Much-loved Kandy personality served his country as lawyer and diplomat

Nissanka Wijesundera

“If I were asked to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity, it would be this: Expect troubles as an inevitable part of life, and when trouble comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye, and say: ‘I will be bigger than you, you cannot defeat me’.”

The above is taken from the book “Chicken Soup for the Surviving Souls of Cancer” by Jack Canfield. The book was read daily to Nissanka Wijesundera during the last months of his life.

Mr. Wijesundera was born on April 12, 1926 to a respectable Kandyan family in Meewatura, Peradeniya. His father, a strict and honest man, was a Registrar of Land in Kandy. His mother was B. M. Angunawela, whom he adored. He often recalled the difficulties the family experienced to come up in life. He was very proud that all of his family members were well educated and had excelled in their own fields. There were eight in the family. His older brother, the late Professor Stanley Wijesundera, gave him the courage and motivation to become an attorney. He spoke often about his sister, the late Soma Perusinghe, and his younger brother, the late Ashley Wijesundera.

He had his education at Dharmaraja College, Kandy, and was a fluent speaker in the debating team and a brilliant student in Latin and English. He was also a member of the cadet platoon.

In 1966, he married Padmini Dahanayaka Yapa of Waralla. They lived in a beautiful house with a large garden at Meewatura. He was a homely person who enjoyed getting involved in domestic work. He was proud of his garden and enjoyed getting into a banian and sarong to work in the garden. Clients coming to see him for a consultation would mistakenly take him for the gardener and ask to meet his “master”! He would then ask the clients to take a seat, go into the house through the back door, get dressed and come out to meet them. After completing his apprenticeship, he started his own practice in Kandy as a young lawyer.

His honesty, punctuality, hard work and dedication made him a highly successful lawyer. He once said: “I have immense confidence when conducting cases because my colleagues and clients trust me.” He helped junior lawyers rise in the competitive world of the legal profession. He was happy to see his juniors doing well. This was duly recognised, and he was appointed President of the Kandy Bar Association in 1995. He was proud to have worked at the Kandy Bar for 49 years.

Mr. Wijesundera left for work very early in the morning, taking not only his children to school but also the children of friends. His small car was packed with children, whom he entertained by humming golden oldies as he drove them to school.

He was appointed an all-island Justice of the Peace in 1971. He held the post of unofficial magistrate for 36 years. He was a council member of the Senate at the University of Peradeniya, and served as a member of the development committee at the Kandy General Hospital.

He was an active member of the Parent-Teacher Association of Girls’ High School, Kandy for many years, when Mrs. T. K. Ekanayake was principal. He reached the pinnacle of his career when he was appointed Sri Lanka High Commissioner in Australia in 1993.

He was not a politician but a warm-hearted social worker. He felt for the villagers and helped them whenever the need arose. He initiated the construction of roads, wells and housing schemes in Meewatura. He was actively involved in religious activities in the Udunuwara area, building temples and libraries and forming many associations in his area.

He was in good health until the age of 81, when he was diagnosed with colonic cancer. Despite his ill health, he wanted to fight back. He continued to work even after surgery and chemotherapy. He would tell us: “You gain strength, courage and confidence with each experience of looking fear in the face. I have lived through the horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

He was very fond of the doctors who treated him, and gave them merit until he ended his journey. Consultant surgeon Dr. Gamini Buthpitiya and consultant oncologists Dr. Kanthi Perera and Dr. Hilmi, consultant urologist Dr. Udaya Pethiyagoda looked after him throughout his illness. He was happy to see Dr. Manil and Dr. (Mrs.) Sakunthala Pieris and Dr. Indika Bandara, who comforted him at home. They were not just professionals in medicine but people with humanity, who encouraged him to be himself.

His honesty and dedication gave us strength, for Nissanka Wijesundera was our loving father. We thank him for what we are today. We remember him on his first death anniversary, which fell on September 23. May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

By Sanjika, Shalika and Thilanjika

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