ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 13

Clare - Unforgettable founder editor of "Lanka Woman"

Clare Senewiratne

She set her stamp on the "Lanka Woman" right from the word `Go!' as founder-editor of the new and only (at the time), women's paper to be published in English and it received an enthusiastic welcome when it made its debut in February, 1984.

Almost instantly, it was accepted wholeheartedly by the English-reading women of Sri Lanka of all ages, housewives and professionals, and it soon became their favourite magazine which was eagerly awaited when it hit the news-stands without fail every Wednesday for the next 20 years. Most of those readers remained faithful fans of the Editor and her incomparable weekly . Today, they will undoubtedly be mourning the passing of an Editor-par-excellence whom they came to regard as a friend - one who gave them a paper which they have read and enjoyed and the copies of which they have hoarded and treasured.

Clare David, as she was when I first came to know her half-a-lifetime ago, joined Lake House just when I was about to leave it. She was the third young woman from Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya, to join the staff, the first of whom was Maureen Milhuisen (Seneviratne after marriage), and the second being Charmaine Poulier, (later Solomon). Clare took over as editor of the women's pages of the Ceylon Daily News and also wrote a regular column for the Sunday Observer for Denzil Peiris who was ever quick to spot talented writers.

Eventually, Clare was caught up in an office romance, just as I had been, and she married Nanda Senewiratne, Transport Manager, and lived happily ever after (just as I did!). Ink was in her veins and writing came naturally to her. A wild-life enthusiast, as was her husband, they regularly haunted our game reserves and bird sanctuaries and Clare published a delightful book about those adventures. It was only natural that when Mr. Ranjit Wijewardene was putting into motion plans for the publication of an English women's weekly, his mind at once turned to the gifted journalist he knew well and Clare was given full responsibility for producing it.

There couldn't have been a better choice. A fluent and forceful writer, she now displayed an undoubted flair for layout and the skills required to turn out a quality paper. As a journalist, she was able quickly to recruit a number of writers of ability. They weren't exactly on her staff in the sense of going into the office daily as she did, - indeed, many of them never set foot in that office - but they wrote their stuff every week and had it ready for collection when she sent the office van on a big round to pick all the articles!

This was before modern technology and the wonder of e-mail, came to Sri Lanka, remember, and Clare wasn't about to risk delays in the post. We enjoyed writing for her - I certainly did. It was with the advent of `Lanka Woman' that I really came to know Clare and her capabilities as an editor. She gave me free rein, but would also have suggestions for articles and give me ideas to work on.

Clare and I were proud of the fact that the Lanka Woman was the first paper to deal honestly and openly with sexual problems that were not of too intimate a nature to appear in print and she backed me loyally when one irate reader, a father of daughters, wrote in to tell her he was cancelling his subscription because of the too-candid nature of the Problem Page. On the other hand, numerous teachers and mothers encouraged their teenage girls to read the "Lanka Woman", both for the quality of its English, and for the valuable insights it gave about human life and its problems.

Its readers were by no means confined to the one sex and many men were confirmed readers of Clare's forthright and so well-written editorials on subjects of general interest.

In a congratulatory letter from a reader published in the January 1985 issue of "Lanka Woman", a reader wrote thus to the Editor: "This weekly has achieved the impossible and has really come to stay. I have been an avid reader of English women's magazines sent to me by a relative abroad. I'm glad to say that from last year, "Lanka Woman" has usurped the place previously occupied by the "English Woman" and has filled the gap for me admirably. In a household of males, I get the last look at the `Lanka Woman" - so much for its popularity in our home! I look forward to many more weeks and months of your delightful paper." (Mrs. I. Samarasinghe, Colombo 15).

Clare created a paper that hundreds of women of all ages - not only the middle-aged - felt was their very own. It was a paper in which the Editor welcomed them to share views and experiences. It generated a family-feeling and also prompted friendships among readers who hadn't known each other from Adam, before the "Lanka Woman" brought them together. I like to remember one particular reader who, when she returned from a trip to England, rang to tell me that she had brought a box of chocolates for me, but after reading one of Clare's editorials, had been moved to take it instead to Clare's office and gift it to her.

She hoped I wouldn't mind. I didn't. Clare deserved all the chocolates and more that she may have got from other fans. So goodbye, dear Editor and friend. We salute you. We will always remember you.

By Anne

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.