Celebrating the towering family man that he was Felix Dias Bandaranaike June 26 is a dark and dismal day in the calendar of my Aunt Lakshmi and her daughter Christine who lost their beloved husband and loving father quite prematurely. Felix Dias Bandaranaike was 53 years of age. This year, it has been 33 years [...]




Celebrating the towering family man that he was

Felix Dias Bandaranaike

Felix with his wife Lakshmi

June 26 is a dark and dismal day in the calendar of my Aunt Lakshmi and her daughter Christine who lost their beloved husband and loving father quite prematurely. Felix Dias Bandaranaike was 53 years of age. This year, it has been 33 years since the passing away of this remarkable husband, father, friend, uncle and politician.

There have been numerous articles written about this gentle giant of a great Statesman of an era gone by, truly acknowledging and celebrating his unparalleled integrity, intellectual prowess, courage and beliefs. But for those of us who were blessed to keenly know the towering six foot, aquiline nosed, pipe-smoking, bespectacled, witty family man, it was altogether a different facet of the jewel that we experienced, as we celebrate his family values which were firmly underpinned with kindness and compassion.

FDB was born on November 5, 1930 to Reginald and Freda Dias Bandaranaike whose close family the Bandaranaike dynasty had a tradition in law and politics. For FDB it was a natural progression; like a duck taking to water, he glided into a career in law and politics effortlessly and immersed himself in the affairs of the State upon completing his ‘home grown’, trail blazing academic career at the University of Colombo and Law College. He was both brilliant and erudite and clearly his intellect, tenacity and ‘courage under fire’, were all too evident in his much debated ‘hits and misses’ in a ruthlessly competitive political arena.

FDB continued to dominate the political stage of Sri Lanka for many reasons and seasons. He provided an unparalleled and distinguished service to his motherland as a gallant leader. The accolades were many and criticism no less as Mark Antony lamented in Caesar’s funeral oration: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”, and these sentiments reverberated in the actions of men who lost their reason when they crushed and humiliated FDB, an incredibly honest politician.

Lakshmi, my aunt and godmother now an octogenarian, is mentally agile and very graceful. She met her future husband to be when they were both in their late teens; she had many attributes; she was a good-looking, clever and confident student at Ladies’ College and the brilliant, tall, dark and handsome FDB was a student at Royal College; they were both prize winners in their respective schools but the latter more prolific at it! FDB came from a privileged background but school was a great equalizer. He relished school. He played truant, he smoked, perhaps unwittingly laying a foundation for his lifelong love of the pipe. He would hold his fellow students spellbound with his oratory skills.

My aunt would relate how FDB with his sixth formers forced their way into the Ladies’ College premises one particular year, as the ‘big match’ fever descended upon them, sending Miss Opie in to a spin! And poor Miss Opie, like a mother hen scrambling to gather her delirious brood under her wings, had to ‘shoo’ away the intruders. However, it took more than a ‘shoo’ to dislodge FDB and the boys! Gone are the days, the likes of FDB and his cycle brigade who rode battered bicycles to impress the girls and cheer on their schools. Today, the preamble to the fever (not the match) is the ‘flag waving noisy millennial brigades’ parading in luxury cars, blowing their trumpets almost in a frenzy and racing through the streets of Colombo.

FDB’s and Lakshmi’s romance blossomed and flourished through university and Law College and they married in 1953. They were both partners in a warm and loving marriage and she would always say “I had no friends and Felix was my only friend”. Naturally, FDB was her ‘universe’ and he found her vulnerability irresistible like any other. In return, her warm affection was like a breath of fresh air, a far cry from the ‘stiff upper lip’ Victorian upbringing he had. They fitted like a glove. My aunt would incessantly speak to us about his kindness. “There was never a harsh word from him,” she would remark and in the same breath would add, “Felix was a devil to crack jokes and laugh at his own jokes” and trail off laughing, as if walking back in time, remembering the good times they shared together.

Eleenor  Roosevelt said, “So I took an interest in politics, but I don’t know whether I enjoyed it. It was a wife’s duty to be interested in whatever interested her husband! Be it politics, books or a particular dish for dinner”. Lakshmi did abide by it all and undertook much more, with exuberance and aplomb for her husband who wore many hats!

FDB was a car enthusiast in the day and he drove a vintage Baby Austin which he prized. Somehow this pint sized car fittingly accommodated this oversized man. With Lakshmi beside him he was content even without the loaf of bread and the jug of wine, to roam the countryside on their holidays. They travelled the world together and many are their adventures. The walls of their Mahanuga Gardens home ‘Granta’ is plastered with wonderful memories, some, at the zenith of their political career, with pictures telling their own story and both FDB and Lakshmi standing shoulder to shoulder with celebrated Heads of States of yesteryear.

In between these years and both becoming Barristers, Christine, their bundle of joy arrived: they named her after FDB’s only sister. Lakshmi recalls how FDB carried the tiny newborn in the giant palm of his hand! He was besotted with her from the moment he set eyes on her. He was a doting and devoted father and she gravitated to him. FDB found time to read bedtime stories to his little princess bringing these fables almost alive by dramatizing in his inimitable style much to her delight but, to the consternation of my aunt, as sleep would escape the little girl. Christine would be truly wide awake absolutely enthralled and lost in her dad’s narratives.

Lakshmi and Felix had a roller-coaster ride through life and through thick and thin and in good times and bad, they stuck like glue. They were each other’s strength. FDB had a higher calling though, than serving his country selflessly. It was a heaven sent divine proposition at the appointed time, particularly when he was unfairly and harshly dealt by the Machiavellian politicians. He became a victim of ruthless politics and consequently, when his faith in humans dimmed, his faith in the Almighty kicked in like a bolt of lightning!

The words of wisdom from the wisest old Sage and King on the futility of man’s labour as “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”, struck a chord so profoundly in FDB. He now craved to labour only to lay his treasures in heaven. He hungered for the Word of God and to understand the deep mysteries it revealed. He enrolled at a Bible College in Portland, Oregon for a degree in Theology. The few years he spent in the USA with Lakshmi and Christine devoid of politics were truly happy and peaceful in nature. Above all, FDB was in harmony with God and man; he had made his peace. Just before he could commence his post-graduate studies in Theology, he was struck down unfairly by a dreaded illness and entered glory on June 26, 1985 to become a citizen of heaven.

‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord’ (Matthew 25:21)

What an incredible invitation to die for!

Savitri de Alwis

I am what I am today, thanks to your  guidance

J.E. John Rodrigo

On the occasion of Thathie’s 100th birth anniversary, I would like to share some fond recollections of him.

My first memories of Thathie are of him as the Mayor of Negombo, with people from all walks of life coming to our home seeking his  help. His sense of duty ranged from offering our home as the collection point for food  distribution during major floods in Negombo, to my parents being invited as chief guests at the Maris Stella College primary school athletics meet. By a quirk of fate, I won a foot race that day, resulting in Ammie awarding me first prize on stage.

It is mind-boggling to comprehend how Thathie juggled his professional job at the time as Secretary for the National Chamber of Commerce with his other responsibilities – proprietor of a coconut estate, President of the Negombo Bharatha Association, President of  Maris Stella College OBA, the first President of Negombo Lions Club and such. He did it all with genuine care for the community.

When Thathie was appointed a Member of Parliament (1970 – 1972), public gatherings at home, his political office, continued to increase. He worked tirelessly round the clock, often travelling by train. He is credited for bringing recognition to his beloved Bharatha community by registering, via Parliament edict, the Bharatha community as a separate ethnic group in Sri Lanka.

He maintained good relationships with parliamentarians of the opposition party, in the good old days of ‘gentleman’ politics. I remember many prominent politicians, including the Prime Minister, visiting our home. The most extraordinary moment for me was when one of Thathie’s friends of the opposition party brought Dudley Senanayake (then in opposition) for tea–a re-confirmation of the camaraderie in politics of that era.

Despite the long hours of work, Thathie always had time for his family.We used to go to the Negombo beach after dusk in our pyjamas, play and eat homemade Chinese rolls. He took my elder brother and me to watch movies at the Air Force complex in Kurana, my second sister for swimming lessons, many family vacations, and the all-important annual pilgrimage to Madhu and Thalawila. Thathie was an extremely safe driver resulting in him also being a slow driver, which meant that a trip to Madhu took the whole day for travel.

He always took us to Colombo on our birthdays, bought gifts and had lunch at Pagoda restaurant (later it was afternoon tea at the Members canteen of the Parliament). It was during one of  these visits that Thathie took me to visit a friend of his, a managing partner of a Chartered Accountancy firm, where my future career was discussed.

When Thathie was appointed as the Ambassador to Italy, he had a ‘dad-son’ chat with me to explain that my elder brother and I would have to stay in Sri Lanka since the government allowance did not cover us. Of course we understood. When my elder brother and I came to visit at Christmas that  year, Thathie took time off work to show us the sights.

During this visit, I received a well-deserved admonishment for straying from my studies. I was also gently advised of the value of financial independence. I am what I am today, thanks to that guidance.  My letters to him were regularly returned with spelling corrections in red, which improved my expertise in the English language. I am eternally grateful for those lessons from afar.

Towards the end of his stint in Italy, my parents underwent considerable stress due to my elder brother suffering a life-threatening ailment. It would have been unthinkable for my parents to lose my elder brother, and there were no qualms in deciding to sell the ancestral home to meet medical costs.Thathie might be one of the few politicians in Sri Lanka who ended his political career with fewer assets than at the beginning.

Upon Thathie’s return, he was unable to find mentally challenging employment. Thus began the downturn of his health. Our ancestral home in Negombo being embroiled in legal complexities compounded his stress. Towards the end, I even gave him a shave regularly when he was in intensive care.

One striking transformation with Thathie upon his return was that he was no longer the slow driver – perhaps travelling autostradas in Italy made him bolder.

When I finally obtained Chartered Accountancy qualification in Australia in late 1990’s after tortuous years of CIMA and US CPA qualifications, I felt in my heart that I had finally accomplished Thathie’s aspirations for my professional career.

Thathie, my heartfelt thanks for being a beacon of guidance for my life.

Thank you for being a wonderful dad and thereby fulfilling God’s command, in that regard.

When we meet one day, as written in the Bible, I hope that I will be considered a worthy son.

John Tulseth Rodrigo

Not just a fine tea planter but a true gentleman

Wickrema de Alwis

The curtain came down on the life of Wickrema De Alwis on October 20 at four score and seven, leaving friends and family to reflect on the qualities of a man that made him not just one of the finest tea planters the industry had known but also a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

My association with Wick as he was fondly known goes back to the mid-70s when as a young executive at George Steuarts, then renowned for managing plantations , I was assigned the awesome task of handling the desk of the company’s most prestigious  charge viz ‘ The Standard Tea Company’ which comprised six remarkable estates, three in Uda Pussellawa and the balance in  Bogawantalawa / Lindula.

Wick was Superintendent of one of them- Kotiyagala Group in Bogawantalawa, a highly profitable property with a popular selling mark which he took great pride in. His leadership was by example, combining the highest level of integrity with a “no nonsense” approach to work and ethics that were impossible to surpass and yet worthy to emulate.

Not surprisingly every young planter who served under him went on to reach great heights in their own careers thanks to a foundation of integrity , commitment and accountability instilled by their strict disciplinarian “Peria Dorai” boss ! Here lies yet another story of what exemplary leadership can do for a succeeding generation no matter what the field!

Following the nationalisation of plantations in 1975/76 Wick was appointed to chair a Regional Board by the Government where his expertise and high standards benefitted a cluster of estates and the numerous personnel who served on those properties.

He became a much sought after Visiting Agent  and it is common knowledge that the bushes flushed green and  the tea prices soared on every mark he visited !

His official residences had beautifully manicured lawns surrounded by exotic roses while his impeccably maintained homes were a joy to visit . Their walls were studded with photos of the many pedigreed handsome canines that surrounded his life; relationships of love and care  may well  have inspired the likes of Barbara Cartland  to even greater heights.

In retirement he lived initially  in  rented accommodation in Watapuluwa off Kandy, and I have fond memories of our weekends together enjoying our long walks reminiscing on the positive and negative sides of life and humanity.

He followed our nation’s cricket with a passion and was quick to put pen to paper whenever he felt that something in that field needed correction. The media respected his wisdom and often published his views.

He was blessed in his domestic Saveria , a faithful “Man Friday” of almost 40 years whose loyalty and respect for his master remained unwavering throughout that period….a rare occurrence indeed and yet a reflection of a large and caring heart that Wick hid under a strict and exacting exterior. Kalimuttu, his driver of shorter duration was equally devoted but less disciplined as his refusal to give up smoking much to Wick’s anger and dismay eventually took toll of his lungs and life. Needless to say that Wick reciprocated this loyalty by ensuring that the children of his carers  were put on career paths that opened doors to greater opportunities.

Sadly the collapse of the Golden Key Finance Company where he had a major part of his life savings, cruelly devastated his life and took an inevitable toll of his health . He was compelled to move to a retirement home in Bolgoda where he spent his final years in decline. His meticulous planning for a contented retired life that he  so richly deserved was shattered by the inexcusable irresponsibility of an institution he trusted. Though miles away Wick, you are very much in my thoughts.

May you find “peaceful rest” as you deserve.



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