A public servant beyond compare and a peerless tax man
H. Abeypitiya Mithrasena
He died as quietly as he lived. Though he was not a large public figure, he was truly great among his peers and contemporaries. He was a gifted maths teacher and a pioneering author of Sinhala maths textbooks at a time when there was a dearth of books in that genre. Above all, he was a peerless tax man for a greater part of his life.

Ambepitiya Mithrasena started schooling from grade 5 upwards at Ananda College, Colombo. The school's records will prove that he blazed a trail of outstanding scholarship right through his career in school, winning all the prizes and gold medals that were awarded to the best students. He crowned his school career by gaining entrance to the University of Ceylon when Sir Ivor Jennings was Vice Chancellor, winning a scholarship in the process. Then he capped his university career with an effortless first class honours degree in maths (Special).

While he awaited the results of the degree examination, he taught us maths in what was then called the University Entrance form at Ananda. Our paths in life crossed for the first time there. We found him to be a taciturn and shy teacher, rarely inclined to face his pupils! However, when he turned to the blackboard and started writing he was a transformed man. He wrote copiously, meticulously and comprehensively, often making it unnecessary for us to refer to the class textbooks. Some of us took an impish delight in trying to distract him with an occasional interjection, which was a milder pastime than aiming paper ball, projectiles onto the blackboard! He was not flustered at all, merely turning around and casting that winsome smile of his, that was his trademark.

He took a special interest in me and encouraged me to sit the special scholarship papers in maths, an added option to candidates who wished to attempt them; success in those papers added to the prestige of the candidate and his school. For this purpose he kept me after school one day a week and tested my ability at solving some of the more arcane maths problems taken from past scholarship papers, local and foreign. Some problems proved to be too daunting at first and, for the first time, I began to doubt my ability. It is here that Mithrasena's true qualities as a teacher emerged. He told me that the examiners who had devised such problems had been students like me and I ought not to be cowed by such problems; he then led from the front and solved effortlessly what to me had seemed impossible of solution.

This generosity in his approach removed the mental block that I had suffered on seeing some of those questions for the first time. From then on it was plain sailing. As a result I took the scholarship exam with confidence and fulfilled his expectations. Mithrasena, by his maths coaching, taught me to be mentally tough and unrelenting when faced with difficult problems. Good teachers mould the characters of their pupils.

Though he was possessed of all the requisites of a creative mathematician, he turned his back on further maths and preferred to take a post of Assistant Assessor in the Department of Income Tax, later renamed the Department of Inland Revenue. However, he found the time to pioneer some maths textbooks in Sinhala in the early days of the official language revolution. By some strange coincidence of fate I too left the University on graduation and joined the Department of Income Tax as an Assistant Assessor. Thus our paths crossed for the second time!

As a taxman he was par excellence. In the technique of tax investigations he was without a peer. His analysis of the legal provisions in the tax statute was always incisive so much so that he nearly always faced, undaunted, the best of legal counsel who appeared for the taxpayers in appeal hearings before the Board of Review some of which, on further appeal, he steered through the courts. With the possible exception of one case, I know of no other where his view did not prevail before the judges.

Mithrasena generously shared his knowledge and experience with his colleagues. I recall with gratitude how diligent and helpful he was when I had to liase with the DSG regularly when the Commercial Bank of Ceylon case was before the Supreme Court on appeal by the Department against the decision of the Board of Review. That the Court reversed the Board's decision was largely due to the help he gave me in the drafting of the guidance notes that I prepared for the DSG's study and preparation. The diligent professionalism of Mithrasena's approach is something that I have always tried to emulate.

Towards the end of his career, he steadfastly refused to be promoted over his seniors. He then retired and took an assignment overseas. On his return, he turned his back irrevocably on further tax work and led a life filled with meditation and contemplation. At a time such as the present, when a unique man of rare ability and shining integrity like Mithrasena passes away, we may recall, for solace, the famous line that Oliver Cromwell wrote in a letter to Sir W. Spring in 1643:

A few honest men are better than numbers
M.S.M.T. Samaratunga

Inspite of her illness she had joie de vivre
Dina Kundanmal
I will always remember Dina Kundanmal as a young girl as that is how I knew her first - she was my classmate at Methodist College, Colombo 3 and a close family friend.

The one thing that Dina had above all else, was an impish sense of humour. I met her for the last time before she died when I was on holiday in Sri Lanka last November.

She was in a wheelchair. I was sitting there holding her hand and talking to her when she got a twinkle in her eye and leaned forward to whisper something to me. At first I could not understand her.

When I finally understood the message it was to ask me if I had had a nose job! I had to laugh out loud and say no I haven't - but what she did was relieve my sadness.
Dina started falling ill noticeably in senior school.

When she lost the ability to walk she came to school in a wheelchair but at break time and intervals she would walk with our help. That was her indomitable spirit. We went for every rugby match possible and she would walk with us - she went for every party and if she felt low she never showed it.

At my farewell party she came to see me off. She was not the one sitting in a corner moping - instead she was dancing in her wheelchair with Tony Charters who jived with her spinning the wheel chair round for every turn. It was great and she really enjoyed herself.

Perhaps she got part of this from her home environment. I spent many afternoons and evenings there. She was one of the brightest students in the class with a razor sharp mind. She loved taking anyone on in an argument and insisted on writing down her own work even when writing was slow and painful.

She got a place in university but could not keep the pace due to her illness.
But that did not make her give up - she started doing her degree privately and read to make up for her inability to attend classes.

When her illness was getting the better of her she braved it with fortitude and accepted everything with a calm state of mind. She was a warm, lively, funny person who had a gift for friendship and as the French would say "joie de vivre" a joy of living".

To say that everyone who knew her will miss her is not an overstatement.
Kalpana Morris

A cheery welcome and a warm smile
My childhood friend Sivasothy lived a rich and full life. We spoke about the fun-filled days of our youth, whenever we met. We had known each other as pupils in primary school and studied together upto Grade 10. We were also hostellers and spent our time in the company of each other until destiny took us in different directions. Being the eldest daughter born to orthodox parents, she was married at an early age, but our friendship continued.

She was a sweet-natured and friendly person, always with a charming smile, modest and soft-spoken. Married to a business tycoon and living in the lap of luxury she remained the same simple -natured person until her death a few days back.

She was a talented musician and often graced school functions. She also acted in plays produced by the school. She was devoted to her family and was very fond of her sons and daughters. She would often speak of them and show me their photographs, with pride. A quiet unassuming person who lived in the shadow of her businessman husband, she was a lady of great honour and integrity.

She helped the needy and contributed lavishly to charity and religious causes. Though she became a widow and was bed-ridden in later life, she remained the same old Sivasothy I had known and befriended since our childhood days.

She would always welcome me with the same heart-warming smile and revive old memories, of our carefree days at school. She never complained but appreciated the love and tender care her children gave her.


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