Dr. James Horace Yates A well-lived life of service I first met Dr. Jim Yates about 16 years ago, when he and his wife Norah were living in Melbourne – and they started seeing me as their regular GP at the clinic where I worked. Despite the difference in our ages, Jim and I soon [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Dr. James Horace Yates

A well-lived life of service

I first met Dr. Jim Yates about 16 years ago, when he and his wife Norah were living in Melbourne – and they started seeing me as their regular GP at the clinic where I worked. Despite the difference in our ages, Jim and I soon realised that we had a lot in common – and so from being merely Jim’s doctor I gradually eased into the role of being his trusted friend.

James Horace Yates was born just over a hundred years ago in the Nilgiri Hills (the “Blue Mountains” of southern India) to Alfred and Ganapathy Yates. His father Alfred was an Englishman while his mother Ganapathy was an Indian lady. Educated at the Laidlaw Memorial School in Ketti and the Stanes Secondary School in Coimbatore, Jim won a scholarship to the prestigious Madras Medical College from where (having played hockey and boxed for Madras University) he graduated as a doctor in 1938.

It was at the Laidlaw School, when they were both five years old that Jim met Tony Gillan who became his lifelong friend – and therein lies a tale.

One day, in the course of conversation with Jim’s son Phillip I asked him how Jim had first met his wife Norah. Phillip told me that soon after graduating from medical school and commencing work as a hospital doctor, Dr. Jim and his friend Tony Gillan had married the two ward sisters Norah and Beryl.

“Ah” I asked, sensing a tale of hospital romance here “did your Mum and Dad meet while working in the same hospital?”

Phillip looked puzzled. “No, my Mum never worked in a hospital. Dad first met her when she was still attending high school”.

Now it was my turn to look confused. “But I thought you said she was one of the nursing sisters working on the hospital ward?”

Phillip continued to look puzzled “No, Mum was never a nurse!” he replied.

It took me a while for the penny to drop (as my daughter often says,  “Thathi, you are SOO slow on the uptake!”) until I realised that the two good looking girls that Jim and Tony ended up marrying were not nursing sisters but genuine sisters whose surname happened to be Ward.

Although Jim and Norah were married soon after he graduated, war clouds were looming over Europe and Jim volunteered to serve as a medical officer with the British Indian Army. He saw service on India’s NorthWest Frontier as well as in Egypt, Persia and Palestine. With the end of the war Major (Dr.) Yates of the Army Medical Corps returned to India where their first child Sandra was born – but following a holiday spent in the neighbouring British colony of Ceylon in 1947, Jim decided to move here with his family. Here he obtained a post as the company doctor for the Lunuva (Ceylon) Tea Estates Company – and it was in Ceylon that Jim and Norah’s son Phillip was born.

Jim worked for almost 25 years as a medical officer looking after the company’s officers, its tea plantation workers and their families on its vast tea estates situated in the salubrious hill country of Sri Lanka – and was well known among the planting community in the Uva hills. He earned a well-deserved reputation as a conscientious and caring doctor by whom all – whether they were rich or poor, of high estate or low – were assured of being treated well.

Many years ago I recall my own father telling me “Learn to treat everyone with more respect than you may think they deserve – and never with less respect than they expect.” This appeared to be Jim’s philosophy as well – it did not matter whether his patient was the manager of the tea plantation or a humble tea plucker, the factory manager or the cook – he treated them all with compassion and respect, and was much loved and respected by all his patients.

In the late sixties sadly the political situation in Ceylon was changing, and Jim, encouraged by Ceylonese friends like Dr. Gigi Anderson and his wife Lorraine who had themselves migrated to Melbourne, applied to migrate to Australia. The decision to leave Ceylon was not an easy one – he had a very good position as medical officer to one of the biggest plantation companies here, both children had been educated at two of the country’s most prestigious schools, he and Norah had a very comfortable lifestyle and many good friends there. In 1971, having delayed their final parting from Ceylon as long as possible, Jim and Norah together with their children Sandra and Phillip migrated to Australia.

Their new life in Melbourne was not easy, although being an ex-British army doctor Jim was able, without too much difficulty, to secure a job with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in which, at the time he finally retired, he had risen to the position of a Director. When he started, however, he had to leave home at 6.30 in the morning to take the tram into the city, often not getting home until after 6.30 pm. This was a major change from walking in just over two minutes between their spacious plantation home and his hospital, coming home for lunch and an afternoon siesta, having a lovely house with gardeners and domestic staff – and being driven to the various plantations he looked after by his own driver.

But Jim was aware that, like many of those who migrated to this country late in life, giving all this up and coming to a new country is the sort of sacrifice that they are called upon to make for the sake of their children and grandchildren.

Jim and Norah’s progeny certainly did well in Australia, and the Yates family has certainly come a long way from the Nilgiri hills of India. His children and grandchildren will I am sure be grateful, as they look back on his life, for the sacrifice that Jim and Norah made, forsaking their comfortable life in Ceylon to migrate overseas for the betterment of the family.

Jim well knew the value of education and learning. Until his nineties in fact he used to regularly do the difficult crossword in the Melbourne Age newspaper and read medical journals. Many were the occasions when I myself learned about new drugs and medical advances, not from my younger colleagues, but from my over 90-year-old friend Dr. Jim Yates!

To have a lived a hundred years upon this earth, to have witnessed all the momentous changes that have taken place during his own lifetime was certainly a great achievement. Although naturally, as human beings, we will mourn the loss of Jim, we will also be thankful for his life – a life well lived, a life of moral rectitude, a life of service.

I am sure that since the beginning of human thought, we human beings have wondered and speculated about what happens to us when we die – and I am sure people will continue to discuss and debate this subject long after we ourselves have left this world.

But I firmly believe that after we leave this earthly existence we still continue to live on in the memories of those who loved us and cared for us – and I am sure that my friend Jim will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of all of us here who had the privilege of knowing and being touched by him – a man who was quiet and dignified, who was compassionate and caring, and who to the end of his days was ever an officer and a gentleman.

- Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha


A man with a special mission

Dr. Hajji Mohamed Haniffa  Mohamed. With numerous articles of deep appreciations of my late revered maternal  uncle published, I have been inspired to write and express my feelings. He  passed away peacefully on the morning of Tuesday, April 26, which  incidentally was my 57th wedding anniversary.

The close bond with my uncle grew from my very early days where  we grew up together. My late elder brother Fahmy and I also had the privilege  of entertaining him when he visited England.

He visited England as the Mayor of  Colombo, a year after my marriage to  my wife Jean. We in conversation discussed with him of a most peaceful and  spiritual elder we knew who was living in Grosvenor Square in Hyde Park. My uncle  was keen to meet him. At this meeting the elder referred to uncle as a very  special person and said he was much loved by his father. He told uncle he  would have a long and healthy life and would always  achieve very high  political recognition and high appointments in his home country. He guided uncle  saying, since he was gifted with a special life and living as a Muslim, he  should at all times follow the religion and help the followers of the  religion more than all that his political positions warranted and demanded of  him. The elder said my Uncle’s religious life was more important to him than  his political life and achievements. Yes! This was perhaps the commencement  of his contribution to the Muslims and the faithful in this world.

When I returned to Sri Lanka in May 1965 to become his first Private  Secretary to the Ministry of Labour Employment and Housing, he was duly  requested by the Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake to overlook and attend to  the religious affairs of the Muslims. It became my task to assist him to  draft documents on the performance of Hajj by Sri Lankan faithful and their  visiting both holy cities of  Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj  Committee of the YMMA and other bodies were duly recognized and formalised.  My late father Hajji M.A. Razak and his closest colleague, Hajji   M. Falil A. Caffoor M.P., were included as members as they were providing the  travel passages and facilitating the groups each year for the performance of  Haj.

Having moved closer and nearer to my Uncle, I found that he was  a person fully protected at all times. This protection was unique as whatever  matter he embarked or handled, he at all time came out successful and richly  rewarded. During trade union disputes and strikes, he found dealing with  opposition in Parliament he was able to easily reply with honour.

My late father and others in the 1950s and early 1960s with the  YMMA attended Islamic meetings.  The reawakening of the World Muslim  Congress in Karachi, Pakistan by the dynamic efforts of the late Dr. Hajji  Inamullah Khan and the late Grand Mufti His Holiness Amin al~Hussaini was one such meeting and my father introduced my uncle  to Dr. Hajji  Inamullah Khan when he visited Sri Lanka.  Dr. Khan  appointed my uncle to the World Muslim Congress {Motamar} and both of them  were also inducted as founder members of the World Muslim League {Rabitha} in  the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

My uncle with these connections opened Sri Lanka to the Islamic nations.  There were numerous visits of Muslim heads of state and Muslim leaders to Sri  Lanka. These connections without any doubt freely opened numerous benefits to  both Sri Lanka and the people.

I made it at point to meet him regularly when visiting Sri Lanka and be at  some of his birthdays. During his tenure as Speaker of the Parliament of Sri  Lanka he visited us in New Zealand. I made his visit an important occasion as  the Maori in New Zealand officially welcomed him in the City of Rotorua. He  was also taken on the Lake of Rotorua and this made him the very first  Speaker of the Parliament from overseas to experience this honour.

I always considered my Uncle as a “Moomin”  as he, during his whole life, behaved in a most noble manner and feel he has  accordingly been richly rewarded with Jennathul Firdhous.

-Mohamed Iqbal
(eldest nephew)

Indira Fortune Ratnam nee Navamanie

Thank you for all you are and were to us

You left behind memories of gold
Ours now to treasure and to hold;
Within our hearts you’ll always stay
Loved, missed and remembered every day
Images of you fill our thoughts
Beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother
A friend sincere to all in need
Thoughtful, gentle, full of good deeds
God looked down on his creation
Saw a life that was a celebration,
Held out his hand and took you in
The crown of life for you to win.
In pain and suffering you ministered still
Subduing self with his grace and your will,
A thoughtful word, a gentle smile
To all who called on you a while.
We watched you wither day by day
Though we willed it, you could not stay,
Our need for you will never abate
But heaven’s need was not for debate.
Now crowned in gold, our golden girl
You’ve left behind hearts in a whirl,
Broken we whisper, ‘God knows best’
As you enter God’s eternal rest.
Amidst the sorrow, shock and pain
Hope whisper’s gently, ‘We’ll meet again’
Someday on that golden morrow
God will wipe away all our sorrow;
Together again forever more;
In God’s eternal home on high
Never a need to cry or sigh
Thank you for all you are and were to us
Ever loved, missed and remembered

-Albert, Rukshan, Dharshini, Shyamala, Mummy, Dadda, Ronald & Ranjana

Savithri Goonewardene Devanesan

A testimony to a great spirit, an eternal woman

‘So good a woman, who can find ?

She is more precious than jewels…

She doeth good, not harm, all her days…

She riseth with the dawn and looks well to the ways of her household, she eateth not the bread of idleness…

She stretcheth out her hand to the needy… she reaches out to the poor…

She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and her words are the law of kindliness…

Strength and honour are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come…

Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all…

Give her the fruits of her hands… let her works praise her at the gates…’

(Comentarii- Proverbia 1633)

Surely, thus would she have been praised at heaven’s gates, as she moved on …to life eternal… a year since – May 6, 2015, as God willed, on the birth anniversary of her  beloved father…

To reflect on so excellent a life is a meditation… to capture its rare beauty…becomes a pictorial meditation…

Among the earliest, are pictures of a stately mansion…and spread upon its lawn a gracious and handsome family…Yes- the revered Dr. Simon Goonewardene and Mrs. Amy Goonewardene, with their eight children… She was born their eldest daughter- Norma Amebelle. Here, we may behold the roots to her great spirit: A home, founded on Christian living, honour to parent and elder, unparalleled love among siblings, goodness to staff… did extend beyond…to embrace the wider community: the church, education, particularly the poor and needy… precepts of life richly reflected in diverse hues in its children: from the eldest- the late Leslie Goonewardene- the great Marxist political- economist and freedom fighter, to Dr. Roy, who served as a missionary in darkest Africa.

We look upon delightful pictures of four beautiful girls…clothed in Victorian lace… at varied stages of growing up… and see them schooling at Methodist  College. Norma was for a brief time at Medical  College. Her active life there, as an SCM student… was it destiny? For it paved the way to her encounter with the charismatic Cambridge scholar Dr. Chandran Devanesan from India- ‘a young man of great excellence…’as adjudged by the late Rev. Dr. D.T. Niles.

We look upon such beautiful images of a young joyous couple- Chandran and Savithri, hallowed by a God blessed love… and see a youthful Norma move on courageously, in great faith… to a life unknown. Her son reflects thus:

“ Amma left her luxurious home in Sri Lanka to join Dad, she never again lived in a house that she or her family owned; but wherever she lived she created a home of love, joy…food for all…Dad, rejecting many prestigious jobs, was led by his missionary zeal… to the remote Christian College in West  Bengal… Amma’s first home with dad was in a small house on a small income… invaded by monkeys…and wild animals…(Dayalan Devanesan  May 7, 2015)”

We meditate on the quiet growth and maturation of her great spirit… as the pictorial images carry us onward to those much recalled years at Madras Christian College, where Chandran and Savithri- now blessed with three sons, combined  a life of education with a life of sacrificial service to humankind…

We may meditate upon these words of an SCM scholar:

“The Rural Service Centre of the College is really the Devanesan Centre. Every day food is cooked for the village children in her home. Every day leper patients… come to her garden to wait for treatment…She has open house for students… willingly helps any who come to her with a problem- personal or medical. She is often short of money, yet she gives food away even if it means lunch may not appear… She used to pray…and something would come…She helps Chandran keep going…She is the calmest soul, one would think she was never involved in anything difficult…She is still lovely despite three boys…the most beautiful woman I have seen… (Murial Ridland 1953)”

Meditating upon these years of ‘unforgettable love…’in the likeness of the name she now bore –‘Savithri’  their protégées around the world must today bow in reverence to her great spirit,  and celebrate her matchless life!

Reflecting further upon images of Savithri and Chandran- so lovely in their heyday, we  behold this woman of noble birth… move on in elegance and grace with her renowned husband, within India and overseas, where he was visiting professor and honoured guest at International Fora; and then we see them move on to Assam, where he ended his career as Vice Chancellor of Shillong University- so appointed by the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who subsequently honoured him for outstanding services to education. It is with a certain loving empathy that we meditate with a mother’s pride, when her sons emulated their father…as she shared those pictorial images with her kin in Sri Lanka- Dr. Sudarshan Devanesan being decorated with the ‘Order of Canada’ for his contribution to medicine, and Dr. Dayalan Devanesan being honoured by the Government of Australia for his services among Aboriginal tribes. And so it is with hidden love and pain…that we meditate upon Mithran… her youngest -our beloved playmate in childhood, whose untimely passing cast an indelible shadow upon her path…yet, to the honour of his parents left for posterity his loving labour among the marginalized… particularly those stigmatised with AIDS. Thus we meditate upon the ‘light and shade’ in Savithri’s life.

The meditation carries us on…to look upon a treasure trove of pictorial images… which bear testimony to a deep inner calling…and so stands eternal their foundation- ‘Roofs for the Roofless’- founded by Chandran Devanesan – upon the theological precept of Dietrich Bonhoeffer : ‘The goal of Christian life is to be a blessing to others… we are called to participate in God’s sufferings with the poor and the oppressed by serving them…’

And so the meditation carries us to a shadow in Savithri’s life… the untimely passing of Prof. Chandran in 1982… yet light shines forth again, as the foundation is revitalized with the ever courageous Savithri, bearing Chandran’s diary and handkerchief in hand, donned the mantle of director. Vibrant images in prose, verse and picture abound… to tell a story of dedication, courage, endeavour, hope, faith and prayer…as a youthful Savithri moved on in years to be the much adored matriarch ‘Amma’… to all whom she served and all who served with her. Under her stewardship the foundation grew… to include a Computer training laboratory, Technical training facility, vibrant livelihood support programmes for women, Aged and Child care centres , Agricultural support schemes, Housing schemes… to name but a few…

This- a testimony to a great spirit…an eternal woman…undiminished with the passage of time…

And so- her final days become a soulful meditation…picturing masses of poor gathered at her gate- kneel in prayer… and a simple niece bows her head in silent meditation… to echo the words-“ Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all…”

- Mithrani


Rita Perera

Mother Teresa of Sri Lanka

“I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was naked and you clothed me; I was homeless and you gave me shelter. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters that you do unto me.”

For more than three decades, Rita Perera not only read these words of Jesus in the Last Judgment, she also lived them.

Sister Rita, as she was affectionately known, passed away peacefully on May 26, 2015 at the age of 81 to go to her eternal reward in a land where she would not grow weary and old and where there will be no poor or rich people but all equal as children of God.

Known as the Mother Teresa of Sri Lanka and like Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, Rita Perera was laid to rest at the MarcSri cemetery at Katukurunda in Kalutara. Also buried there are scores of people whom Sister Rita had taken care of. They were buried there because they were the poorest of the poor, the destitute who had no family or other friends to even give them a decent burial.

Marc Sri Saranaseva Nivahana, a network of welcome centres, was founded by Sister Rita 32 years ago. Rita had been a nun, but during the 1960s she had had no option but to revoke her vows because of serious health reasons.

After a few years, she married Marcus Perera. They built a house in Kalutara and called it Marc Sri. Marcus died in 1982. However, the spiritually enlightened and courageous Rita found strength in the Lord and turned this calamity into a blessing. Since they had no children, the Lord then called Rita to a mission with a vision. In response, she began visiting hospitals to see mainly the abandoned people, those whom no one came to see and no one was there to take care of. She first took them homemade food, tea or coffee for them. As the Lord gradually gave her a broader vision and more resources, she bought three wheelchairs for three paralysed and abandoned patients. She saw in them the Abandoned Christ, which many scholars say is the most important and the most powerful manifestation of the Lord.

The next step in Rita’s Journey took place, as the Lord works so often, in a mysterious way.

On January 29, 1983, a leper, who had been released from hospital, came to her house asking for a place to stay as he had nowhere to go. Remembering the words “I was homeless and you gave me shelter,” she welcomed this man. With that one small leap, the Lord took her to a giant step to follow him into the deep and to believe in falling rain, even where she traversed deserts dry.

From then onwards an increasing number of people, trapped in the slavery of poverty, found a home at Marc Sri. To her the Lord brought disabled and crippled children, the elderly, the men and the women. She had no rooms or beds for them so they all slept on the floor.

Jesus Christ is not merely experienced by going to Church or reading theological books. Rita believed that He is experienced when we love one another as He loves us, the one great commandment as told by the Lord in the immortal parable of the Good Samaritan. Rita’s one Marc Sri multiplied to accommodate more than a thousand destitute people, including mentally handicapped or deformed children in more than 10 homes of compassion, in various towns of the Archdiocese.

The daily expenses were met with donations from well-wishers both here and overseas through a trust fund known as “Friends of MarcSri”.

When Sister Rita’s work here was done, and after she had run her race well, her precious Lord took her hand and led her home.

- A Friend


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