We at Sumithrayo fondly remember our mentor, mother and founder Joan de Mel, who passed away on December 27, 2008 in Colombo at the age of 87, leaving behind her daughter Penny and son Nick.
The widow of a British Army officer, Joan came to Sri Lanka in 1971 to marry Bishop Lakdasa de Mel.
Energetic and committed, Joan was persuaded into starting a local branch of Befrienders International by Chad Varah, founder of The Samaritans, a worldwide organisation dedicated to helping those who are lonely, depressed and desperate.
Here is how it came about:
One day, Dr. Hugh, physician to Joan’s husband, the Bishop, asked Joan whether she knew of any place in England that the suicidal could turn to for help and counsel (Dr. Hugh had had four cases of attempted suicide admitted to his hospital ward that day).
Joan, who had worked as a Samaritan in London, launched her local counselling and help project. With her energetic steering committee, comprising Dr. Wijerama, Mansoor and Nalini, Joan found a suitable building and suitable volunteers.
In 1974, with the encouragement and support of her husband, friends and well-wishers, Joan established Sri Lanka Sumithrayo as a branch of Befrienders International. “Sumithrayo” means “best friends”.
With Sri Lanka Sumithrayo becoming a reality, Joan’s life was transformed. She maintained a busy and hectic schedule as a Sumithrayo volunteer to the very end.
Joan’s husband Bishop Lakdasa de Mel passed away peacefully after a brief illness in 1976. Joan was a regular contributor to newspapers and church magazines, and her first book, published shortly after her husband’s death, was titled “Lakdasa de Mel: God’s Servant, World Citizen’s Son”.
Joan was also the author of “Closer Than a Brother”. The title comes from the Book of Proverbs, in the Holy Bible, and emphasises the Sumithrayo philosophy of caring for those who are overwhelmed by their personal problems.
The Sri Lanka Sumithrayo