Plus - Appreciations

Dada was a fount of knowledge and grand old gentleman

V. C. Fernando

My grandfather Vincent Fernando – fondly known as “VC” to his friends, “Daddy” to my parents, “Dada” to me and my wife Himeshi and “Old Man” to my brother – passed away peacefully on July 4, 2011. He was 91.

Dada was educated at St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena. I understand he was a brilliant student. As a public servant, he was posted in Washington DC in the US in the early 1950s on behalf of the Sri Lanka government. This was at a time when few could dream of heading overseas, leave alone going overseas on an official posting.

On his return to his motherland, Dada worked for five years with the Colombo Port Authority, until his retirement. On retiring, Dada volunteered to be parish secretary for St. Theresa’s Church in Thimbirigasyaya, where he befriended the late Father Glen Fernando, parish priest and later head of SUROL, the Society for the Upliftment and Rehabilitation of Leprosy-Affected Patients.

Dada was a talented contract bridge player who led the Sri Lanka team on many occasions during foreign tours. Many bridge players who knew him rated him as one of the best bridge players they had known.

I went to live with my grandparents when I was four years old, and after settling down in Australia in 2008, I would do my best to visit them every year. On each occasion, before heading back, I would tell Dada, “If we don’t meet again, we will in the next world.”

During all the years I lived with my grandparents (Aachchi passed away in 2008), not a day passed that I did not learn something from the two of them. Dada’s knowledge of the English language was far superior to that of anyone I have met.

It was no surprise that so many came to Dada for advice. He looked at a problem from different angles.
The day before he died, my grandfather called me and said, “Kolla, I think it’s time for me to go; I’ve lived a good life and now it should end.” It was the first time I had heard him speak that way, and I realised it would be the last time too. The next day he was gone.

Such is life.

Until we meet again, Rest in Peace.

Rukshan and Boudewyn

Remembering the force of nature that was Gamini

Gamini Fonseka

When you have a friend who was larger than life itself, such as Gamini Fonseka, the words of appreciation fall short and fail to do justice to the person. Such is my situation as I try to describe my friendship with Gamini.

Many years ago, an Los Angeles association organised a tribute dinner and a film festival to honour the film career of Gamini. He organised a holiday to include the event, and he enriched my life immensely by staying in my home in Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, California.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to him “holding court” – as only Gamini could – with a continuous stream of visitors every morning after an early breakfast and throughout the day. He basically took up residence, claiming a favourite spot in the backyard patio by the pool. He said he liked the cool breezes and listening to the birds singing.

Gamini, as many of you will remember, had a marvellous voice, which enriched the wonderful stories he would share. He was a master story-teller, with an unending source of stories. I never tired of listening to him , and missed him terribly when his holiday was over.

Having a friend such as Gamini Fonseka, who was as close as any friend could be because we had shared so much together, felt like family. Gamini helped me to think things through. We somehow seemed to see the most important things the same way. He had that rare ability of making one feel comfortable. When you have such a friend, you know that, whatever life may bring, you have a friend forever.

I will never forget the good times we shared, the sound of his wonderful voice and the special sound of his laughter. His friendship meant the world to me. I shall treasure those special times forever and shall never forget the force of nature that was Gamini Fonseka.

Judith Rutnam

Law firm grateful to senior partner, mentor and father figure

R.Senathi Rajah

It is not easy to write of a person such as Mr. R. Senathi Rajah – former Senior Partner of the law firm Julius & Creasy. He made a lasting impression on all who met him. You could write of his compassion, his razor-sharp legal mind, the way he was mentor and guru beyond compare, of his unlimited concern for those around him, and about what a perfect gentleman he was.

And still you would not be able to encompass all that Mr. Rajah was. Neither would have Mr. Rajah wanted anyone to write about him. He was someone who did not want even his birthday acknowledged. But we should put down in words all that he meant to us. “You must write”, he would tell us, urging us to write on the law. So, Sir, here we are, writing about you, on behalf of all at Julius & Creasy.

Thank you, Sir, for your patience and time in teaching us. You may have left us, but you have imparted to us so many skills, as well as the enthusiasm to learn and enrich our knowledge. You inculcated in us the need to research, to question, and to be clear and reasoned in our thinking and writing.

Your attention to detail was incredible. Not only did you teach, you also wanted to learn – and you never stopped learning. You encouraged discussion, debate and an exchange of views. You never belittled anyone for expressing a wrong opinion. You took so much interest in us and did so much to help us, as a parent would for his child. You kept encouraging us to further our knowledge and gain higher academic qualifications.

Thank you, Sir, for allowing us to watch you at work. Your superior intelligence and ability to solve complex legal issues never ceased to amaze us. Your charm and ease with your clients was wonderful to witness. The way you used words to express opinions was unique. You were a treat to watch, Sir.
Thank you, Sir, for being so encouraging and supportive. You knew how to draw the best qualities in a person, and you spoke so proudly of us that we always wanted to do better.

Thank you, Sir, for your sense of humour, for being so positive and collected in the most pressing situations and calming our nerves with your wit and jokes.

Thank you, Sir, for sharing with us your life’s stories. You would suddenly start on a story in the midst of work, and recollect experiences that would be so refreshing to us. No conversation with you was ever dull.

Thank you, Sir, for your genuine concern for us. You wanted us to achieve happiness in our professional and personal lives. You truly cared about our welfare, from the small matters, such as ensuring we all got home safely after an office function to the more important ones. You always found time to listen to us and advise us. We had the benefit of your wisdom and counselling whenever we needed it. We felt better by just talking to you and listening to your calm, reassuring voice.

Thank you, Sir, for your generosity. Not only were you generous with your time and knowledge, you gave us the most expensive gifts you could find. Your generous contributions to charities cannot be forgotten either. We remember how you would buy bundles of raffle ticket books sold by charities and distribute the vouchers to us. You always supported a worthy cause and played an active role as a patron of charities.

Thank you, Sir, for being such a visionary and advanced thinker. You always thought of the future and you were always one step ahead. You were as modern as you were traditional.

You are dearly missed, Sir, but we will share and spread the knowledge, happiness and kindness you gave us.

Thank you, Sir, for being you.

The staff of Julius & Creasy

A disciplinarian who inspired his officers to give of their best

Cyril Hearth

Cyril Herath had left the University of Peradeniya a year before I entered Peradeniya, so I did not have the opportunity of knowing him as a university colleague. Although I had met him briefly in the 1970s on official work, I made his acquaintance only in the mid-1980s, when I was attached to the Ministry of Defence and Cyril was Inspector General of Police.

In the course of many friendly chats we had in office, we discovered the many common denominators that strengthened our friendship and led to our two families becoming very close.

Cyril was an exemplary family man. He had three sons and one daughter, whom he and his wife Ranee brought up in a disciplined and orderly household, imbued with Buddhist values. Theirs was a remarkably close-knit family, and during Cyril’s illness, all rallied round and saw to his every need. Ranee, his ever-loving wife, bestowed on him all the care and attention he needed.

Cyril had a long and eventful career in the Police service. He served in many outstations, including Jaffna, and he served with distinction. As ASP, SP, DIG and IG, he will be remembered by his subordinates and colleagues as a principled and competent officer who showed a rare dedication to his duties.

He demonstrated his exceptional organisational skills in the security arrangements he made for the Non-Aligned Summit in the 1970s. He was commended for an excellent job done by the then Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

Cyril was a disciplinarian who believed in first principles and strict conformity to rules and procedure at the workplace.

Retired DIG Nanda Siriwardena, who was PA to five Inspectors General of Police, recalls his time with Cyril Herath as the most memorable. He stressed Cyril Herath’s meticulous approach to duty and his consideration for officers of the Police service, regardless of rank or seniority. By his conduct and demeanour, Cyril inspired officers to give of their best and discharge their duties without fear or favour. The officers knew Cyril would stand by them in case they were unjustly found fault with.

In fact, it was this side of Cyril’s character that brought about his premature retirement from the post of IGP in 1988.

I was privy to the circumstances that precipitated his sudden decision to retire. At the time I was Additional Secretary, in the Ministry of Defence. I clearly remember Cyril walking in a little late for the weekly security committee meeting chaired by Gen. Sepala Attygalla, Secretary, Ministry of Defence, and sitting in the chair next to mine. Cyril whispered to me that he would be sending in his retirement papers the next day. My immediate reaction was to tell him not to rush into such a major decision without careful reflection.

He then told me that President J. R. Jayewardene had called him that morning, saying he wanted him to promote two Police officers to the rank of DIG. He had explained to the President that there were other officers more deserving of promotion. JR then said he was obliged to promote the two officers concerned. Cyril said he would in that case be sending in his retirement papers.

I also recall how at a function the following day at President’s House, President J. R. approached the table where Cyril, I, and others were seated. He led Cyril to an empty table nearby where they sat and chatted for a good 15 minutes. When Cyril returned, he said the President had been apologetic and had explained that the said promotions had to be given by him. He had told Cyril that if he wished he could be posted as head of mission overseas. One can imagine President JR, a man of culture and finesse, possibly having pangs of conscience. Why the long and intimate chat with Cyril on what was a rather embarrassing subject?

It was a pity that an illustrious career was cut short as a result of the whims of those in power. On retirement, Cyril was sought as a security consultant. He served in this capacity, more to be occupied than for any other reason. In keeping with his character, he performed these tasks with due diligence. Although he stoically reconciled himself to his premature retirement, he was somewhat dispirited, more from disenchantment over the rather perfunctory manner his hand had been forced by those holding the reins of power.

With a change of government in 1994, Cyril was appointed Chairman of the National Savings Bank by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge. He transformed this institution, which had been run like a government department, into a vibrant commercial organisation with a strong private sector orientation. The bank could now compete with the other state and commercial banks.

President Chandrika Kumaratunge later appointed Cyril as Secretary of Defence, a post he held for close on two years. This was at a time the country was in severe turmoil. Cyril discharged his duties with his characteristic diligence and unswerving commitment.

Cyril had a wide range of interests, including tennis, reading, music, and ballroom dancing. He enjoyed singing at parties and family gatherings. He had a keen sense of humour and enjoyed a good joke.
Thinking of Cyril, one is reminded of these lines of the poet Alexander Pope:

“A safe companion and an easy friend,
Unblamed through life and lamented in the end”.
‘Vivit post funera virtus’ - Virtue lies beyond the grave.
May Cyril attain the Ultimate Bliss that all Buddhists seek.

Chandra Wickramasinghe

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