I believe that we all have something which is unique within ourselves, which belongs only to us and us alone. I also believe that even a single life can have a great impact particularly when it is that of a mother. Such was the life of Joyce Esther Wijesinghe, who passed away peacefully on Saturday, March 3 after a brief illness, and in the way she had yearned for during the final years of her life. She left behind a rich legacy of memories, and had an impact on all those who knew her, and interacted with her over the years. Her departure from this world was exactly as she wanted it to be-bereft of suffering.
Joyce was the eldest in a family of three children. She had a sister, Sheila, and a brother, Ernie. Her father was Sir Oliver Goonetilleke the first Ceylonese Governor General of the newly independent Ceylon as it was called then. She took great pride in her father’s contributions to the nation, and every year after his death, used to garland the statue erected of him by the family on the 20th of October which was his birthday.
Joyce’s mother Esther Jayewardene was from Kandy, the only girl in a family of four boys. She had an untimely death from a miscarriage at the tender age of 29 years. After this event, Joyce’s life changed in a dramatic manner. Her childhood without a mother and a very busy father was not a happy one. Even in her older years she would constantly recall the circumstances of her mother’s death, her devotion to her mother, her loving ways, the care and attention her mother gave her, and how she responded to her every need. My mother never ever got over her loss, although her father did his best to compensate in the only ways he knew and could. I believe this loss had a huge impact even on her ‘mothering role’ with her own children, extending to her grandchildren.
She studied at Ladies’ College, Colombo and told me she was very interested in sports. But the particular field in which she excelled was music. She obtained the LRSM and was qualified to both teach and perform on the piano. She did neither, but, made sure I did music, both the piano and the violin, although I had to abandon my music after I entered the Medical Faculty. She was delighted and proud when her grand-daughter Varuni inherited her musical talent, and enjoyed watching her perform.
She was just 18 years old when she met my father Mallory quite by chance at a Royal College carnival. He was only 21 years, just returned from the UK after obtaining an engineering degree from King’s College. My mother often recalled how very good looking and smart he was, and that meeting him was a dream come true for her. According to her, the bonding had been instantaneous and their marriage took place very soon afterwards. She used to recall that it was the opportunity she had waited for to start her own family and a new life. Their wedding at the Galle Face Hotel had been a huge affair due to her father’s involvement with politics. Since it was in 1940 and the war was on, the dates kept changing as there was always the possibility of an air attack. Thus no nekath day and time could be selected. They led a happy life together and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with family and close friends. They were devoted to each other throughout their married life.
Joyce was proud of her husband’s achievements although she never acknowledged nor recognized that she had played an important role as a good wife and mother, supportive of all his activities.
Their early married life was very relaxed when my father started work as a civil engineer in the PWD, stationed in Kurunegala and Diyathalawa. She often spoke about those days and told me how much she liked the outstations. She said that there was always plenty of time to spend with the children and life was easy. But all that suddenly changed when my father abruptly resigned from the PWD. She never challenged his decision, but rather, supported him in whatever he wanted to do next. She always felt optimistic although a young family with two small children and no income was not a very happy situation to be in.
My father since he had studied in England decided to go there and try to find a job. Nothing really materialized, and they had to come back after a year. Joyce was still sure he would make it in the end although life was difficult for the young couple. She used to talk about the hardships they underwent not with bitterness but with humour because I think they were very happy together. But it was following his return that he joined Bartleets, a private British owned company. He was eventually able to buy into it when the British working there left the island to return to their own country.
This was a turning point for both my father and mother. Thereon, he became very involved in the building-up of the private sector in Sri Lanka, and was nicknamed “Mr. Private Sector”. In all his dealings, he maintained the highest of ethical standards. His honesty and integrity was never questioned. Joyce was always by his side, a source of constant support and strength. He was also interested in volunteer work and was involved with the Lions movement, St. John’s Ambulance, and the Salvation Army.
My father’s death in 2002 at the age of 86 was a huge blow to my mother. She never really got over it. Then with advancing years, she turned more and more to her family as there were grandchildren and great grand children whom she enjoyed keeping company with. She liked meeting our friends, and was adept at bridging the generation gap without any problem.
Her main medical care was provided by me. She was an excellent patient as she was obedient in carrying out instructions. She had no doubts, no questions and was full of faith in any treatment I prescribed. She never entered hospital until a few days before she passed away. Her favourite meal was rice and chicken curry and plenty of eggs, the latter always a favourite on her menu. She disliked sweets which was a positive feature in her diet and never really put on much weight.
She was an avid reader of books as well as the daily newspaper. She was always interested in the latest political news which she also watched on TV. Her deep interest in politics was probably due to her father’s influence.
She played the piano until her death. The most beautiful Beethoven sonatas and the most exquisite of Chopin’s preludes, used to be heard in the vicinity of her home. Amazingly she retained the capacity to read music to the end.
She loved her garden and plants in general, a trait I have inherited. She liked having fish and birds at one time. As she grew older, she shunned large events, preferring small family gatherings and only those people she knew very well. She mostly enjoyed being with her family, and loved each one of us, far exceeding any concern about herself, a growing rarity in today’s world.
Each one in the family will miss her in a different way, but collectively we are all thankful that she had a painless death and a life fulfilled.
Although I was her daughter, with the passing of the years, I also became a confidante and friend.
She felt she could talk to me of her innermost feelings, some positive and some negative. I appreciated her frankness, honesty and forthright opinions, even if we disagreed sometimes. We met every morning for breakfast after my father died. It was an important time of the day for her as it was an opportunity to share views and confide in me any problems she had. She spoke to me a lot about the past as I was one of the few who knew the people she knew and spoke about. She was close to my brothers who were her immediate neighbours, her grandchildren and the great grandchildren. So, her extended family unit remained intact long after we had all left the family nest.
My mother not only gave us the gift of life, but, unconditional love in abundance. She inculcated the value that families mattered and that we should never forget that. She was an emotional person with black or white perspectives and never any grey areas. So we knew exactly what she liked and what she did not and acted accordingly. We knew her “highs” and “lows” but loved her as she was. But in her absence, it is only the good that remains in our hearts.
I would like to end with a Biblical quote,
“ To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; A time to be born and a time to die”.
“It has also been said, a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. and loving favour, rather than silver and gold”
May her soul rest in peace.
The man for all
K. G. N. ‘GABO’ Peries
K. G. N. Peries, or Gamini Peries, was quickly nicknamed “Gabo” Peries at Royal College. I had the privilege to befriend Gabo in the First Form, in 1957. Simply put, to know him was “non solum” an experience but “sed etiam” exciting. He was unique. Anything and everything he touched became exciting, irrepressibly mischievous, and absolutely fun.
Gabo was reticent, outwardly quiet, and always smiling, like a lovely kitten full of surprising tricks. He spent more time standing on his chair than sitting in it, as punishment meted out by class masters.
Gabo was a member of the school cadet platoon, under Manik Jayakumar. The platoon won the coveted Herman Loos Trophy at the All-Island Schools Cadet Competition, held in Diyatalawa.
Gabo also attended rugby practice, which was not his forte. His many talents became obvious only after he left Royal.
At Royal, he was a touch judge for a Bradby Under-17 game and ruled a Trinity conversion as “okay” by holding up one hand. But roars from the Royal crowd made him reverse his decision and he lowered his hand.
He started practising his drumming in school, on his Dreadnought instrument box, after Mahesa Fernando bought his trumpet and Charley Gulasekheram bought his clarinet. Gabo bought his famous first drum set and started the Royal College Band, with Nannissara Subesinghe and Sathis Fernando, among others.
After leaving Royal, Gabo acquired a “Masters in Scoundrels”, at two great institutions, the coffee houses Lion House and Mayfair House, in Bambalapitiya, with the likes of Theiventhiram (his best pal), Senaka Abeywicks, Lal Sirimanne, Pachi Nadesan, Kumaran Thamotheran, Neville Fernando and me.
Gabo joined Air Ceylon as a tall, good-looking steward and entertained the passengers with his jokes and tales. He started his band career simultaneously, playing drums for Sam The Man.
Gabo left that famous band to start the beloved Gabo & the Breakaways. They thrilled the crowd at dance halls and social events. Gabo impressed audiences not only with his band music but also with his sheer personality. He could read the mood of the crowd. That was Gabo’s genius – to read the mood and respond to one and all.
Gabo then started Gabo Travel & Tours. He was a pioneer in the local tourism industry. He did this business with his customary charm and aplomb.
He rendered yeoman service to Senaka Amerasinghe’s RC 1957 Group, helping friends and foes alike. He had love and affection for all.
His beloved wife Savi and his family, his beloved RC 57 Group, and his many friends, will miss him, including all who came into contact with “Gabo – The Man For All Seasons.”
May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.With love and gratitude to a lovely, fun classmate.