Plus - Appreciations

Many landmarks of a man of history

Prof. Bertram Bastiampillai

The death of Prof. Bertram Bastiampillai on February 18 this year was an irreplaceable loss to his family in particular and the country in general. Those who knew him knew the helpful, friendly and straightforward man he was. He did not disappoint those who sought his assistance, especially in respect of education.

Prof. Bastiampillai excelled in his university studies, specializing in history. He served the academic staff of the Department of History as an assistant lecturer and then proceeded to London to follow his postgraduate studies. After obtaining his master’s, he returned to the country and resumed his academic career, gradually climbing the ladder reaching the position of professor.

At the University of Colombo, he served as the Head of the Department and thereafter as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts. On his retirement the University Council conferred the Emeritus Professorship on him.

Once he finished his academic career at the university, Prof. Bastiampillai was appointed as the Parliamentary Ombudsman. This position had always been given to persons with qualifications in law. Although, he did not have any law qualification, he performed the task well. Those who had gone before him for redress say he heard both sides of the cases and gave his judgments impartially purely on the merits and demerits of each case. Even in his dealings with the staff and students in the university too, he acted in an impartial manner.

On numerous occasions, Prof. Bastiampillai acted for the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo during his absence. Whenever he did so, the manner in which he handled matters demonstrated that he was equal to the task.It was a great joy to both Prof. Bastiampillai and his devoted wife, Ranji when they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary which was followed by his 80th birthday celebration last year.

To the birthday party, organized by his wife and children, relatives and close friends were invited. My wife and I were among the guests. Most probably the last function that Prof. Bastiampillai attended would have been the social function we had for friends and relatives when our elder son and his family were here last year.

May his soul rest in peace.

H.M. Nissanka Warakaulle

The wind beneath our wings

Swarnapalee Leelananda

Our earliest memory of you is at Melder Place:
A large family home with lots of space.
Life revolved round your rules and central reign,
You disciplined us well, but never with the cane.

Four children you brought up amidst heartache and hardship,
Both good times and bad, you conquered with leadership.
You also cared for Tina, as a token of your kinship.
We still value your advice and appreciate the friendship.

Whilst Thaththa was the sunshine and joy of our childhood,
Twenty eight upon two was our nest from cradle to adulthood.
When studies took us to foreign lands and far climes,
Amma, you provided the stability and direction in our lives.

At Anula for two and thirty years, ending as its Head,
Shaping lives; liberating minds, now world-over spread.
A mother to thousands, not just us; your lasting legacy shines
Indelible are those footprints left, in the shifting sands of time.

You allowed us the freedom to follow our hearts,
Without criticising our choices from the start.
In Thaththa, you found your life’s soul mate,
You trusted we would too and left it to fate.

You taught us to differentiate the good from the bad,
You encouraged us to smile when faced with anything sad.
You showed us how to overcome problems, which were rife,
You cleared our path to success and our present style of life.

Thaththa’s untimely death was a shock to us all,
Although he expected it to be his last curtain call.
Your grief, borne courageously, was an example to us all,
A temporary separation until you meet up with his soul,

You taught us to think “Every cloud has a silver lining”,
“Everything happens for the best” was your way of consoling.
Ambition is good, but should not be all consuming,
Every step of the way you backed us and were constantly guiding.

To be organised and to plan meticulously we learnt from you,
To think and be one step ahead was taught to us by you.
But “Man proposes and God disposes” despite all the planning,
Yet leave no stone unturned to achieve what you were dreaming.

Take charge of your life for “You reap what you sow”,
Life is uncertain, only death is sure we know.
But follow the “Middle Path”; be content with what you have got,
Do count your blessings always and be thankful for your lot.

Deep religious beliefs you inculcated in us,
To treat others the way we would like them to treat us.
“Life is like a dewdrop on a blade of grass” you said,
Your legacy outlives you, though your time is limited.

Your love for your children was unconditional and unlimited,
Nothing was too much trouble, you were totally committed.
May we have you as our mother as we journey through Sansara,
Until you attain everlasting peace, in that oasis of Nibbana.

Every milestone in our lives, we’ve reached thanks to you,
Every success in our lives, we attribute to you.
Every setback we have had, we’ve leaned upon you,
For being the wind beneath our wings, we can never repay you.

Loving children Rasieka, Vasantha, Suranjan and Oshadhie

Thaaththi left us happy memories to make us smile, not weep

Amal Fernando

We are usually thrilled to visit Colombo, especially to see our parents. But on this last occasion, we arrived in Colombo with heavy hearts, knowing that Thaaththi was not there to greet us. Thaaththi’s first death anniversary falls on March 22, 2011. The void in Ammi’s and our lives will never be filled because of your sudden departure to the Lord’s kingdom.

Most people feel great sadness at the loss of a loved one, but Thaaththi would not want us to feel that over his death. He has left us with many happy memories on which we can reflect with a smile. We wish Thaaththi were here to see his beautiful granddaughter. She would have made him the happiest grandfather ever. Life will never be the same without you, Thaaththi. But we know we will meet you some day, and then never part again.

Till then, we pray to our Almighty God to give us the strength to carry on. May your soul rest in eternal peace, in the world beyond.

Primal and Chamil Fernando

World War II Air Ace and first Ceylonese Air Force Commander set fine tone for today’s proud SLAF

Air Vice Marshal E. Rohan Amarasekara, DFC

This month, the Sri Lanka Air Force celebrated its 60th anniversary, on March 2, 2011, while friends and family will remember the Air Force’s first Sri Lankan Commander, Air Vice Marshal E. Rohan Amarasekara, whose 37th death anniversary falls on March 20, 2011.

At a time when so much is being written about war heroes of World War II, it is timely to recall the illustrious career of AVM Amarasekara. This tribute is for those who knew him and associated with him, and for the young men and women now serving in the Air Force. They should be aware of the rare qualities and remarkable achievements of their first Sri Lankan Commander, an officer and gentleman par excellence.

When I joined the Royal Ceylon Air Force in late 1957, AVM Amarasekara was Chief of Staff. After hearing so much about this decorated flyer, I had not expected to meet someone so humble, simple and gentle.

A native of Kegalle, Rohan Amarasekara received his early education at Kingswood College, Kandy, and later at Wesley College, Colombo. Young, daring and adventurous, he joined the Royal Air Force during the most turbulent years of the war, despite stiff opposition from his elders.

Rohan Amarasekara joined the Royal Air Force in 1940, at the age of 24, and distinguished himself as an air gunner, serving two famous Royal Air Force squadrons, Squadrons 153 and 640. He logged 68 operational flights (“sorties”) over Nazi Germany and occupied territory during World War II, and was decorated for his bravery and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar.

AVM Amarasekara and Air Commodore Fred Papple, Rohan’s pilot and later his squadron commander of the 640 Squadron, flew many missions together. In his book on the 640 Squadron, Papple pays tribute to those who served the squadron, and devoted a chapter to “Amere”, as he was known in the squadron, whom he admired for his devotion to duty, attention to detail, and impeccable conduct, whether in the air or on the ground.

After rendering distinguished service to the Royal Air Force, AVM Amarasekara returned to serve his motherland. He worked closely with Air Commodore J. C. Bladen during the formative period of the Royal Ceylon Air Force, and made a significant contribution to building the Force.

He served as Chief of Staff, when Air Vice Marshal J. L. Barker relinquished command of the Royal Ceylon Air Force, and assumed duties as the first Sri Lankan Commander on November 1, 1962. He continued to head the Sri Lanka Air Force till December 31, 1970. He was 57 years at the time he retired from the service.

AVM Amarasekara reorganised the Air Force and made it a force to be reckoned with, despite the Royal Ceylon Air Force being the youngest of the armed services. He set a high code of behaviour for his officers and set exemplary standards for others to emulate.

When AVM Amarasekara sent his son and daughter to school, he never used the official RCAF vehicle assigned to him, but his old Wolsely to drop them and pick them. Most of the time he drove the car himself.

His integrity left an indelible impression on those who came in contact with him. A man of principles, he never hesitated to speak up for what he believed in. He never bowed to outside pressure or interference.

The government had to rely heavily on the Air Force during the failed military coup of 1962. Amarasekara, with the Air Force, played a significant role in quelling attempts to overthrow the government. The non-involvement of any Air Force personnel in successive attempts to overthrow the government demonstrated the high principles inculcated in the Air Force officers and airmen.

In retirement, AVM Amarasekara led a quiet, secluded life. His life revolved around his family his wife, Aloma, and children Ajith and Roshanthi. He was interested in the study of contemporary religions. He declined many a prestigious appointment offered to him on his retirement.

When AVM Amarasekara retired, he had no house of his own in Colombo and had rented one in the suburbs. His ancestral properties in Kegalle had been encroached upon by others. AVM Amarasekara passed away on March 20, 1974, and was given a full service funeral. The funeral service was unique. In deference to his wishes, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islamic prayers were said at his graveside.
Men like Rohan Amarasekara are a rare breed. He could have walked with kings, and yet he did not lose the common touch. The elements were so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, This was a man.

SQN. LDR. J. T. Rex Fernando (SLAF Retd.)

Loyal son of Prince of Wales College was princely and saintly

Wimal De Silva

I. W. O. de Silva (Wimal) inherited the two initials W. O. from his father, Waddy, who in his time was a reputed cricketer who had played for the Prince of Wales College, in Moratuwa.

Wimal, who matriculated from Prince of Wales, was deeply attached to his alma mater, and left a substantial fund for a scholarship in his father’s name to help students of promise continue their studies at university.

After his retirement from the Colombo Municipality, where he served as a building inspector, Wimal went to join members of his family in England, where he spent the next 10 years.

On his return to Sri Lanka, he began an active religious life, centred on the Roman Catholic Church. He attended Mass daily at St. Anthony’s Church in Kadolana, Moratuwa. He also attended services at the Queen of Angels’ Church, Katubedda, St. Sebastian’s Church, Moratuwa, and St. Philip Neri’s Church, Colombo. He attended services throughout the week, helping in whatever ways he could.

Wimal sought to emulate the life of St. Anthony, who lived as a mendicant, helping the poor in Padua, Italy. On one occasion, Wimal told me that as far as possible he would walk, rather than take a bus, and save his bus fare to give to the poor begging outside places of worship.

While Wimal’s funeral was taking place in Moratuwa, three religious services for the repose of his soul were being simultaneously conducted in three different parts of the world – a Requiem Mass at St. Anthony’s Basilica, in Padua, Italy; a Mass in Rome, and another service at Canterbury Cathedral, in England. May his soul rest in peace with the Saints.

Wimal’s ashes will be interred at a future date in the family vault, where his father (W.O.) and his grandfather, L. Isaac de Silva, the first Sinhala novelist, lie with other members of his family who have already moved on to glory.

A Family Member

Outstanding Lion Lady who was a great social worker and dear friend

Zahira Sally

It is hard to believe that my endearing, gentle and soft-spoken friend Zahira Sally is no more. My association with Zahira dates back to the time her family was living close to our home. Zahira and I were both expectant mothers at the time. I vividly remember our regular evening walks, and how very often I would end up in Zahira’s home, where I would be treated to crisp rotties and delicious beef curry prepared by her ever hospitable mother.

That quality of hospitality Zahira inherited in abundant measure. She was the perfect hostess to all who visited her home. Zahira would often wonder aloud about the grown-up son she would have had if she had not lost her baby a few months into her pregnancy.

Our friendship grew stronger by the day. We called on each other at least once a week. We visited the sick, and attended funerals. We were often seen together.

Zahira always remembered birthdays, and never failed to call and wish friends and loved ones. She was a sensitive, caring person, always ready to go the extra mile to make others happy and comfortable. She was a devoted wife, caring and loving aunt and dear friend.

As a Lion Lady, Zahira was very active in social service. She gave Monty Sally, her husband, her fullest support when he was president of the Moratuwa Lions Club. The first Lion Ladies fund-raiser, “Enchantment”, was staged under her stewardship, and was a resounding success. At the Lions Annual Convention that year, Zahira was adjudged the Most Outstanding Chairperson of Lion Ladies Committees, and she also won the prestigious Lion Lady of the Year Award.

When Zahira’s health began to deteriorate, she lost all interest in life. Suddenly, her health took a turn for the worse. She was rushed to the intensive care unit at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital. When I visited her, she was in a “deep sleep”. I was so sad not to be able to talk to her. Nevertheless, I whispered into her ear that I was there, with her. I had heard that she had inquired about me.

That evening I had to leave for Singapore to be with my grandson Ryann on his birthday. I left with a heavy heart, thinking I would not see her again. But Zahira waited for me, to bid her last farewell. I returned to Sri Lanka at 10.30 at night, and Zahira breathed her last at 11.30 p.m.

Zahira leaves behind her loving husband Monty, a tireless social worker, especially with cancer victims and the handicapped, sisters Raleena and Boolang, and younger brother Sonna. Goodbye, dear friend. May the Almighty Allah grant you Jannathul Firdouse.

Farina Dole

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