My uncle Susantha passed away in February, two months short of his 84th birthday. The hundreds who attended his funeral in Panadura will attest to his unforgettable qualities, including his life of philanthropy.
My uncle was born to a well-known family in Panadura. His parents were the much-loved and respected Tudor and Milly Perera. Like his father and grandfather, Susantha was educated at Royal College, Colombo, and did his alma mater proud throughout his life.
After leaving school, Susantha apprenticed under his father, founder of the accounting firm, Tudor V. Perera and Co. He eventually took the helm of the company, guiding it for close on five decades, until his demise.
Susantha was the quintessential Sri Lankan gentleman, in the same mould as his kinsman, Sir John Kotelawala, whose joie de vivre he shared.
He lived a life of service and enjoyed it.
I am reminded of the lines of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I woke and found that life was duty, I acted and found that duty was joy.”
He was a pillar of strength to his family and friends, and the dynamo of many organisations, including St. John’s Panadura, the Panadura Sports Club, the Morawinna Orphaned Girls’ Home, the Lions Club, and the Rotary Clubs, to name just a few.
When he visited Sri Lanka last year, he took me along to observe a Lions-sponsored charity programme that assisted visually impaired persons who could not afford to pay for cataract operations. My uncle’s pride and satisfaction in seeing these people being able to see once again was very evident.
Susantha was dapper and handsome and always immaculately dressed. His zest for life made him look younger than his years. He was the youngest 83-year-old I have ever met.
The enormous workload and responsibilities he carried – he commuted regularly between Colombo and Panadura to the very end – never seemed to weigh him down, because he was essentially a blithe spirit.
The parties he gave at his beloved “Mt. Pleasant” were legendary events – fun-filled and ringing with baila music and singsongs. He had a great sense of camaraderie and an infectious sense of fun.
As a child I never missed an opportunity to go on trips with Uncle Susantha. We enjoyed many such outings – to the hills, to the beach, and to the wild life parks. I remember how we would seize any opportunity to bathe in a river or under a natural water spout. These excursions were always meticulously organised.
They say that if you don’t find happiness along the way, you will not find it at the end of the road. During a journey, Susantha would stop to buy fruit, vegetables and curd-and-honey at specific spots where he had formed lasting friendships with vendors and boutique-owners.
Those trips were the stuff of the happiest memories, replete with good company, good food and wonderful entertainment. Susantha was a raconteur par excellence.
He seemed to change little over the decades. He was like a real-life Peter Pan, retaining a childlike appreciation of life to the end. He had a unique gift for life. He impressed on those he met his very positive attitude.
He was not an outwardly spiritual man, but he embodied spiritual qualities in his generosity, compassion and selflessness. He was a senior trustee at the Gangula Temple.
He epitomised the finest values of “old Ceylon”, coming from a more spacious gracious age. He was a true Sri Lankan patriot who reflected the country’s finest values.
Susantha Perera, “Laird of Mt. Pleasant”, as I will remember him, is no more. Rather than mourning his passing after such a memorable and sterling innings, let us reflect on his life and be grateful to have associated with such a rare individual.
Let us rejoice in his life and carry his warm inspiring memory with us.
He would probably like that.