Dr. Rajah Cooke He did more than his part towards humanity as a caring doctor Dr. Rajah Cooke died on February 14, this year at the age of 89 in Colombo.  Principled, dedicated, and at times controversial, Dr. Cooke was a pioneering cancer specialist at the National Cancer Hospital in Maharagama and past-president of the [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Dr. Rajah Cooke

He did more than his part towards humanity as a caring doctor

Dr. Rajah Cooke died on February 14, this year at the age of 89 in Colombo.  Principled, dedicated, and at times controversial, Dr. Cooke was a pioneering cancer specialist at the National Cancer Hospital in Maharagama and past-president of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA).

Medicine was an easy career choice for Rajah Cooke given the family legacy.  He was the eldest child of Dr. Gunaratnam Cooke, who was the Senior Physician at the General Hospital in Colombo.  His maternal grandfather, Dr. Samuel Chelliah Paul, was the first Sri Lankan to obtain fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1901, and the first senior surgeon at the General Hospital in Colombo. Professor Milroy Paul, his uncle, was the founder Professor of Surgery (1936-1965), first at the Colombo Medical College and the Children’s Hospital.  A.T.S Paul, another uncle, was a leading pioneer Cardiothoracic Surgeon in Sri Lanka.  One of his great-grandfathers, Dr. Simon de Melho Aserappa, was the first Sri Lankan to obtain a Doctor of Medicine from a British University.  A great-grandfather, Dr. William Paul, was one of the first medical students from Jaffna in 1871 and trained under Dr. Green, a medical missionary to teach medicine in Jaffna.

Rajah Cooke as a keen sportsman received school colours in both cricket and tennis at Royal College.  In 1946, he played under Mahesh Rodrigo in the annual Royal-Thomian big match encounter.  While pursuing his medical degree, Rajah also represented the University of Ceylon Cricket and Tennis teams and was considered an all-rounder by Sir.Ivor Jennings, Vice Chancellor, University of Ceylon.

He received a Distinction in Medicine and was awarded the Dhadabhoy Gold Medal for Medicine from the University of Ceylon in 1952.  After completing his training at the Colombo General Hospital, he was awarded a Government Scholarship to complete his FRCS examination in England.  Having completed his FRCS (Edinburgh and London) examinations in 1959, he worked as a surgical registrar in Orthopaedics and Plastic Surgery in Liverpool and London.

Upon his return to Sri Lanka, he was selected as the first, full time cancer surgeon at the newly established National Cancer Hospital at Maharagama in 1960 and specialized in facio–maxillary cancer surgery.  Dr. Cooke collaborated with his peers in Europe and America to ensure that his patients in Sri Lanka received the benefits from modern research in cancer treatment.  For example, he worked closely with the medical staff from the Project Hope Ship when it visited Sri Lanka in 1969.  This collaboration continued for many years with a number of American surgeons working at the Maharagama Cancer Hospital.  Many of the visiting doctors admired Dr. Rajah Cooke’s surgical skills, particularly in plastic and reconstructive surgery.  The incidence of oral cancer was high in Sri Lanka due to the local habit of chewing betel and tobacco leaves.  He also commenced a cancer clinic in Jaffna to help the large number of cancer patients from the North.

In June 1976, he was elected as the President of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) and together with Dr. Rienzie Peiris, President of the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) they worked tirelessly to ensure that Government Medical Officers request for channel practice be restored with several other demands, such as overtime payments and the establishment of free quarters for Government medical officers.  After much work, including many trade union tactics such as work-to-rules and strikes, they were successful in having their demands restored, such as the re-establishment of channel practice and overtime payments for Government medical officers in 1977.

He continued his distinguished surgical work at the National Cancer Hospital and remained at that post until his retirement in 1981.

After his retirement from the Cancer Hospital, he worked on the academic surgical staff at Ahamed Bello University Medical Faculty in Nigeria and later for the Ministry of Health /Oman as a Senior Surgeon.

He then re-joined Government Service in 1985 as Senior Surgeon at the Nuwara – Eliya Base hospital.

Rajah passed away peacefully in his sleep at his birth residence in Ward Place, Colombo, surrounded by his family and knowing very well that he had done his part towards humanity as a caring doctor and as a gentleman. He is survived by his wife  Pathmini, three sons and six grand-children.

Selva Richards



Of Law College days and happy memories

We lost an astute lawyer and a loyal friend when Azad Raheem moved to the next stage of his life on March 2,  this year.

I first met Azad in 1952 when we joined the boys of the “First Form” as Year Six was then known, at Royal College, Colombo. I continued as a class mate for four years till we bifurcated, Azad into the science stream and I into languages and Arts. We met again in 1959 when we joined the Ceylon Law College. We have remained friends since then.

Azad had gained three distinctions in Double Math and Physics, a sure fire path to a degree in Engineering. But his father M.M.A. Raheem had other plans for his brilliant son. The nine Raheem siblings – six boys and three girls, each qualified in a different profession.

The father was a Senior Proctor (Solicitor)with an extensive clientele of prosperous Pettah businessmen and wished Azad to join him with a view to taking over the flourishing practice. Azad had no choice; when MMA had spoken, he had spoken!

Azad did extremely well in the exams and was only beaten by one mark at the Final exam by Laki Wikramanayake, his brother-in-law to be. They did joint study at the Wikramanayake household and it is obvious now that Azad’s eye had not been on the books they jointly read.

Azad took over his father’s practice and concentrated on civil law. Though I joined the Attorney General’s Department and mainly practised criminal law, we continued to meet socially.

I cannot fail to speak of the hospitality and bonhomie that Azad and his law school friends enjoyed at the home of Therese’s parents. We were as welcome when we turned up past midnight to drop Laki home or when we dropped in on an evening.

Therese had proved a supportive wife. Running house, attending to the children’s needs and driving Azad, not around the bend, but on the myriad warrens of Melbourne Streets. They knew each other when she was a shy teenager and Azad was barely 20 years old.

Azad and Therese devoted much time to the Ceylon Society of Australia [Melbourne Chapter] and engaged in much appreciated social service.

I made a visit to see him in the third week of January this year and while the ailment that claimed his life, had gnawed away at his solid rugger playing body, his mind was alert and sharp as when he was a young law student.

An example of his wit remains with me. One of the lecturers at Law College, erudite in the law but totally impractical in applying his knowledge to the realities of the legal arena devised a hypothetical question on the law of damages for a wrongful act.

The question stated an obvious case for the plaintiff [A} to be awarded damages against the defendant [B] but artfully concealed within the scenario were several exceptions to the rule that would deny the award of damages.

With a pontifical air, the lecturer dramatically asked “Can A sue B?” – Azad piped up “He can sue, but he won’t win.” The laughter that ripped the class room apart and the expression on the face of the lecturer are vivid in my memory.

I recall an incident that demonstrates the caring that Azad showed those who needed help. In our last year at Law College, a group of Law students made a visit to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak). On our way down a child in a group that was descending ahead of us slipped and fell down the cliff side. She was clinging onto a bush that did not look strong enough to bear her weight for long, and before anyone could react, Azad leaned over and grabbed the child by her arm and pulled her up.

The parents were full of thanks and could only show their gratitude by offering us a few bananas that they had with them. Azad promptly said [in Sinhala] words to the effect ‘thank you but I don’t eat fruit’ and returned the gift.

I am no expert in Islam but if there is a Sirrat that provides a link to paradise, Azad must certainly traverse that bridge to reach the eternal garden of spiritual and physical delights. The palaces filled with streams of milk, honey, pleasant fragrances and soothing voices.

“Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return [Qur’an 2:156]

Sunil de Silva


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