“Bonds of friendship forged in childhood days,
Ties that bind us to our happiest time;
Which in strange and miraculous ways
Keep alive days that were once yours and mine.”
A poem by Bryan Claessen
I first met Bryan Claessen when I joined Wesley College in January 1950. It was the beginning of the school cricket season. He played as a 16-year-old, with D. B. C. Mack as captain, and later went on to represent the school under his brother, Radley, before becoming captain of the 1st XI team in 1953.
That was a remarkable year. We were unbeaten.
Bryan scored four centuries and took many five-wicket hauls as a fine all-rounder. He thought about cricket with a deep intensity. He seemed to be a batsman without flaw, impeccable in defence and classically elegant in attack. His strokeplay was a delight to behold. At his best, Bryan could make any attack seem ordinary.
Bryan was a cricket legend, a leg-spin bowler with a wily action who, at his peak, mesmerised and terrorised all who faced him. It is said he made the ball bounce, especially his googly, which was well disguised. Despite all his achievements, he was modest about himself as a cricketer. He was a good friend and was well liked at school. As an eight-year-old, I was thrilled by his fine performances for the school.
After leaving Wesley, Bryan continued to play cricket, this time for the Colts Cricket Club. He also represented his country. His teammates included the captain, V. G. Prins, C. I. Gunasekera, Dr. H. I. K. Fernando, A. C. M. Lafir, Stanley Jayasinghe, C. T. Schaffter, Dooland Buultjens, P. N. Schokman, G. P. Schoorman, P. A. T. Kelly, N. Ponniah and M. Makkin Salih, who won the Gopalan Trophy.
Bryan migrated to Perth, Western Australia, and then to Adelaide where he continued to play club cricket, coaching and helping young cricketers to achieve their goals. His talent for spotting rising talent remained with him throughout his coaching career.
Bryan was one of the few great cricketers of whom it could be said, without flattery, that he was as fine a man as he was a player.
After working for several years in Adelaide, Bryan and his wife Carol retired to a farm in Tailem Bend, South Australia. It is a small picturesque town on the Murray River, 100 kilometres east of Adelaide, on the South Eastern Highway to Melbourne.
Here they enjoyed life in the country – the wide open spaces, the clean air, tending farm animals and being part of the farming community.
Bryan was a newcomer to farming, and its demanding physical routines took their toll. Nevertheless, Bryan remained a resourceful and colourful character, and an asset to the community. His ability to charm never deserted him.
I had by then moved to live and work in the UK. When I wrote an article for the Wesley College 125th Anniversary Souvenir, Bryan contacted me. We stayed in close touch through telephone calls and letters. Bryan’s letters were always beautifully written, in calligraphic handwriting. He penned poems to illustrate a point in his letters. He had an amazing talent for poetry. It was a pleasure to receive his letters, always written with sincerity and style.
Bryan was fiercely loyal to his old school, Wesley College. With characteristic enthusiasm, he contributed generously when funds were needed, and maintained contact with many of his schoolmates.
His 1953 cricket team was always close to his heart, and he kept in touch with many of the team members. He was always polite, and never spoke ill of anyone. He combined his generous spirit and natural diplomacy with his strong beliefs in justice and equality.
If there were any simmering problems at Wesley, Bryan would assist as the voice of reason and common sense.
He would give advice and help change the school for the better. He was delighted when change came to Wesley, and expressed his approval with his well-written e-mails.
Over the years, he kept in touch with his old teachers – Reverend Wilfred Pile, C. J. T. Thamotheram, Edmund Dissanayake and Lionel Jayasuriya. He would call them and send letters and Christmas cards. He kept up this practice the very end.
In his last years, Bryan’s health started to fail, and he had to give up his active life. But he and Carol continued to participate in the social life of Tailem Bend, including ballroom dancing and the more energetic barn dancing.
They loved the company of their grandchildren and the extended family.
Bryan and Carol had a rich family life, and she was the love of his life. They have five children. The highlights of family life were the large family gatherings, with Bryan presiding at the table with his good humour and amiable character.
Bryan and Carol were a popular couple in Tailem Bend, where they entertained generously and regularly. They were particularly close to Radley, Bryan’s brother, who lives in Adelaide.
Bryan displayed great fortitude in the face of health problems, and resigned himself philosophically to the inevitable. His strong Christian faith remained a great source of comfort.
I was deeply saddened when I heard of Bryan Claessen’s passing away.
I am grateful to have been his friend. We will remember him in the years to come. His sense of humanity and his enthusiasm and energy for what he believed in will be greatly missed.
We send our deepest condolences to Carol and the family in this time of grief.
Grant him 0 Lord eternal peace.
Dr. Nihal D. Amerasekera