Plus - Appreciation

Eloquent advocate, lover of wildlife and the complete gentleman

Justin Edward Pieris Deraniyagala, PC

On Boxing Day 2004, Sri Lanka was shaken by a tragedy that struck across distinctions of class, creed and ethnicity. The cruel sea swollen by a tidal wave sucked away thousands of our fellow countrymen.

Among them were my friend Edward, his wife Gemini, his son-in-law Steve and his grandchildren Vikram and Nikhil. Ironically, the tragedy occurred at Yala, not far from where Edward’s maternal grandfather acted as representative of the State Council.

I was impelled to pen these words after reading the centenary minutes of the Voetlights Society and wondering why the 100th dinner was being held 110 years after the society was founded.

(The Voetlights Society, for those not in the know, is a Sri Lankan legal fraternity – comprising judges and members of the official and unofficial Bar – who take time off at the end of the term to get together, relax and swap stories about the legal profession. The society was founded when 10 members of the Junior Bar sat down to dinner at the Bristol Hotel, Colombo, on May 10, 1899.)

I then realised that Edward had almost single-handedly restored the Voetlights Society dinner after a lapse of several years. I came to know Edward at Law College, and later associated with him as an advocate. Our friendship grew closer through kinship, as our wives were the daughters of two sisters.

Edward was an able lawyer and an expert in land and commercial law. His excellence was recognised when he was made a President’s Counsel. He was equally fluent in Sinhala and English, and eloquent in fighting on behalf of his clients.

Edward was always dapper – well-groomed and immaculately presented. Although he had an encyclopedic knowledge on a range of subjects, he was a man of few words, and he chose his words carefully.

In his private life, Edward was a generous and convivial host, ever ready for good-natured banter. He had no time for idle gossip or rumour-mongering. If he had a fault, it was that he could not suffer inanities in silence.

Law was not his sole area of expertise. Edward was a collector of antique furniture, ancient coins, stamps, maps, prints and priceless books on Sri Lanka. He possessed an unrivalled collection of ancient Sri Lankan coins and stamps.

He was also a keen observer of wildlife – a talented photographer who captured rare glimpses of wildlife in the national parks. Sadly, it was this interest that took him and his family to Yala that fateful day.

My first visit to Yala was about 45 years ago, when Edward organised a one-week stay in the National Park with his family and friends. Others with him on that occasion included H. Rodrigo (later a Supreme Court judge), Nimal Wikramanayake QC, Lalith Rodrigo and myself. The bungalows in Yala then had only the basic amenities, and access to the waterholes, where we waited for the animals, was along four-wheel drive tracks. The trip to the wildlife parks became an annual pilgrimage.

Edward was multifaceted in his interests and expertise, but above all a gentleman to the fingertips –a gentleman born and a gentleman by precept and practice.

May he and the departed members of his family enjoy the Eternal Bliss of Nirvana.

Sunil de Silva

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