She made her life one long labour of love
Lorna Wright, under whose dynamic and trailblazing leadership many humanitarian projects were carried out, touched our lives with her genuine care and concern. We began to benefit from her presence and good works as far back as the early 1950s.
I first came to know this wonderful personality when we were both installed as Joint Secretaries with the Board of Directors for the Public Servants’ Housing Scheme at Watapuluwa.
Lorna Wright pioneered the concept of housewives’ associations, and she initiated a housing project for the public servants of Kandy. Although she had a prestigious position as wife of the Assistant Government Agent, Kandy, Raine Wright, she was a simple, down-to-earth person. She mixed freely with the wives of public servants to obtain a first-hand picture of the hardships they experienced in their struggles on a restricted budget.
She addressed her mind first to the task of obtaining relief from the better-known retail shops, such as P.S. Fernando & Sons, who responded to her call and granted substantial concessions on the consumer goods they sold. Lorna did not hesitate to use her vivacious personality, good humour and high spirits to seek relief where necessary.
Her initiatives and drive soon saw the establishment of housewives’ associations in every part of the country. The project was an enormous success. She was ably assisted in all her ventures by her dear friend, Sujatha Ranawana (sister of the famous Professor Senaka Bibile). Sujatha would drive Lorna around town in her vehicle, so that she could attend conferences and inspect sites, and so on.
Lorna’s only recreation was a game of tennis, in which she excelled, in the company of the wives of English Government Agents such as Messrs Moore, Menders and Dyson.
Lorna then embarked on the formidable project of a Housing Scheme for the Kandy Public Servants. I was then in charge of all government quarters coming under the purview of the GA, Kandy. I accompanied Lorna on a tour of the 32 derelict bungalows serving as quarters for the Kandy public servants.
She was appalled when she saw the poorly maintained buildings, with leaking roofs and broken drains and pipes. Most of the buildings had not had a coat of paint in years. “Brixious,” she told me, “we must do something to improve the living conditions of these families.”
Without delay she interviewed Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan, Minister of Housing. She argued that it would be more prudent to give these officers loans to build houses than to buy cars; cars are an asset with a steadily depreciating value, she said, whereas property appreciates in value with each passing year.
Through her untiring efforts and selfless dedication, she finally succeeded in obtaining approval for the grant of Treasury loans for the purpose of buying houses, thus achieving what no other person had accomplished before. Hers was essentially a labour of love.
Lorna was also involved in many other humanitarian projects, on behalf of the under-privileged and marginalised members of the community, often drawing on her own personal resources for the purpose.
She took a keen interest in such ventures as the De La Salle Community Centre and educational services relating to hotel training and arts and crafts. She spearheaded drives to build kitchens, toilets and playgrounds for the poor, especially those living in the slums of Modera.
Fund-raising in Australia among expatriates and well-wishers brought in much needed money for her charity efforts.
Lorna could have led a life of ease and luxury in her adopted land, Australia, where she went to live with her children.
But her overwhelming urge to help back home saw her return to the land of her birth and minister to the needs of her people.
She endeared herself to everybody through her generous spirit, charisma and empathy. No small wonder then that her grateful people hailed her as another Mother Theresa.
Lorna Wright expected no return or encomiums for her extraordinary services, although the Australian Government conferred on her the Order of Australia, in recognition of her services on behalf of the poor.
When the earlier Board of Directors, with Mr. Sivagnanasunderam and Mr. Edirisinghe, both district judges who were joint chairmen, approved of my suggestion to name the Housing Scheme’s main thoroughfare “Lorna Wright Road”, she brushed off the idea as being of no great significance.
It is sad that when she finally agreed to visit the Housing Scheme, where grateful beneficiaries were to unveil her portrait in appreciation of her services, Lorna was suddenly called to her final rest.
This magnificent Housing Scheme will stand as a lasting tribute to one of Lanka’s finest daughters.
We are in no doubt that Lorna is now among the angels, in glorious reunion with those of her loved ones who have gone before her.
May God bless her.