Gajaba Gunawardana A down to earth scholar It is hard to believe that a year has gone since the demise of our beloved and distinguished colleague, Gajaba Gunawardana who passed away unexpectedly on February 22,  last year. Gajaba was born in a coastal village in the deep south, Weligama . His father, Turin Perera Gunawardana [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Gajaba Gunawardana

A down to earth scholar

It is hard to believe that a year has gone since the demise of our beloved and distinguished colleague, Gajaba Gunawardana who passed away unexpectedly on February 22,  last year.

Gajaba was born in a coastal village in the deep south, Weligama . His father, Turin Perera Gunawardana was a renowned Ayurvedic doctor, who later moved to Polhena, Matara to give a higher education to his children. He was the fifth in the family with two brothers and three sisters.

He had both his preliminary and secondary education at a leading Catholic school, St. Servatius College, Matara where he impressed with his intellectual brilliance. Notwithstanding his commitments in Colombo, he did not hesitate to render his obligations to his alma mater by being the Vice President of St. Servatius, Colombo Branch and played a key role in the upliftment of the educational standards of the  school. As one colleague recalls, he had a natural inclination towards teaching and leading.

There have been a large number of students who benefitted from his generosity of  imparting knowledge to his fellow students in his schooldays.

It was at the University of Sri Jayawardanepura where I had the privilege of interacting with Gajaba intimately since 1971. He enrolled for the four-year B.Sc (Special) Public Administration Degree Programme and his affable ways and gentle conduct endeared him to all batchmates. He obtained his M.A Management Learning at the University of Lancaster, UK. Besides, his residential facility at the Soratha Hall he was the Secretary of the Student Council.

When we had free time after lectures, we got together after dinner singing Sinhala songs and narrating anecdotes of our childhood. Gajaba was a tower of strength to the university students.

This popularity eventually led him to contest successfully for the student council dominated by the Communist Party along with a team of student council leaders who later became prominent  politicians such as  S.B. Dissanayake, Bandula Gunawardana, Reginald Cooray, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, Mahinda Wijesekera et al. It was a moot-point as to why he did not enter politics.

The majority of the student council leaders during this era had been very aggressive in their approach and the university authorities made it a point to approach Gajaba seeking his intervention for possible settlements. SB, Yasaratna and Iddamalgoda were his roommates and the strategic plans they engineered,  burning the midnight oil at the Soratha Hall paid rich dividends in developing the management faculty, enhancing standards of the course modules and also improving the numerous welfare schemes for students.

Bandula Gunawardene in his funeral eulogy recalled how they valued  Gajaba’s advice whenever convoluted issues arose and it was the far-reaching solutions put forward by Gajaba that paved the way for them to enter politics. His generation of politicians produced by the University of that era were eternally indebted to Gajaba for his forthright principled stand whenever the universities and the students faced challenges. He never sought political favours for personal gain. That was Gajaba!

Gajaba’s mastery of the English language stood him in good stead. Whenever  representatives of the World University Service and other foreign dignitaries came to address the students, the task of translation fell upon Gajaba who quite lucidly imparted such addresses. His fluency in English and his compelling arguments at the bargaining table with the university administration very often brought tangible results in favour of the students

It would be a gross injustice to Gajaba, if an unforgettable act of patriotism on his part is not mentioned. Being the Director of the Road Sector Assistance Project funded by the World Bank, he  was on an official trip to Ampara to evaluate the progress of the roads rehabilitated in the Eastern Region and was stopped by the sentries of the Army checkpoint at Mahaoya, on the stretch of the main road running from Mahaoya to Ampara.

This was the road where the massacre of 33 Buddhist monks, and four civilians by the rebel LTTE cadres had happened on June 2, 1987 in Aranthalawa. The sentries politely  pointed out the imminent danger, also in the vehicle prominently displaying the national flag.

Gajaba insisted on proceeding for the meeting and was even prepared to give a written undertaking taking the full responsibility for his life. After much persuasion, he was allowed to go, but requested to remove the national flag only for this stretch for his own safety. His answer was that even if he died at the hands of the militants, he was not prepared to remove the national flag. Miraculously, no untoward  happened.   That was the sense of patriotism he had for mother Sri Lanka. That was Gajaba!

He had a very successful career in the public sector and leading funding and service organizations spanning over 35 years. His assignments at the Ministry of Ports and Highways as the Director of World Bank Projects, Ministry of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development as the Director of Fisheries Sector Development Project, National Institute of Business Management as a Management Consultant, Sri Lanka Foundation Institute as a Senior Lecturer and World University Service, Geneva, Switzerland as the Regional Administration officer (Asia and the Pacific Region) are some of the key posts he held with distinction.

His posting at the Ministry of Ports and Highways as the Director in charge of the World Bank Projects involving the rehabilitation and improvement of 15 national roads with a total length of 635 Km ($ 263 million) was one of the formidable tasks he executed quite exceptionally. At a time when the road development sector was vehemently criticized for phenomenal corruption and bribery, his achievement was the lowest recorded cost per kilometre.

He was also a lecturer for the MBA and M.Sc programmes at the University of Colombo and Moratuwa.

Gajaba was one of the prime movers for the establishment of the local branch of the World University Service (WUS). He was instrumental in the preparation of the Regional News Bulletin and was also responsible for the student exchange programme. He was a member of the Steering Committee of the WUS Regional Workshop held in Colombo, represented Sri Lanka at the Youth and Development in an Asian setting conference held in Kathmandu, Nepal and the WUS International General Assembly in Managua, Nicaragua.

He instinctively followed his conscience in everything he did and his conscience never let him down. He was spritually, emotionally and intellectually beautiful, kind-hearted and good-humoured.  It was a pleasure to meet him and be greeted by his radiant smile and mellifluous voice. It is not an exaggeration to say in a nutshell, that Gajaba was a down to earth, pragmatic and sober scholar produced by the Sri Jayawardana University.

His wife, Indrani, a former Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Special Projects) and daughter, Harini were a tower of strength to Gajaba right-throughout his life. His sister, Thalatha was a live-wire in the family circle who consoled Gajaba at every moment of his life when he was distressed.

Now that an Alumni Association has been formally established in the Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce, it is fervently hoped that adequate space be provided in its website for the publication of the articles and eulogies of this nature.

Memories of this amiable and dignified character shall remain in the hearts of his friends and colleagues for many years to come. May you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.

Athula Ranasinghe


 Herbert “WRH” Perera

I raise a toast to you, my father, the free thinker

Thatha was in many ways a unique man and as my sister told us of his passing, my wife Jane said to me, “well that’s the end of an era – they certainly broke that mould – there won’t be another like him”.  We know he was “to the manor born” or in Sri Lanka “to the Walauwa born”.  But in so many ways different and atypical for that background.

One of my earliest memories as I entered elementary school and discovered the rich diversity of our society with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc. was wondering, what on earth was a “free thinker” as my father referred to himself.  At that age one tends not to think about the meaning – at least not in my case – just the label.  As I grew older I discovered what a wonderful freedom of thinking he possessed, able to fearlessly break the shackles of norm, convention and tradition.

His brilliant scientific mind was I believe at the root of this as it was in many other spheres where one realizes he was way ahead of his time.  His many opinions and thesis on forestry and the environment are simply astonishing considering how far back he espoused them without the data available today.  He displayed the same traits when it came to understanding the common good, being inclusive or simply just standing up for what is right and just.  With an uncompromising degree of honesty and integrity he fearlessly took on all comers, no matter how powerful and never wavered.  Many were the times he was attacked in Parliament – to no avail – they had nothing on him and he did not budge an inch.

One of his former officers, Mr. Balendran, wrote to me thus; “A boss who taught me what dignity of a designation and honesty is all about.  In an era when being a Tamil seemed a sin, he treated me fairly and helped me to get ahead in my career.  Although, many thought he was proud, haughty etc. he was like a friend to me and even visited my humble home many times with your dear mother.  He has lived a long life well”.

The love of the environment and nature was one of the things that bonded him with Amma.  For in many ways they were opposites attracting; devout Catholic vs free thinker, conservative upbringing vs. the party goer etc.  But then there were the common traits of honesty, fairness, simplicity, pride in their people and country etc.  Incidentally, the genes may have skipped a generation but our daughter Rachel is about to head to the cloud forests in Monteverde, Costa Rica for a semester.

The “free thinking” had many benefits for me; sipping from his glass of scotch at a very early age, cutting school to accompany him on a multitude of trips to remote jungles, ancient cities and adventures with wild life, forest fires and many more.  In later years we revisited many of these places together with Jane and our children William, Adele and Rachel.  One unforgettable experience was during a visit to the Minneriya National Park.  To cut a long episode short, we were left watching in horror from our jeep as an elephant was poised to try and push over the jeep with my parents.  Several tactics saved the day but we also noticed my father putting down his window and appearing to say something to the elephant.  When the grandchildren later inquired what he said, he replied “that I was the king of the jungle”. Adele just reminded me that someone better inform that elephant that it’s now his turn! I was fortunate to be able to reminisce about all this with him when I visited two months ago and said my final goodbyes.

We also added the “champagne story” to our repertoire.  Once moved out of the ICU and lying on his hospital bed he asked me, “what are we going to do about the champagne bottle you brought?”  I shrugged it off, assuming he was confused since I usually bring him a bottle of cognac.  However, when Dr. Hemal visited he again said, “we also need to drink the champagne my son has brought”.  So, I mentioned this apparent confusion to my cousin Shelton, who in turn pointed out to me that this wasn’t entirely confusion.  Apparently, when our grandfather was on his death bed they would give him sips of champagne.

The next day, following the advice of Jane and the kids, that at this stage we should not worry about seeking the doctors’ approval, I returned with a bottle of champagne.  Getting into the elevator to get to the 12th floor I noticed a foreign looking priest.  My sister had mentioned Father David from Australia whose visits and conversations on religion and science Thatha enjoyed.  Sure enough we were the only two left by the twelfth floor and he proceeded to head for Thatha’s room.  I introduced myself before entering and then told Thatha that I had brought a bottle of champagne to be drunk later when Shelton arrived.  He insisted we should drink it right away with Fr. David who in turn started to protest about having to get back to work.  After pointing out to Fr. David that after all, Christianity had a foundation and was seeped in wine (the first miracle), he, my father on his hospital bed approaching the end of his life and myself drank champagne watched by the nurses! Fr. David then took our leave and we were back to business as usual.  At the time Thatha was not eating and he would only drink juice made by an Australian company called Berri.  When he wanted this he would call out to the nurses, “Berri Berri”.  However, when he next wanted a drink there was a new call “champagne champagne”! Our son William, also “W.R.H.”, came shortly after,  a visit I think they both enjoyed.  Although, I think William was fairly convinced that Grandad would make yet another recovery and march on to a 100!

He had an amazing memory in recalling events that even those much younger couldn’t.  One blessing of this “crystal clear memory” as he put it, was that in his retirement he was able to write several books, starting from his childhood,recollecting many stories and adventures about family, friends, colleagues and contemporaries; now preserved for posterity for all of our families and friends.  Apparently, a good read regardless, judging by the number of non-related who have also enjoyed them.

There couldn’t be a better and more lasting monument of his legacy than Sinharaja, the mystical rainforest he fought so hard to preserve for the future generations. The poem which captured his boyhood attention and lingered with him throughout provides us a window into the love for nature he shared with my mother;

“The mists that drift across the hills

High hills of Sinharaja.

They are my sighs

That hover still

And linger with the

Shorea, trees

Tranquil hills of  Sinharaja.”

Wiren Perera


 Dr. Quintus Corea

A father figure not just to family and friends but community too

Quintus Corea was born to Edith and Dominic Corea on September 26, 1925 – an epic 91 years ago. As his name implies he was the fifth in a family of six – five boys and a girl.

Being of a service-oriented disposition, he decided to study medicine. Having qualified as a doctor he married Margie Alles in 1959 and had two children – Chris and Rochelle. Quintus and Margie had celebrated over 50 years of married life when Margie passed away in 2010.

Although he had only two children and four grandchildren, many in his extended family and indeed in the community looked up to him as a father figure. So much so that he served as the Patron of the Colombo Chetty community in Sri Lanka for many years until his death.

He was a source of great comfort when it came to medical matters and indeed all sorts of other matters. Many confided in him, secure in the knowledge that their secrets were very safe in his confidence.

As a doctor he was an exponent of the healing art. He treated not only the bodies but also the minds and hearts of his patients. This made him very much in demand in the social circle. When someone was ill the first question would be “Has Quintus seen him yet?” And many a patient would say “Quintus came and now I feel much better.” His bedside manner and diagnostic skills were legendary and he epitomised the concept that the practice of medicine was not just a science but also very much an art.

Many visited our home to seek his advice and he would also visit family members, friends and neighbours at all hours of the day or night to sort out medical problems.

His earnings came only from his meagre salary as a Government and Local Government doctor. Although he did not earn anything else from the practice of medicine he acquired immeasurable goodwill in the community in return for his selfless service.

His passion for pets was also legendary. He had all manner of bird and beast including deer, sambur, donkeys, ponies, porcupine, rock squirrel and his favourite which survives him – his African grey parrot Chico. This passion for pets was prevalent amongst all his brothers and periodically there was much excitement in the family when one of them had a new addition to their menagerie.

He loved the outdoors and took great pleasure in visiting his coconut estate where he would show us some large and prolific fruit trees and proudly say – “all these trees were planted by me”. The estate was also invaluable in housing the larger members of his menagerie.

Tennis was another passion. He would be out on the tennis court at the Otters almost every day with his many friends. This was usually followed by a quick beer. He continued playing tennis until Margie’s passing in 2010 – a period of over 60 years. Although he tried to get back into the game again, this was not to be as age had taken its toll.

After that his source of entertainment was playing cards with Margie’s sisters and their friends. I am sure that the presence of her sisters reminded him of her and he enjoyed their company immensely.

It is very hard for us to manage without his constant, caring, steadfast presence. I used to visit him in his room in the evenings and share a drink with him. He was a man of few words and although we enjoyed much fellowship and exchange of news most of this took place with a minimum of actual conversation. This interaction had a therapeutic effect on both of us and I will be facing the vacuum created by his absence for the rest of my days. Although he was absolutely alert mentally I realized that at 91 I would not have the privilege of his company, love and guidance for ever. So I tried to make the most of it.

A few days before he passed away he must have had some premonition because he asked me to stay with him while the rest of the family went on a small trip. I should have guessed that there was something significant in this as he was usually undemanding to a fault.

His medical skills may have led him to realize that his own life was nearing its end. Even the strongest oak must ultimately fall.

Always a meticulously religious person, he would attend mass dutifully on Sundays. When he became less mobile, he witnessed mass on TV conducted in Latin. He greatly appreciated the Latin mass as it brought back to him memories of his childhood.  A few days before he passed away, Rev. Sr. Barbara who is known to the family for over 50 years, administered holy communion to him whilst he enthusiastically uttered the appropriate responses in Latin.

We entrust Daddy to the caring hands of his creator and thank God for giving him to us for so long.

He joins the company of  Mummy once again and this may account for the flicker of a smile that lit up his face at the end.

Chris Corea

John Gladstone Rajakulendran

The Jaffna politician who stood tall in the Second State Council of Ceylon

My father, John Gladstone Rajakulendran hailed from Jaffna and was born in Manipay in 1908. He was the son of Dr. Vethanayagam R. John and Mrs. John of Manipay. He studied at the English Memorial School Manipay and St. John’s Jaffna. Among his many noteworthy achievements were his stints as Principal of Kathireshan College, Nawalapitiya from 1940 to 1950, functioning as Chairman of the Nawalapitiya Urban Council (M.S.C.) from 1938 to 1942, Member of the State Council Bandarawela from 1943 to 1947 and being elected as the Acting Minister of Labour Industries and Commerce in 1945. Having qualified as a trained teacher in Colombo, he taught at Wesley College, Colombo, along with Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.

Since the burning ambition of his life was to enter politics, along with his colleague and friend, R.E. Jayatilleke, they moved to Nawalapitiya  together to engage in politics. Just three months into residing in Nawalapitiya, he was elected a Member of the Urban Council and was subsequently elected Chairman of the Urban Council.

In July 1946, along with G.G. Ponnambalam M.S.C., for Point Pedro, he visited England and, as delegates of the Tamil Congress, participated in the prestigious discussion with the Secretary of State and other Members of Parliament on Constitutional Reforms. My father became a Barrister-at-Law in 1950.

My father was the brother of T.G. Francis, owner of the famous horse ‘Cotton Hall’ and the inimitable President of the YWCA Colombo. He was a good friend of former Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, who recommended his candidature to the Haputale seat in Parliament in 1947. Had my father won the Haputale seat, Indian emigrants would not have lost the franchise they were entitled to.

J.G. Rajakulendran was a Member of the Labour Party with A.E. Gunasinghe. He was also the first President of The Ceylon Bankers’ Employees Union from 1945/1946. Well dressed, smart, popular and young he was the cynosure of all eyes, the most respected and admired Jaffna Tamil politician in the Second State Council of Ceylon, who walked the political arena unafraid. His charming manner and political versatility confounded his critics while his ministerial colleagues applauded the loudest.

My father served the State Council and as an acting Minister for a number of years with consummate skill and the courage of his convictions and, I can proudly say today, ‘here was a man who walked the line unafraid.’

Dr. Rajakulendran


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