Mrs. Hema de Saram, one-time principal of Pushpadana Balika Maha Vidyalaya, Kandy, passed away on June 24, 2008, after a brief illness. Hers was a humble and exemplary life, but filled with academic and other accomplishments. She was a fine example to all of us who were fortunate enough to know her and study under her.
Mrs. Hema de Saram was born on September 20, 1922 to a respectable middle-class family in the southern village of Galvehera, in Kosgoda. She studied at Musaeus College, Colombo, where she demonstrated her talents as an all-rounder. She excelled in sports, and was games captain. She was also a gifted musician. She could play the piano, violin, and tabla.
She entered the then University College in Colombo, which was affiliated to the University of London, and majored in oriental languages. She was fluent in Pali, Sanskrit, Sinhala, English and Latin. She continued her studies in the US, and in 1964 she graduated from Cornell University, New York with a master’s degree in education.
Mrs. de Saram was married to the late Professor D. D. de Saram of the University of Peradeniya. She instilled in her children – daughters Lekha and Mauli and son Darshi – and in her students a love and respect for learning. She also taught them to think for themselves and develop as individuals. In 1957, she took up a position as an assistant teacher at Pushpadana, a school that was established in 1942 with a vision to provide an English education for Buddhist girls in Kandy. She became the school’s vice-principal in 1960. She took up the post of principal at St. Joseph’s Balika MV, Gampola, and returned to Pushpadana in 1965, this time as principal. She served Pushpadana until her retirement in 1980.
During Mrs. de Saram’s tenure as principal, Pushpadana developed into one of the island’s leading girls’ schools. She introduced the Advanced Level science curriculum and helped raise funds to set up a science laboratory. She also created the Western Band, which evolved into one of Kandy’s best girls’ school ensembles.
She would travel to Colombo regularly at her own expense and bring back lab equipment and instruments for the band.
She introduced many sports and extra-curricular activities. She organised English elocution lessons for the primary and middle school. She worked tirelessly to raise the school’s ranking in terms of student performance at the GCE/OL and GCE/AL Examinations. She also helped set up the Pushpadana Old Girls’ Association.
She was a very versatile teacher. She taught oriental languages and mathematics, and she had a talent for art and needlework.
She emphasised the importance of an English education, and encouraged her students to cultivate the reading habit. She encouraged her girls to pursue higher education, telling them that a university education was the gateway to a world full of opportunities.
Madam de Saram was a strong personality who was greatly loved and respected by her students.
As a principal she was unique. Every morning, before classes began, she would recite a stanza from the Dhammapada on the public address system, and then explain and interpret the text. The religious spirit she instilled in us every morning continues to influence our lives as adults. We continue to treasure her words.
She was an educator and administrator par excellence, and a model of politeness, humility and integrity.
After she retired from Pushpadana, she lived in Nigeria for a few years before returning to Sri Lanka in 1984 to join the University of Peradeniya as a visiting lecturer in education.
Following her husband’s retirement from the University of Peradeniya, she and her family moved to Pitakotte, Colombo.
She is fondly remembered by all her students and colleagues at the University of Peradeniya.
Our beloved teacher, may you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.
Sriyani Perera (née Dharmasena); Dr. Kanthi Perera (née Karunarathna); Kosambika Samarasekara, and Dr.