Sri Lanka has lost one of the best and most efficient Ministers we ever had. A qualified architect, UK-educated, Mahendra Wijeratne came back to serve the country by joining the United National Party (UNP). In 1991, after winning the Parliamentary Elections contesting the Mirigama seat, he was appointed as Minister for Livestock Development and Milk Production, under Prime Minister R. Premadasa.
As the then director of the Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH), I had the pleasure and privilege of working closely with Minister Mahendra Wijeratne.
Mr. Wijeratne was an architect with considerable experience in his field, and he was new to the livestock industry. But he worked hard to familiarise himself with the industry. He did not rush into decisions. He appointed specialists to make in-depth studies of problems and formulate policies.
Mr. Wijeratne worked with us as a team member, and he came to understand the industry very well.
Generally, Ministers never work in teams. Their management style is top-down, as illustrated in the X theory of management. He would visit problem-ridden areas and see things for himself. This helped him make sound decisions. He will be remembered for one major achievement, and that was the upgrading of the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB). Livestock farms that were losing money were monitored and made profitable and viable.
It was very easy to work with Mr. Wijeratne. He was extremely honest, and had a genuine interest in developing the livestock sector. When he travelled, he traveled without security guards. He was kind and gentle, but also strict and straight. He and his then Secretary, W. J. S. Karunaratne, and the Secretary/Agriculture, Dixon Nilaweera, worked with us as a team.
During his time, he participated in many department activities. He came over to observe Department of Animal Production and Health deputy director Dr. R. A. Ranasinghe using a non-surgical technique to collect bovine embryos. It was the island’s first ever bovine embryo collection and transfer work.
Similarly, he supported the creation of a National Poultry Development Centre (NPDC). This centre had a poultry disease diagnosis laboratory and an extension and education wing. It is sad to note that these and many other programmes that we initiated are no longer in existence.
Dr. A. S. Abeyratne
A selfless person, you have left a void in our lives
The first death anniversary of Neomal Dissanayake, a selfless servant of the Church and community fell on April 3.
A product of De Mazenod Kandana, a Christian School of disciplined learning, he was an accountant by profession and jack of all trades.
An exemplary Church warden, he always helped his friends whether it was to find a job or gain admission to a school etc. He has left a vacuum that will be hard to fill.
We extend our sympathies to his wife Nirosha. He was the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Noel Dissanayake, a caring brother to his sisters Anjalee and Kishani and caring grandson to his 98-year-old grandfather, a loving Maama to little Netimini, Jude, Damian and Melissa.
We are consoled by the words, “Those whom God loves die young.” He was only 38 years old.
A passionate disciple of film photography to the end
After a brief illness veteran photographer K.J.Abeyratne passed away peacefully at his home in Battaramulla recently. “Abey” as he was fondly known was one of Sri Lanka’s most senior professional commercial photographers at the time of his death. Having started his career at the tender age of 16 at Donald’s studio at a time when film cameras ruled, he quickly made his mark as a talented photographer and photo artist when Photoshop and computers were unheard of.
He did a short stint at Bin Ahamed’s Studio and then joined Studio Times who at that time worked very closely with a leading newspaper group. Thereafter the late Anandatissa De Alwis invited him to join his advertising agency De Alwis Advertising to work as a commercial photographer.
After a long and successful stint at De Alwis’s, he quickly made a name for himself as a freelance photographer in the wedding and special events circuit. During this time he once again got involved with the advertising industry and was a sought-after commercial photographer. A passionate disciple of film photography to the end, he never embraced the digital world as he felt it unbecoming to his beloved profession.
His final stint prior to his retirement was at Ribbs N & L (Pvt) Ltd during which time one of his pet projects was working on the DSI Poya Day campaign. This campaign showcased selected Raja Mahaviharas in leading Sinhala newspapers the Divaina and Lankadeepa for many years and soon became a favourite feature amongst a vast cross section of readers. His collection of photographs was exhibited at numerous venues around Sri Lanka.
Abey who was 81 at the time of his passing will be sadly missed by his many colleagues in the advertising and photography industries whom he befriended in a career that lasted over 60 years. He leaves behind his beloved wife Rohini and son Thushara.
An unassuming person but she made her presence felt
Erin Pillay (nee Jayasinghe)
In sincere appreciation and with gratitude for friendship, I write these lines about a lovable person whom I knew well.
The shock of her sudden demise was a personal loss to all. Perhaps the time she spent with her family cannot be measured merely by the number of years she lived, but in terms of the unforgettable memories she left with Bryan, her children and friends.
It was a calm Sunday evening on February 6 when sadness filled the ‘Shantha Sevana’ hospice as the cold hand of death snatched Erin away in her prime. She was 56. During her illness she always kept ‘spiritual hope’ as well as “clinical hope’ that she would be cured. In March 2010, she was declared “negative” at Apollo Cancer Hospital in Hyderabad (India) and all were happy, but things changed quickly and unexpectedly in a few months by November 2010.
Erin was known to me since the 1990s through my association with Bryan. We were together in the Chartered Institute of Marketing and with the passage of time, my friendship developed with Bryan and Erin. She was a caring wife and mother to her husband and her two lovely children – Neelan and Neeliya who are doing well in life.
A good friend, Erin, as I knew her, was an unassuming and straightforward person. Gentle mannered, she always had genuine opinions and offered her assistance to all. She never flattered anybody to gain cheap praise, never boasted about her husband even though he did well in life. Her simplicity made Bryan’s life more worthwhile in his career. Her charity was only known within the four walls and her large heart knew no bounds to those who needed some help. She made her presence felt wherever she went. She lived her faith with profound attachment to Church and God.
I share the family’s grief. She is sadly missed and fondly remembered by all who knew her, here and abroad. I pray that her soul will find Eternal Peace.
Col. Sunil Peiris
He feared neither friend nor foe in fulfilling his duties
In 1991, a leaflet drawing the attention of concerned Sri Lankans to affairs back home led me to the Leelarathna residence in San Fernando Valley, California. This was the home of Deeptha and Hassina Leelarathna, co-editors of the Sri Lanka Express (SLE).
I vividly remember the cold and gloomy winter day I met Deeptha. From his writings in the Lankadeepa, which I had read in my school days, and from hearing his deep voice over the telephone, I had expected to see an imposing figure. Instead, I found Deeptha non-intimidating and accessible. In no time, we were friends. I would discover that behind the veneer of the simple Sinhalaya was a man of great strength and sharp insights.
His little editorial room was cluttered with papers and newspaper cuttings. Deeptha fired the first relevant question: Do you write? No! Can you type? No! “Ingreesi ehema kohomada?” I looked around the room and volunteered to empty the huge trash can filled with discarded papers. I also witnessed the struggle, the dedication and devotion through which they were attempting to carve high ground in journalism and also had the fortune to be associated with them in volunteering to perform routine duties.
Those were the “manual” days, the era prior to internet; when military operation ‘balavegaya” to rescue the trapped soldiers in the famous first battle of Elephant pass base was initiated in Sri Lanka, the news reached the expatriate community in US after its conclusion. SLE had to hunt the news, type it out, cut and paste it (yes, with scissors and glue), on the special print board with accurate alignment before sending it off to the printer. If Hassina erred on the meticulous alignment of the cut and paste operation procedure, Deeptha did not; if Deeptha erred on word syntax, Hassina did not: an optimal synchronization. They were a rare duo with skills that complemented each other.
There were many remarkable achievements he accomplished being primarily a Sinhala journalist. He wrote extensively on new developments in the field of science. The moon landing episode and space science was one area that he covered in depth in Sinhala, a times introducing his own words and terminology.
He was a close friend of the renowned scientist Professor Cyril Ponnamperuma, whom he introduced to the Sinhala readership. He survived the rough and rocky career of being a journalist in Sri Lanka and won a fellowship in journalism to Stanford University in mid seventies. Prior to that, in 1971, he visited the US on the prestigious International Visitors Program offered by the State Department.
The bi-weekly news paper “Sri Lanka Express” which he began in 1978 is a tribute to his capabilities and yet a far cry from the potential skills he possessed.
There was no important event in the Lankan community in LA, which missed his attention and/ or participation – from concerts to Katina pinkamas to public protests and demonstrations. Every year, in the days before the information became available online, the paper would provide updates on the Diversity Visa (Green card) Lottery, providing the forms and instructions in both English and Sinhala.
News was sacred to Deeptha and he feared no friend or foe in fulfilling his obligations as a journalist. He associated with commoners and king makers with ease and noted their follies and the humane qualities alike, on which he reported objectively if there was news worthiness in their acts.
Deeptha was a creative radio artist, having worked as an announcer and produced a regular segment on foreign news on SLBC. Through his radio programme “Tharanga” which was originally broadcast from Palo Alto Northern California and later from KPFK in Hollywood he brought in the Lankan atmosphere to the listeners. The people he interviewed on ‘Tharanga’ included (then) Prime Minister R. Premadasa, Ranil Wickremasinghe (shortly after he was appointed Minister of Education in 1977), and a long list of actors, playwrights, singers, and politicians. His deep voice and the melodious tone coupled with fluent Sinhala which he laced with a mix of both folk and academic nuances as the circumstance demanded, was entertaining. He had a marvellous collection of recordings which consisted of voices and speeches of people, events and occasions, stillness and the echo of nature and the environment.
Deeptha was an accomplished photographer, who had the knack of identifying and recognizing the moment and location of a shot with the correct mix of light and back ground.
In addition, he was interested in cinema and went on to get a degree in Film & Television (Cal State, San Francisco).
He was a master storyteller who loved narrating events and incidents in accurate sequence. He took a keen interest in people and his desire was to be a creative writer so he could capture their stories. After his death, Hassina found many short stories he had written but never published as well as outlines of story ideas.
Deeptha’s achievements and contribution to society were immense. He brought in new direction to a community which was groping with a lack of identity and paucity in direction. The Lankan society achieved a means of recognition in the multi cultural jungle of the US society, through his work. He introduced people of all strata of the Lankan society to the outside world. For the first time there was an effective means of interaction when internet days were not heard of. Society events were followed, highlighted and publicized. He took personal pride in the achievements of Sri Lankans and featured them in a column titled ‘One of Us’.
Deeptha passed away suddenly on February 22, 2006, of a heart attack. We lost a true friend and a pioneer. The void he has left will never be filled says Hassina. The void exists not just in Deeptha’s home, but in our community as well.
D. M. P. Dissanayake
He was a true legislator
A. C. S. Hameed
I am pleased to pen a few words on a legendary national leader, the late A.C.S. Hameed. My first impression of him was at a UNP public rally at Kandy’s Bogambara grounds during the 1977 general election campaign. I was then a young man with a keen interest in politics. His powerful speech in Sinhala made a lasting impression on me and made me an ardent admirer of him. I keenly followed his political career and was taken up by the non-abrasive manner in which he succeeded in winning minority rights.
His suave personality and erudite use of language, I believe, contributed to his success, not only in promoting the cause of minorities but also in diplomacy.
No wonder, President J.R. Jayewardene found a troubleshooter in him and nominated him to committees that needed his wisdom, knowledge and diplomacy.
I had the opportunity to associate with Mr. Hameed in Parliament in 1994. He was often the opening speaker on behalf of the opposition UNP on bills presented to Parliament. He was so thorough with his arguments that the government often accepted amendments proposed by him.
His speeches -- patiently explaining the cause and effect of each clause of a bill -- were a pleasure to listen to. Besides, they also showed his concern for the people.
His suggestions were of great value in the legislative process.
Many young legislators made it a point to remain in the chamber when Mr. Hameed spoke. He was a true legislator and played the role well.
I regret that I did not have the opportunity to interact with him at a personal level as he was a senior politician and I was just a novice in parliament. But I have heard of him to be a kind person who looked after his constituents, staff and colleagues.
R. Yogarajan, MP