My association with the Hapugoda family of Baddegama goes back 35 years, to 1974. Uncle Stephen and Auntie Evelyn Hapugoda were highly respected teachers, as was my mother, the late Malathie Wickramaratne.
Auntie Evelyn passed away at the grand age of 94 years in the early hours of August 29, 2009. Those present at her cremation included her immediate family, members of the YWCA, Reverend Father Niroshan and the congregation of Christ Church Baddegama and a host of Baddegama residents.
Evelyn Josephine Mary Samarasekera was born on September 20, 1915, the eldest in a family of six children (she had four brothers and one sister). Born to a wealthy family in Pussellawe, she had her education at Bishop’s College, Colombo. She passed her Cambridge Senior Certificate Examination at the age of 16.
The then Principal of Bishop’s College, Sister Mary Kathleen, kept Aunty Evelyn on for a few years longer as a pupil teacher. During World War II, she worked as volunteer nurse. She moved to Baddegama after her marriage in 1944 to the late K. S. Hapugoda, Uncle Stephen.
They had five children –Mahendra, Ajith, Malin, Devapriya and Nirmalli. Her daughters-in-law Latha, Jayanthi and Nirmala and son-in-law George were as close to her as her own children. Auntie Evelyn was the central figure round whom all family functions revolved (Uncle Stephen predeceased her in 1989).
Uncle Stephen was principal of Christ Church College, Baddegama, and Auntie Evelyn taught English and Western Music at the same school. She studied Oriental Music on her own. Music was very much in her blood. She played the esraj and piano with equal mastery. After teaching for 10 years, she retired in the 1970s. Inspired by Deva Surya Sena, who introduced the idea of using oriental musical instruments in church music, Auntie Evelyn promoted the idea at Christ Church Baddegama, adding a local flavour to church activities.
She gained an insight into the living conditions of villagers when her late husband entered politics, in the 1960s. Auntie Evelyn did the rounds in Baddegama, campaigning for her husband, even though she was personally against Uncle Stephen getting into politics. She was involved in projects to raise the village living standards. These included sanitation, education and housing. The community work was done with the YWCA Baddegama, of which she was founder president. Through the Lions Club Hikkaduwa, she supported a foster-children’s programme to help single-parent children.
Auntie Evelyn was happiest when she was in Baddegama. In her last 13 years, she came to Colombo to live with her children for health reasons. She would often say, “I am useless when I am here. If I go back, I make myself useful in a hundred and one things.”
Hers was a life of austerity and example. She would re-use envelopes because she believed in protecting the environment. Not once in my 35 years of associating with her did I hear her complain about anyone or anything. She was happy with whatever she had.She could mingle with any class of people and any religious group. Her Christian faith was the driving force in her life. Auntie and I had long conversations about our religions (I am Buddhist), and she always listened with patience and understanding.
She read about other religions in an effort to understand the differences. Buddhist monks came to her to study English or discuss religious issues, as well as Hindus and Muslims. Her vision was one of universal love.
Auntie Evelyn was the embodiment of serenity, sincerity and honesty, as well as detachment. No doubt in her 94 years she saw many ups and downs. All these taught her to accept things as they are and not as what she wanted them to be.
May she find Eternal Peace.