A wise, generous and utterly loyal friend
B. H. S. Jayewardene
A few months before my good friend B. H. S. Jayewardene passed away, I thought I should let him know how much I esteemed him and his friendship, and how much a part of the family legend he was. Everyone’s death comes as shock – it is part of the pain of mortality. Seen from the distance of time and place, Jaye seemed indestructible. Moreover, I was unaware of his final illness.
Expatriates find it harder to bear the deaths of friends and colleagues back home because they do not have the consolation of sharing memories with relations and common friends, a sharing that helps assuage the sadness.
In the 22 years that I have been an exile from my homeland, dozens of my mates have moved on, but this is the first time that I have felt moved to write a note of appreciation about one of them.
Looking back over the 35 years I had known and worked with Jaye, and reviewing his achievements, I find one word that best describes him– faithfulness. He was a faithful husband, father and friend. He was faithful to his professional commitments and faithful to his ideals. He was all of a piece. He was a man of surpassing integrity.
He was also a very wise man. One could go to him for counsel and come away with the best of considered advice. He would listen with mind and heart. You could sense his mighty intellect trimming the extraneous details and getting to the core of an issue (that was part of the legal heritage passed on by his lawyer father). What followed was pure Jaye: having found you a solution for your problem, he would then offer to help you, impulsively and instinctively.
After much hesitation, I have decided to mention two instances of Jaye’s great kindness and generosity to me and my family. When my older son was 10 years, he required surgery. The nursing home insisted on an initial deposit of Rs. 1,000, prior to admission. Thirty years ago few people would have carried cash of that high value on their person (it was a big sum for those days). I rushed to my employers (a Christian institution), seeking emergency help, but they were less than helpful. I then called Jaye. He said, “Stay where you are, I’ll come over.” Within minutes he was by our side, with the cash. On a later occasion, when that same institution where I worked terminated my employment, Jaye turned up at my home the same day to offer me employment at one of his enterprises, with the same salary. From that point on I was closely associated with Jaye, working for several of his ventures.
I was in awe of his courage, the sweep of his mind, his capacity for sheer, grinding hard work, and the skill with which he managed several affairs while at the same time holding high offices in journalism.
I recall how single-handedly he did the public relations work for a big international conference held at the Hotel Intercontinental. It ran for three days. He asked me whether I would cover it as a journalist. Alone. I said, “Yes”. (Whenever Jaye asked you to do something, he infused you with the confidence you needed to make it happen; and there was always that laugh of his that reduced mountains to molehills). During the three days of the conference, sometimes working all night, we produced on a handset press a daily illustrated newspaper. In the morning the newspaper was delivered to the table of each delegate attending the conference.
Jaye was extremely generous-hearted. He paid like a prince, putting to shame certain large institutions I have worked for.
When a novel of mine was being serialised in a Sri Lanka newspaper, he guided its progress with great skill and courtesy. He was the soul of efficiency. His tidy office and personal desk proclaimed the neatness of his mind.
He was also a generous host, entertaining lavishly, and he was always pleasant, genial company.