It is difficult to believe that this man of singular sparkling personality has been dead for 25 years. Bunty strode every corridor he passed through – whether in court, the corridors of power or the social orbit – with supreme confidence. He had that rare gift of making his presence felt the moment he entered a room.
He had it all -- a devoted wife and children, a brain as sharp as a stiletto, a rare talent for putting words together, good looks, a successful career, having reached the heights as a lawyer and effortless style and panache.
I met Bunty in person for the first time when he got married to my cousin, Santha. I knew of him, and was aware that he was one of the younger sons of the late Francis De Zoysa, the well-known King’s Counsel, freedom fighter, state councillor and campaigner for purity in public life. Francis De Zoysa was respected as someone who spoke the truth, stood up for what he believed in. The Tamil people had so much respect for Francis that when he lost the Galle elections, they invited him to accept an uncontested seat in Jaffna.
Four decades later, Francis De Zoysa’s son Bunty displayed similar qualities when he fought long and hard against corruption, abuse of power and the muddled state of public life between 1970 and 1977. This was when he led the state team before the Special Presidential Commission. It was undoubtedly Bunty’s eloquence par excellence, sparkling phrases and courtroom manner that resulted in making his opening address before this commission the classic social document of our time. He was a man who knew exactly what to say at the right moment, wherever he was.
Bunty was one of the few Sinhala lawyers retained to appear in Jaffna. When he was elected President of the Bar Association, for two consecutive years, in 1980 and 1981, he won with the wholehearted support of the Jaffna Bar.
Like his brothers before him, Bunty went to Royal College, where he displayed his talent as a polished speaker and debater, winning many awards. During World War II, he was sent to St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna, where he excelled in debate, oratory and cricket. He went to university, where he read English, economics and philosophy, and then to Law College and to Gray’s Inn, London. He joined the Attorney General’s Department at the invitation of Sir Alan Rose, the then Attorney General, but quit later to revert to the Unofficial Bar. His rise in the Bar was phenomenal, making him a legend in his lifetime.
What of Bunty the man? An extremely popular figure in all circles, he was a loyal and steadfast friend, which is a rarity today. He fought steadfastly and relentlessly for what he believed in, against injustice, and he was not afraid of the consequences.
Another rare gift he had was his ability to move with kings while never losing the common touch. He was able to move freely with people from all walks of life. He made people feel at ease and he never patronised anyone.
This, I am sure, is what the Royal College principal Edward Lawrence Bradby had in mind when he wrote of Bunty in a school report: “The very qualities which often found him in trouble may prove useful to him in later life.”
Bunty’s kind heart made him give generously to those in need. Reaching out to people was one of his special gifts.
Even at the height of an extremely busy career, he made time for all who sought his help. His sincerity attracted those with similar genuine qualities.
Bunty was an indulgent father. He always made time for the children, with whom he had a special rapport. He was well read and could quote extensively from even lesser-known poets and writers.
He died in August 1983, just after Black July.
Santha told me that he was extremely worried about the situation as a whole. He was concerned about his Tamil friends, about the children affected by the crisis and about the effect on the UNP, the party he supported with his heart and soul, and which was in power at the time. He worked long and hard in defence of party supporters who were harassed, arrested and falsely charged between 1973 and 1977.
He played a major role in helping the party regain power in 1977. Bunty was persuaded by President J.R. Jayewardene to serve as a director of the Bank of Ceylon, where he was a great asset and made a tremendous contribution to its development.
His death was an irreplaceable loss to the party. I recall President Jayewardene being inconsolable at the time. Bunty de Zoysa stood out, with his dashing personality and debonair demeanour. He was the epitome of high ideals, courage and supreme self-confidence.
The world is the poorer without him, but those who loved him must not let him go. They must continue with all he taught them. In these difficult times, they must try to be as he was: brave, hopeful, compassionate, open-minded and merry-hearted. His ideals are embodied in the words of Mahatma Gandhi. These words were displayed prominently in his chambers.
I shall not fear anyone on earth
I shall fear only God.
I shall not bear ill will towards anyone
I shall not submit to Injustice from anyone,
I shall conquer Untruth by Truth
I shall put up with all Suffering.
Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne