A gentleman of a past era was he
Vernon Abeysekera
"Every blade in the field,
Every leaf in the forest,
Lays down its life in its season
As beautifully as it was taken up.”

Who 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.

I 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.

Vernon 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.

When 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".

Delightful 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.

When 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.

Vernon '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 Australia.

"Pop" 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.

It 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 -

"Ships 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 a silence.”

Deloraine Brohier

Her spirit of generosity was an inspiration
Amelia Deraniyagala
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 the conference.

She 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.

Her 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.

Amelia's 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.

Amelia 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.

Theirs 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.

Amelia 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.

Her 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.

My 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.

Her 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.

On 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.

Her 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.

"Those we love, don't go away
They walk beside us every day;
Unseen, unheard, but ever near
Still loved, still missed, still very dear."

Ivar Siriwardena

To 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
You were,
Aunt, friend and confidante
Your life, strength, spirit
Sparkling, shimmering
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.


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