still very dear."
my Punchi with love
You taught us to live, love and laugh
Lalani Yogendran (nee Somaratne)
Thank you, for just being you,
Fierce, free, independent,
You and only you
Could live and love and laugh
The way you did
Only you and you alone,
Could be the person
Aunt, friend and confidante
Your life, strength, spirit
Like a thousand fireflies
In the vast open field of our lives
Touching so many
And leaving your own special mark
In our hearts, minds and souls.
You, who are unique,
Yet so familiar,
You, who left,
But are still right here,
You lived, laughed and understood
That life must be lived to the fullest
One day at a time.
So I take heart and courage.
I learn that I must not cry
For I know you are with me still,
And that makes me able,
To live, love and laugh
Like you did.