When H. L. de Silva, PC, passed away in April this year, the small Methodist Church at Mount Lavinia, where he (with his wife Manel) was a devout worshipper, became smaller, diminished. Now a little over six months later it has become still smaller, more diminished, with the sudden and untimely death at 52 of Dr. Uthum Herat on October 23.
Uthum was an inseparable part of the little church on the hill. He served as Superintendent of the Sunday School, which he had attended as a schoolboy. He was also a lay preacher at this church, and each time he preached, his well-prepared message touched a chord in every heart that listened. He conducted Bible studies for a small group of church members, who found them of absorbing value in strengthening their knowledge and understanding of God’s word.
He was a learned man with a first class B.Sc. degree from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a doctorate in Economics and Finance from Purdue University, Indiana. But he did not flaunt his learning ever. He was too humble, too simple, for such enormities.
To me, an ordinary member of the Mount Lavinia Church, Uthum, like H.L., belonged to the elite of the congregation and I was in awe of both of them for their intellectual prowess. They both helped me, though they never knew it, to be sure of God and of my faith in Him, particularly when an old friend, himself an intellectual, ridiculed me for going for Sunday worship.
He had been baptized as an infant, went to a Christian school, and had married a Christian. He, however, despised the faith to which he was born and in which he was nurtured, for what reason I wouldn’t know and never sought to know.
“Stupid” is how he described those who believed. I used to say to myself while listening to him belittling my faith, “Who am I to question God when there are H.L., the country’s leading constitutional lawyer, and Uthum, the brilliant Central Bank economist, who believe in God and attend church more regularly than I do?”
Uthum rose to the position of Deputy Governor of the Central Bank. He was also the Central Bank’s alternative Director to the IMF and served in Washington on an assignment. He also made an impressive power point presentation in Geneva to attract investors to Sri Lanka. He made keynote addresses and inaugural speeches at various important professional events in Colombo, not long before his death.
On Sunday October 18, which sadly turned out to be his last Sunday at church, he told my wife he was going to visit me, as he had not seen me for a long time. And then, death struck with such unforgiving finality as to leave Uthum’s fellow worshippers at Mount Lavinia, all of them without exception, shattered and bereft.
One of Uthum’s favourite hymns has this refrain:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll; Fastened to the rock which cannot move, Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!
Led by Roshan Mendis, we sang the hymn amid audible sobs and sighs as we watched over the mortal remains of a man who lived after the manner of his name “Uthum”.
Farewell, Uthum, you were too dear for our possessing.
C. N. S.