ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 42

Generous to a fault, entertainment was her forte

Swineetha de Alwis

‘Swiftly the years beyond recall....’

Swineetha de Alwis was a role model of a devoted wife and caring mother, dedicated teacher and indefatigable social worker. She was a tower of strength to Neville when he was the Warden of S. Thomas’ College for 15 years. While Neville was totally immersed in College - urging students towards academic excellence and sporting brilliance, which he also supported through a variety of infrastructural and technological developments - Swini quietly but efficiently managed the home front while also continuing her teaching career and philanthropic projects. She always reminded me of Catullus’ dictum: dulce ridentem (sweetly smiling) dulce loquentem (sweetly speaking).

Swineetha was in her element, as it were, where entertainment was concerned. She was always ready with a huge table spread with home-cooked food be the guests, hungry choristers after their annual Carol Service, ravenous members of the First Eleven Cricket Team (the latter particularly looked forward to the sumptuous breakfast which Swini provided on all three days of the Royal-Thomian match) or impoverished former servants and their kin who would descend en masse during various festive occasions. The December 31st dinner she would host with Neville was legendary in the family as well as in the neighbourhood as the guest list kept growing every year to include all those they befriended. What began as an intimate family gathering was expanded to include their friends, students, parents of students, tenants, and employees. I even recall the present President and his wife gracing the celebrations, long before he reached such high office.

Swineetha was also an artist par excellence and her work adorns the homes of many both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. She hand painted the outfits of her bridal entourage and also transformed the interiors of the old family walauwa, Gladswill, by painting unusual designs on the walls, when she moved in. She taught art in many schools including Girls’ High School, Mount Lavinia, Royal College and St Bridget’s Convent and later went on to found her own art school.

The popularity of her classes grew in leaps and bounds; even senior citizens joined to mingle with the youngsters. She encouraged her students to exhibit their work regularly and her Little Hands on Canvas exhibitions at the Lionel Wendt soon became an annual event. The funds collected from the sale of the students’ art work would be used to support charitable causes in which the students also participated.

Her most recent foray into the field of education was the Rising Stars Montessori which was housed in the re-modeled old walauwa with its high, airy ceilings and spacious garden. What originally began with five students now has over 100 with an equally long waiting list; yet another example of the level of excellence that Swini achieved in whatever she would set out to do.
Swineetha was generous to a fault; her relatives, neighbours, friends and employees speak volumes of her kindness. She even suffered fools gladly and was prey to every sob story in the book! Many a time she reminded me of my mother who could never turn away anyone in need, whatever their class or calling. They both epitomized the ‘Good Samaritan’.

Swineetha had indomitable courage and refused to be beaten by the cancer which attacked her at several stages in her life. Despite being wracked with debilitating pain, excruciating headaches and nausea, she would astonish us by stubbornly continuing to paint, oversee the running of her Montessori and take care of elderly relatives. It is heartening to see that her two children, Nimantha and Surani, follow in her footsteps today. Nimantha, a doctor, administering to the sick with a similar compassion and commitment and Surani, taking on the running of the Montessori with that quiet efficiency and thoughtfulness we had come to so admire in Swineetha. May the good Lord bless her and keep her in His presence.

By Gerald de Alwis

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.