The passing away of Professor Dr. W. R. Breckenridge, former Professor of Zoology and one-time Principal of Trinity College, is an inestimable loss to those who had the good fortune to know him intimately.
Dr. Breck, as he was known to his wide circle of colleagues and students at university, and “Breck” to generations of Trinitians, was the second son of one of Trinity’s distinguished teachers – the late R. R. Breckenridge.
My association with Breck began on January 11, 1950, when we were in Form II B, along with Mr. S. M. L. Marikkar. This 59-year-old friendship was one of absolute joy.
As a student at Trinity in the early 50s, Breck progressed along the rose-strewn path of promise and expectation, achieving distinction in studies and winning special prizes each year at the Trinity prize-giving.
The year 1952 was a memorable year for Breck, with the return from England of Hilary Abeyaratne, who became our classmaster. Every class of Hilary Abeyaratne’s was a gem. We sat at his feet and listened in admiration.
We at Trinity had wonderful teachers from Oxford and Cambridge, such as Rev. John Elliot and Gordon Burrows, who taught English Literature and Latin respectively. Mr. A. M. Sundaramani, the unforgettable mathematics teacher dressed in sherwani, left an indelible impression with his students. His anecdotes were a constant source of amusement in the many midnight chats we had in Ryde House, and also figured prominently in our conversations later in life, when Breck and I met with Mariks.
School life for Breck was great. Those were jolly days in our boyhood, surrounded by river, lake and mountain.
In 1957, we came down to Colombo for higher studies, Breck to study science and I to study law. On Saturday mornings, Breck would cycle along the roads of Colombo, enjoying Colombo’s verdant foliage, often saying “how happily they grow”, much like his brilliant botany teacher, the late Bill Sinnatamby, who taught botany in the natural habitat.
Brecks proceeded to Canada in 1964 to get his doctorate, which he obtained with ease, and returned to Sri Lanka in 1967 to be a lecturer in zoology. During his years abroad he wrote to me about the “old boys” of Trinity he met and about life in Canada.
He proved a brilliant zoology teacher, and soon donned the mantle of Professor of Zoology at Peradeniya University. He held the post until 1998, when he became principal of Trinity College. That appointment represented a reinvestment of the best of Trinity traditions. As principal, he brought the highest degree of service to Trinity.
Apart from his love of science, Breck was a lover of music. His favourite singers were Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. He also loved the evergreen musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, as well as the music of Stephen Foster, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller.
Breck was an avid reader. W. Somerset Maugham was his favourite writer. He read most of Maugham’ short stories and travel books as a student. He was impressed by the way Maugham captured the spirit of old China in the travel book, “On a Chinese Screen”.
After leaving Trinity, Breck created for himself a cosy home amidst the lush green hills of Hantane Forest, abundant with flowers and bird life. Three years ago I spent a weekend at his Hantane home, with Mariks joining us. We had a most enjoyable time.
Breck’s home was fragrant with good cheer for friend and stranger alike. His charming wife Chandra was the perfect hostess.
Breck was honourable in word and deed, and generous to a fault. He brought out the best in the people who associated with him.
To his immediate family he was a font of knowledge and a great comfort. He was a loving husband and a kind and understanding father to his two daughters, now happily settled in America. Although he is no more with us, I am sure he will be with them in some way as an invisible guide.
“And what does the Lord require of thee?” asks the prophet Micah, in the Old Testament. “To do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God”.
Warren Ranjitham Breckenridge was such a man.
Goodbye, dear Breck. You will always be remembered.