The thirteenth day of June, 1950, was a sad day for Lake House. On that day, D R Wijewardene, its founder, died, but the momentum that he generated is still felt when the rotary presses begin to roll. In 1912 when he returned to Ceylon after graduating in Cambridge and being called to the Bar [...]

Sunday Times 2

When DRW swayed life at Lake House

The following article first appeared in The Sunday Observer of June 11, 1978 and is reproduced to mark the 71st death anniversary of D R Wijewardene.

The thirteenth day of June, 1950, was a sad day for Lake House. On that day, D R Wijewardene, its founder, died, but the momentum that he generated is still felt when the rotary presses begin to roll.

D R Wijewardene

In 1912 when he returned to Ceylon after graduating in Cambridge and being called to the Bar in London, he was one of the most eligible bachelors in Colombo. He was so elegantly dressed that people used to call him “Dandy Dick.”

The fact is that he was a perfectionist, even in the matter of clothes, and the neatness of his appearance was only the mirror of a well-ordered mind ready to answer the country’s call.

He was born on the banks of the Kelani Ganga, but he received his passport to immortality on the banks of the Beira Lake. The roots of his family were, however, traced by J H O Paulusz, the former Government Archivist, to distant Uva, which was noted for producing men of action, Even the rebels from the province did their bloody job thoroughly.


Wijewardene’s ancestor, according to Paulusz, was Tudugala Madduma Rala, who was Dissava of Uva in 1656. He headed the family group which commanded armies in the field and led victorious campaigns three hundred years ago.

It is therefore not at all surprising that his illustrious descendant, Don Richard, should have inherited some of old Tudugala Rala’s qualities of leadership and made his employees at Lake House feel that life is one great battle, and their motto should be “to do or die”.

I was one of the survivors of the Wijewardene era, chiefly because it was wiser to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than to take arms against a sea of troubles.

For this bit of valuable advice I was beholden not to Hamlet but Herbert Hulugalle and Hilaire Jansz, two of the most lovable figures that ever trod the corridors of Lake House.

Jansz is dead. He was a rare fellow, a quaint, gaunt figure, who edited The Observer for over twenty years. When he retired in 1954 after 36 years of active journalism, a gossip writer in the rival paper, The Times of Ceylon, who I suspect was Tori de Souza, paid him this generous compliment:

“Hilaire Jansz has been one of the most consistently humorous and brilliant writers in the newspaper business and its most wicked versifier… It would probably take a research staff some months to unravel the mystery of his prolific pseudonyms: he wrote under many, but never without distinction…


Hulugalle (whom God peserve) is still alive, despite the fact that for seventeen of its most difficult years, he edited The Daily News. Like C P Scot of the Manchester Guardian, he made righteousness readable.

In his young days Hulugalle bore a strong physical resemblance to Jansz, which led to amusing complications. Even  the great Crowther, the then editor of The Daily News found it difficult to tell them apart and once reprimanded Jansz for an alleged lapse of Hulugalle.

Their wives, however, were not amused when they were told that one husband was very much like the other. They knew better.

Wijewardene was lucky that he had two such men on the editorial side. On the managerial side, too, he had three pillars of wisdom to hold up the mighty edifice which he had constructed.

They were George V Perera, P C A Nelson and E E C Abayasekara – all good churchmen.

G V Perera was a short, well-built advocate who was manager of The Daily News for many years. He was a busy man in normal times, but during race days he worked overtime trying to spot a winner. He rarely did.

The only time he got the wind up was when Wijewardene’s personnel peon, Martin, darkened his doorstep.

Martin, to most of us, was a harbinger of bad news. He was always spotlessly clad in white, and a tortoise-shell comb rested on his head, giving him the appearance of having horns usually associated with Lucifer. A jet black belt completed the ensemble.

Martin was really a dear fellow, but he had the bad habit of transferring the wrath of his master to his own physignomy.


When Martin came upstairs and told the editor, sub-editor or reporter concerned that he was wanted downstairs by the Boss, his eyes bulged, his nostrils quivered and took on a shine they did not possess earlier, and in a voice that spelt doom he merely said: “Kathakaranawa“. The sentence was short, but fateful and had all the elements of a Greek tragedy. In other words, when Wijewardene cried, Martin wept.

Talking of Martin reminds me that most people regarded Wijewardene as a martinet whose very name evoked a feeling of awe. But the human side of his character never had a chance of getting full play within the walls of the vast organisation he created.


D B Dhanapala – with whom I worked both at Lake House and later for a short and happy spell at the Independent Newspapers Ltd – always had a kind word for Wijewardene.

Dhanapala was a master of Oriental imagery and his writings were like a purana temple fresco. He it was who said that journalists are  a peculiarly interesting tribe who can put a halo round a man with a headline or fell him with a phrase.

Hulugalle extricated him from the recesses of a newspaper office in Calcultta and invited him to join Lake House. Dhanapala’s colourful English style and interest in Sinhala Art appealed greatly to Wijewardene who treated him very well.

Dhanapala used to say that there was an impression that Wijewardene was a ruthless kind of slave-driver, but very  few men had treated him so fairly. Now and then Wijewardene would take him to ‘Arcadia’, his holiday home in Diyatalawa, a house as beautiful as its name. There he would spend an idyllic week-end with the Boss and his family.


Though all the cereals from Quaker Oats downwards were available in the pantry, Wijewardene preferred polkiri kenda for breakfast. That delicacy is, of course, a rice gruel made with coconut milk and flavoured with burnt mustard powder.

Which all goes to show that Wijewardene was a simple man with simple tastes. He did not smoke, and drank only the occasional sherry, but his cellar contained the finest French wines and the best Scotch Malt Whiskies.

The trouble with Wijewardene was that he had no vices, and his virtues which were based on plain living and high thinking did not make an instant appeal to his vast circle of friends.

As time went on this circle became smaller and smaller, but there was an inner core which stood by him to the end.

Wijewardene was an ardent Buddhist but he did not make a fetish of religion. It is a curious thing that, with the exception of D S Senanayake, almost all his intimate friends and advisers were non-Buddhists.

Frequent callers in the office or at home were Canon W E Boteju, Father S G Perera, Dr Andreas Nell, Dr S C Paul, E W Perera, L M D de Silva, S Mahadeva, Sir H M Macan Markar, A R H Canekaratne and Aubrey Maartensz.

Caste, colour and cread never entered into his mind when choosing the persons he could trust.

His best friend B F de Silva, his personal physician Sir Frank Gunasekera, and his legal adviser E J Samerawickreme KC were all devout Christians.

He even married a charming Christian maid named Ruby Meedeniya, while his eldest daughter, became the spouse of Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe’s brother.


The only photographs that adorned Wijewardene’s study were those of his father and F H M Corbet, an Englishman who was born in Ceylon, but practised as a barrister in London. He appeared in many Privy Council appeals from the island.

Corbet had influential friends and acted in  loco parentis  to many a Ceylon student. Wijewardene never forgot his many acts of kindness while he was in England.

Wijewardene’s brother-in-law Justice E W Jayawardene, the father of  the President, was also a fervent admirer of the great English gentleman, and named his second son Corbet after him.

One thing that Wijewardene learned from Corbet was that the path to freedom could not be paved without a free and independent press. He went so far as to cable to Sir Hector Van Cuylenberg, the proprietor of the Ceylon Independent inquiring whether  he would sell the paper to Wijewardene.

Sir Hector refused. He was the leader of the Burghers and wanted an organ for his own community.

Later the Ceylon Independent became too dependent on the government and as the subscribers dwindled it came on the  market.

Wijewardene bought it and “killed” it.

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