Plus - Appreciation

A respected public servant, loyal friend and true family man

Piyasiri Gunasekera

It was with shock and sadness that I heard of the death of my dear friend of more than 60 years, on the morning of June 8. He had called me just five hours earlier. He was in his usual jovial mood, and discussed a subject close to his heart – cricket. The focus that night was a match showing on TV.

I first met Piyasiri (Siri to friends and colleagues) in January 1950, when I joined Mahinda College, Galle. Siri had joined a few years earlier. Because of the war, he, like many Colombo school students at the time, had left their city schools (he was from Nalanda College) to join an outstation school. We were both boarded in the school hostel.Siri was the fourth in a family of five, from the well-known family of D. G. Gunasekera, of M. Y. Hemachandra & Co (Talawakelle) fame. They were born and bred in the village of Denipitiya, close to the southern coast town of Weligama.

In 1955, after passing the SSC in science, Siri joined the Technical College, Maradana, to follow a course for draftsmen. In the interim, he clinched a job as a planter. After obtaining a diploma from the Technical College, he joined the Agriculture Department, and served in several stations, including Kandy, in the late 1960s.

I too happened to be in Kandy, working for a commercial bank. We resumed our friendship, after a break of several years. This friendship continued right up to his death.

Siri served the Agriculture Department with dedication for more than 30 years. He was Assistant Engineer at the time of his retirement. As a public servant, he served with integrity. He had an absolutely clean record with the department.

Siri was a helpful and likable person, and made friends easily. He was sought after at parties and get-togethers. He was a good singer. Some of his favourite songs were “Iskole Hamine”, “Suraliyaku Wage Sobana”, “Bilinda Nelawe Ukule”, as well as popular bailas. Siri told me his mother would get him to sing the last of these songs. I believe she wanted to think back on her son’s early childhood days.

He had an abiding interest in cricket, although he had very little to do with the game, either at school or afterwards. Although he played soccer with distinction as a student, he was more interested in cricket as an adult. He was looking forward to the Asia Cup and the 2011 World Cup, both to be played in Sri Lanka.

Siri had many friends – from school, the Agriculture Department, and from among his neighbours. In his last years, he lamented that he had only a handful of friends left in the world. I was one of privileged few. He mourned the loss of friends such as R .C. R., Dammi, Ranjith, Sarath Perera and Frank Perera – who were also friends of mine.

He was deeply attached to his family – his wife Mandrani and daughters Budhima and Radeesha. Some years ago, Mandrani was seriously ill with brain fever after returning from a teaching stint in Nigeria. Siri was by her side day and night, right through an ordeal that continued for more than two weeks.

He gave his two daughters a good education and left each a house in Nugegoda. On several occasions Siri told me he was a content and happy man, now that his two daughters were happily married (to Channa and Harim) and doing well in life. He had four grandchildren – two girls and two boys.

Little wonder that Siri was a happy man. He told me he could die peacefully, with a smile on his face. This is exactly how it was on that morning of June 8.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to his wife, two daughters and his extended family.

Cyril Jayasuriya

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