Much-loved First Lady was a true daughter of Lanka

Elina Bandara Jayewardene

Elina Bandara Jayewardene, born Elina Rupasinghe, married Junius Richard Jayewardene in 1935, and despite being the First Lady from 1978 until President Jayewardene retired in 1989, led a characteristically simple, unassuming life.

Having known the Jayewardene family from childhood, it is with a deep sense of nostalgia that I reflect upon her life, and the impression her gracious personality left on me.

Aunty Elin, as she was affectionately called, inspired genuine affection and respect in the hearts of the people. To have known her was to have loved her. Even to those who did not have the privilege of associating with her closely, she was a symbol of serenity, simplicity and sincerity, which together form the very essence of humanity.

The inner glow and radiance that always lit up her face was proof that she was a person who felt intensely for people. This is evident in only a truly good person who spends much of her time helping people in need, and who always found time for others.

Elina Jayewardene, whose first death anniversary falls tomorrow, was a person who showed it was possible for wives of politicians to be impeccably elegant in their dress while retaining their simplicity.

In her service to the people, Elina Jayewardene had a sense of profound dedication to any cause she believed in. She was living proof that a genuine person who sticks to her beliefs and principles can be a major influence in the making of a nation’s history.

Even as First Lady, she never took an active role in her husband’s political affairs. In fact, she shunned the political and public limelight, and kept as low a profile as she possibly could.

Through the inevitable tides of President Jayewardene’s political life, she stuck firmly by his side, giving him the strength and inspiration he required to reach the height of success. They say that behind every great man there is a woman. President Jayewardene would have been the first to say that he owed most of his triumphs and successes to his choice of partner.

Elina Jayewardene spent a lot of her time in the service of the less fortunate. Widows would visit her on an appointed day to receive donations, which no doubt went a long way to keep their home fires burning. Aunty Elin delighted in making this an occasion to have tea and a chat with them. She was a founder member and driving force of the Seva Vanitha Movement.

Aunty Elin had an unflinching loyalty to old friends, finding time to visit them all. This writer vividly remembers the many visits she made to the home of a maternal aunt, where she retained the same happy, relaxed and simple style, notwithstanding her position as First Lady.

She was a modest and humble person who would see everyone who wanted to see her in her home, Braemar. It has been said many times, and I say it again: Elina Jayewardene was a noble, perfect lady, destined to guide, comfort and command. We salute her as a worthy daughter of Mother Lanka.

Aunty Elin, you are no longer in our midst, but your memory will always be in our hearts, treasured with love and affection, till we meet again some day in that land beyond.

Bryan Nicholas

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