Dr. Samad Ismail He was the personification of a gentleman  It was last May that on a visit to Kandy, I was chatting with Dr. Samad Ismail, who passed away this week. Seated by his rose garden in Kandy, the excitement and romanticism of his past was palpable as he recounted his early exploits: “I [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Dr. Samad Ismail

He was the personification of a gentleman 

It was last May that on a visit to Kandy, I was chatting with Dr. Samad Ismail, who passed away this week. Seated by his rose garden in Kandy, the excitement and romanticism of his past was palpable as he recounted his early exploits:

“I was a rookie doctor, recruited in 1951 by Air Commodore Graham Bladon, just as the Royal Ceylon Air Force was formed.  The Air Force had only a handful of small transport airplanes and a couple of helicopters –all provided by the British Air Force. Katunayake and Trinco were flying stations and a helicopter would come twice a week at 8 a.m. –on the dot– to the Navy grounds and pick us up. Once, I got late by less than a minute.  I had to run and give chase, and the ‘craft slowed down—and I got the telling off of my life as I was snatched in. That was my first lesson in discipline in the Air Force. It was more telling than what I was used to at home as my Dad (Sergeant-at Arms of the Parliament) would drill into us.

“I was officer number 6 or 7 in the newly created Air Force, in 1951.  So by today’s standards you can call me ancient! But at 90 years my memory isn’t bad. What do you think?”  And he winked!

Dr. Samad went on: “I was hellbent to fly an aircraft.  I had a little bit of training but no time to do the theory. As fortune had it, the officer in charge obliged and agreed to try me out.  He put me at the controls. As we taxied down the runway, he asked me to slow down, opened the door, jumped out yelling: Samad, you are on your own! I had no option but to take off, as the aircraft had already revved up!”

And take off Dr. Samad Ismail did.  He had a illustrious and deeply satisfying life: a doctor with a heart of gold who wrote prescriptions, but hardly cared to write a bill; a conscientious social worker who was   leading the Pride of the Kandy Lions; a selfless and decorated champion of cancer care, to his very last days who presided over the promotion of the cause; a pragmatic, practising and deeply committed Muslim who by example set the highest standards of decorum, demonstrating by sheer example, mutual respect to a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

His most abiding affection and commitment was to fellow members of society, whatever their station in life —especially the underprivileged. He had the God-given gift to be able to immerse himself in deep discussions with his patients, and up and coming youth. And follow up, to a point that he was an integral part of the family of his patients, many of them remaining his patients to his last days— so rare in these times when our medical professionals hardly have an extra minute to spare for their patients leave alone their families. He would, with his heart of gold, worry intensely about his patients, and true to the philosopher Al- Ghazali – Dr. Samad showed that although the ‘Sun of the Day sets at night, but the Sun of the Heart never sets’.

The passing of a person at the ripe old age of 90, is often accepted with natural resignation. But our hearts weep as it signals the passing of a generation of stalwarts the likes of whom we may not see for decades to come. Dr. Samad belonged to that generation — truly a gentleman. Alas the term ‘gentleman’ is often used so casually. But Dr. Samad Ismail was such a  gracious, cultured, caring and accessible person, that he was the word’s personification.

The passing away of his lifelong love and beautiful partner Shiya last year—in fact exactly a year and one day ago– left a vacuum in his heart that he agonised over but sought peace of mind through the Quranic adage that from God do we come and to Him do we return.

But even in grief he found time to ‘smell the roses’ and sing the praises of the Almighty for the blessings that had been bestowed on him through a beautiful family in his children, Rosemin, Fathima, Shanaz and Zahra.

And yes, these emotions were manifested in the rose garden he meticulously manicured and where he sought solace in the words of Rumi  -“That which God said to the rose, and caused it to laugh in full-blown beauty, He said to my heart, and made it a hundred times more beautiful.”

- M.V. Muhsin

Siri De Silva

He was a role model on how to live and how to love

Those who had the pleasure of knowing our beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Siri De Silva know he was a vibrant and active member of society until a few days before his sudden illness and passing. Given his outgoing, friendly and generous nature many people did know him and can attest to the joy and merriment he brought wherever he went.

Just a year ago when he was visiting his great-grandchild, us grandkids got the chance to ask him about his life. We asked him to recall how many countries he had visited and he came up with 38 in all the continents except Antarctica. It is easy for us to say he lived a full life, rich with the adventure he loved so much and very little to regret.

In addition to exploring the world, his passion was sharing Sri Lanka with people from all over the world. One of the last things he did while he was in hospital for only five short days before he passed away, was to make arrangements for a tour group sent to him by his friend in Germany who has been sending tourists to Sri Lanka through him for 40 years. He was a Presidential Award winner as a pioneer in tourism and was even appreciated by Air Commodore Leonard Birchall of the Royal Canadian Airforce for his work in bringing those World War II veterans who had defended the island from the Japanese to Sri Lanka. However, what he loved most was being useful. He had served as president of the Association of Small & Medium Enterprise in Tourism Sri Lanka (ASMET) and was instrumental in Sri Lanka’s wildlife conservation efforts especially in Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks which are close to his beloved town of Habarana.

An avid birder, he walked each morning for his exercise, enjoying even the smallest gifts nature bestowed on Sri Lanka. As children, he took us and our friends all around our beautiful island. He taught us about endemic birds, natural rock formations and the ancient civilizations of our country. He took us on hikes and safaris and taught us how to fish in small creeks, to ride bikes down steep hills and how to swim in the ocean with big waves without fear. He bought us boiled cadju and raw mango achcharu and picked jambu for us. He gave us an epic Sri Lankan childhood.

He was a role model on how to live and how to love. He was proud of all his wife’s achievements and adored her through hard times and good. Everything he did was with consideration for her happiness. He loved all of his brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews as his own children and always helped with all their difficulties with urgency and care.

It was perhaps because he had seen so much of the world that he cared so deeply for everybody’s suffering. He helped the poorest of the poor through the late Father Joe De Mel’s charity Samata Sarana but he also helped the people in his neighbourhood with their wells, and their children’s education and hospital bills regardless of race, class or creed. He took children of distant friends on tours of Sri Lanka and even on his last day he invited the people in the ward at the hospital to Habarana to see his beloved elephants. There is no man or woman who worked for him who didn’t adore him despite his explosive temper which was like a firework. Quick to flare-up but short-lived and he made up for it with his kindness and generosity.

As his family we know we were blessed with a guardian angel on earth. No amount of time would have been enough with you Thaththo. The world will never be the same without you in it but we will try to carry on your example of dedication, care and joy that your life embodied.

 Your children and grandchildren – Sorelle and Nick, Danielle and John, Rayush and Minal, Joseph, Janith, Jacob and Ayden and your great granddaughter Maya Siri

Prof. Ashley Halpe

Ecce Homo – Behold the Man!

It is with profound sorrow that I wish to record the passing away of Professor Ashley Halpe who was closely associated with the University of Peradeniya for over 60 years as student, lecturer, professor, Head of the Department, and Faculty Dean, as well as in key student services positions. Professor Halpe was quintessentially a renaissance figure, combining the qualities of an outstanding scholar, an organic intellectual with a uniquely creative spirit, which led him to be an internationally recognized poet, painter, translator and dramaturge. He was a remarkably sensitive and caring human being who nurtured six generations of students at this university and beyond, serving as guide, philosopher, and friend to all who sought his succour, whether they were behind bars or behind in their work.

The image of Professor Halpe’s regular visits to students incarcerated in 1971, bearing books and victuals, that are food for mind and body, and his subsequent support to bring them back to complete their degrees, will never be forgotten by those who, as a direct result of this, have since achieved the highest academic and administrative honours.

Ashley Halpe graduated from the then University of Ceylon in 1956 with a 1st class in English, having been among the first batches of students to be moved to the newly established University Campus at Peradeniya. Joining the Faculty as Assistant Lecturer in English in 1957, he served the University for 42 years until his retirement in 1998. He was placed first in the country in the Civil Service Examination, but chose to remain in academia.

Appointed Professor of English at the young age of 31, Ashley Halpe served as Head, Department of English, for 25 years except for a brief period in 1974 to 1977, when he served as the Head of the Department of English at the Vidyalankara University Campus when the Department of English was moved to Kelaniya as part of a plan of university reorganisation.

Among his most important contributions to English studies are the concession that he won from the Ministry, to admit students for English on the basis of what we now know today as the special or additional intake, also to admit teachers of English from state sector schools who had performed well at the first Examination in Arts in the External Degree programme to the University Degree programmes in English, and the introduction of the total immersion course in English to teaching programmes at the English Teacher Training Colleges. He was also instrumental in introducing the study of ‘French’ to the Degree Programme of Arts in the University of Peradeniya.

During his long years in University service, he served as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University Proctor, and Director of Student Welfare. His contribution to the University was not confined to the Department of English. He was instrumental in the formation of the Department of Fine Arts and in bringing the three language departments closer together through joint programmes, including through formulating new courses.

Professor Ashley Halpe’s contribution to student life was not confined to teaching. As Director of Student Welfare, during a particularly troubled period of University history in 1971, he discharged his responsibility with a degree of commitment that is still remembered with gratitude by those students helped by him. In 1983 Professor Halpe worked above and beyond the call of duty to protect students from organised ethnic confrontations, thereby even helping to save lives.

His art was an integral part of his personality and grew out of his commitment to humanist values in a world in which they were becoming increasingly rare and unpopular. He was also an active theatre person and the University Dramatic Society (DramSoc) had a special relationship with Professor Halpe from its inception. He not only designed and directed a dozen play productions for the DramSoc, he also ensured that it remained active during his tenure as senior treasurer.

In addition to his scholarly publications, Professor Halpe was also known for his translations of fiction from Sinhala to English (notably of Martin Wickramasinghe), his poetry, and his paintings. For his contribution to Letters and Arts the Government of Sri Lanka has honoured him with the titles “Kalakeerthi “, “Vishvaprasadini”, and, most recently, “Sahitya Raina “, and the French Government with the title of “Chevalier “.

Professor Halpe was, above all, the gentlest and most sensitive of beings whose humanity and commitment to this institution and its highest ideals, continue to be a beacon of light to Peradeniya, the higher education sector itself, and the wider Sri Lankan community. He has touched the lives of thousands of students from all walks of life to whom his loss will be irreparable. He was one of the last epochal men in whom the qualities of teacher, artist, scholar and human being were perfectly integrated.

In keeping his faith, may his soul be granted Eternal Rest.”

All are welcome, especially, those who have been touched by him, for a Thanksgiving Memorial Mass presided by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at St. Mary’s Church, Dehiwala at 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 19.

 - Professor Arjuna Parakrama





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