Royal College ’49 Group: The best batch of recent times

By D.C. Sivapragasam, Canada

About 60 years ago, 96 boys entered Royal College. They came to be called the '49 Group. They are said to be the best batch that Royal turned out in recent times- 32 of them went on to become medical doctors, most of them consultants, nine entered the legal profession, two of them becoming Presidents' Counsel, two others becoming judges of the Supreme Court, three entered the Ceylon Civil Service and 18 became engineers.

It is estimated that 60 % of this Group became professionals but while in school they vied for the last place in class.

Some surgeons of the 49 Group are Ranjit de Silva, who captained Royal at cricket, Priya Samarasinghe, Geoff Vanden Driesen, Gamini Goonethilake and S.R. Ratnapala, while some of the well-known physicians are Henry Rajaratnam, J.B. Peiris, Gamini Jayakuru and Brendon Gooneratne, the latter distinguishing himself in Australia, Danilo de Kretser, Tissa Cooray (WHO), N.T. de Silva (UK), H.S. Karunasekera (UK), Leslie Muthukuda (UK), Dan Perinpanayagam, Yasa Rajapakse (UK), Disampathy Subasinghe (UK), V. Dharmapalan (New Zealand) and the late R.S.B. Wickremasinghe who was Director of the MRI.

Of those who took to law, two are well-known PCs- Jayantha Gunasekera (former Secretary of the Bar Association) and Chula de Silva. Two other lawyers, S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya and P. Edussuriya ended up as judges of the Supreme Court while A. Balachandran worked in the UN. T.K.N. Thilakan (District Judge) and Kumar Ponnambalam both died a few years ago. Alavi Mohamed, a barrister also died recently. M.N.B. Peiris is a civil lawyer in Colombo.

Harsha Wickremasinghe, D.G.P. Seneviratne and Dr. B.S. Wijeweera entered the Ceylon Civil Service.
Of the engineers that come to mind are Professor C.L.V. Jayathilake, (a Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya), Dr. Susantha Goonethilake, S.C. Amarasinghe (former GM of the Electricity Board) Dr. Sri Bhavan Sri Skandarajah, H.S.B. Abeysundera , L.H Meegama, C. Ramachandran and Bandula Yatawara.

Perhaps the cleverest of them all was Chelvanayagam Vaseeharan, a maths prodigy who was appointed Professor of Mathematics.

Of the leading businessmen in the group were Cambridge educated Upali Wijewardene of the Upali Group, Lal Jayasundera, late Chairman of Hayleys, Ratna Sivaratnam who headed another conglomerate- Aitken Spence, K. Manikkavasagar, Director of Glaxo, Arjuna Hulugalle and Upatissa Attygalle.

V.H. Nanyakkara and P.H.J.S. Ariyapala, both Bachelors of Science joined the staff of Royal College.
Famous artist/architect Laki Senanayake was a partner of the great Geoffrey Bawa whilst A.A. Wijetunga and K. Sivapragasam became Senior Assessors in the Inland Revenue Department. K.L. Gooneratne is a talented architect.

Late Bimal Padmaperuma was Chairman Engineering Corporation and D.C. Wimalasena was Chairman , Petroleum Corporation.

Prolific writer T.D.S.A. Dissanayake first served in the UN and was later our ambassador in Indonesia. Lionel Almeida and the late Tyrrel Muttiah both ruggerites took to planting. W.K.N. de Silva was a proprietary planter and Bobby Perera, a one-time Director of Quickshaws.

A close-knit group, though half of them live overseas, the classmates make it a point to reunite during the Royal Thomian and the Bradby Shield cricket and rugger matches to go down memory lane. Here's hoping they will be able to continue that tradition for many more years to come.

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