Teacher with a gift to entertain and inspire
By Eileen Siriwardhana

I take up my pen with nostalgic memories of a beloved teacher from my childhood. We hailed from the same town in the deep South, and proudly claimed allegiance to the same alma mater, St. Thomas’ Girls’ High School, Matara.

As a primary class pupil, I enjoyed her history lessons. She was a conscientious teacher who treated her pupils with affection and understanding. She was always appreciative of good work, and lavish in her approbation, a highly desirable quality in a teacher.

Her words of encouragement spurred us on to achieve excellence, not only in our studies but in anything we put our hands to. She was very interested in drama, and decades later she remembered the playlets we performed as little ones. She would take great delight in recalling the school’s drama performances, and even remembered the characters we played.

Later in life, I had the good fortune to work with her as a fellow teacher on the staff of St. Joseph’s Convent, Nugegoda. Even then, I treated her with the respect due to a teacher. She seemed surprised at this, but was appreciative. She served in several schools, and after retirement worked in the University of Colombo as an instructor in English.

I grew closer to her when she came to live in Nugegoda, not far from my home. I visited her often then. She was always delighted to see former students.

Several years ago, the past pupils of St. Thomas’ Girls’ High School, Matara, formed the Colombo branch of our Old Girls Association. We organised functions to felicitate our teachers, and Mrs. Goonetilleke never failed to attend these events.

With advancing years, she became more house-bound, and we past pupils would visit her from time to time. Such visits brought her much joy. She had a strong bond with Matara and our alma mater. Although she became physically weaker, she was alert and fit mentally. She had a clear memory, and enjoyed recalling old times at St. Thomas’. She was a good and entertaining conversationalist.

She had a wide knowledge of English literature, and was an avid reader to the last. She filled exercise books with quotations from the books she read. We had stimulating discussions on religion, philosophy, literature and life. I considered this remarkable in a person 92 years old.

We treasure the memories of a wonderful teacher, guide and friend. Mrs. Vivienne Goonetilleke left us after a brief illness one month ago.

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