Plus - Appreciation

Pioneer Thurstanite and my close friend

Susantha (Sam) Samaranayake

It was just a week ago that death removed from our midst Sam Samaranayake, a colourful personality who shone in many spheres of life.

During our schooldays we saw him as a distinguished senior citizen of Thurstan, playing a dominant part in most school functions with aplomb and precision. Sam was proud of his linkage with Royal Primary where he began his schooling and was also equally proud to be a pioneer in the original batch of Thurstan in its formative years.

Sam came over from the neighbouring school with his buddies Sarat Weerasuriya, M.D.D. Pieris, Shunith Gunathileke, Surath Wickremasinghe and Sri Nagendra – a group which formed a life-long friendship full of adventure and fun. It is said that this batch crossed over not only with their school bags but also rich public school traditions of an established premier education institute to a school that had been just set up.

Sam began his career with Indian Airlines and then moved to IBM at a time when Colombo’s elite corporate sector was small. Thus he was undoubtedly a leading figure in the circles. Sam was also known as a pioneer in the Toastmasters and the Rotary movement in Sri Lanka, these attributes no doubt made him a much-sought-after speaker in many functions.

Sam left his career at IBM suddenly over a matter of principle from which he never wavered and later joined his erstwhile buddy Sarat Weerasuriya at Finco.

Though there was a big age gap between us, we struck a deep friendship that developed under strange circumstances. In the early seventies when I had just begun apprenticeship training for Chartered Accountancy, I was looking for a change. At that time, finding a place in a reputed firm was no easy task. Upon evaluating options, I was advised by another Thurstan stalwart, Upali Ahangama, to meet Sam along with a short note from him.

Being just out of school I was a novice to the Colombo Fort. I walked with mixed feelings to Ceylinco House, then probably one of Colombo’s prestigious office blocks, and entered the plush IBM office. I was well received by Sam. On hearing my story, he was quick on the job. With a few telephone calls, my issue was resolved and I was at my new firm two days later without any formalities or interviews. This was a turning point in my life. If not for Sam’s assistance I might well have given up my chosen profession. Thereafter until his sad and unexpected demise he remained a close friend and kept in touch with me regularly.

It was no strange coincidence that just a few months ago, Sam thought it fit to host a get-together for his school buddies, most of whom have crossed the 70 mark. Though I was of a different vintage, I together with two of my buddies had the good fortune of attending this event. It was organized with absolute precision and zest and all of us had a good time. This was our last fun-filled meeting with Sam.

When Sam fell ill, we rushed to see him at the hospital but we were told he had left a few hours ago. The following day, I had a long chat with him and he was in his characteristic self with humour and wit, having come to terms with his terminal illness. He was bold enough to face reality. He was proud of his son Sumantha and daughter Sumalka and their achievements.

He was a good family man with his loving wife Sunethra being a tower of strength to him. When we went to pay our last respects to Sam at his Waragoda residence, we were told how he had documented all the required steps for his final journey and even drafted the obituary notice and a brief note to our colleague Suren Abeygunasekera with further details. That was typical of Sam. The large crowd that gathered at Kanatte was a clear indication of Sam’s wide network of friends and relatives who held him in high regard.

To the Thurstan community it’s an irreparable loss of a pioneer and historian who was the first president of Thurstan OBU, which he also served in later years as its senior vice president. Death is certain in life but it’s not easy to bear and accept the departure of someone who has been dear and near to us. In keeping with our spiritual aspirations, we hope Sam’s sansaric journey will be shortened in the pursuit of the ultimate realisation of Nirvana.

Sunil Karunanayake

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