Killi, my friend of 57 years R. Rajamahendran A month has passed since the untimely demise of ‘Killi’ Rajamahendran. In that time many appreciations have been written about him. Many were about Killi the media mogul, Killi the business magnate, Killi the cricket lover, Killi the political operator. He was all of that. But it [...]




Killi, my friend of 57 years

R. Rajamahendran

A month has passed since the untimely demise of ‘Killi’ Rajamahendran. In that time many appreciations have been written about him. Many were about Killi the media mogul, Killi the business magnate, Killi the cricket lover, Killi the political operator. He was all of that. But it was not of any of that I want to write. I want to write about Killi the friend. My friend.

I met him in 1963. I was working as the manager of the Majestic Theatre at that time. His older brother used to be a regular cinema-goer. We got to know each other and he introduced me to his family, including Killi.

Soon both brothers became my friends. But it was with Killi I developed this special bond. When I look back, that seems surprising, for we had very different personalities and many differences of opinions. Yet we became friends and remained friends until the day he died.

Killi was someone I could trust totally. Our friendship lasted for almost 60 years and throughout this time, he never betrayed my trust, never let me down. And with him I could share many things. We could share old stories, secrets, things which were important nationally and things which were important only to the two of us. In his company I was able to relax, laugh, and have fun.

57 years is more than two-thirds of a normal lifespan. Our long friendship shows that people can disagree on important issues but still remain friends.

In the last 10, 20 years, our meetings followed a ritual. We would set up a date and a time to meet. When I arrived, everyone would know I was coming. He would be at the door to meet me. He’d shout, sometimes in Sinhala, sometimes in English, “Today is the day I get blackguarded.” Everyone around would laugh.

If our meeting was mid-morning, a staff member would bring a plate of sandwiches. I’m not a big eater so I normally ate only one or two. He’d keep on pressing me to eat more, so one day I said, “Pack it up, man, and I’ll take it home.” I was half-joking. But he immediately got a staff member to pack up the remaining sandwiches. Since that day, every time we met mid-morning, there’d be a plate of sandwiches for me to eat and a packet of sandwiches for me to take home. It became another ritual.

A packet of sandwiches is a small thing and a big thing at the same time. It shows how he paid attention to even little details, how he never forgot even the smallest thing to do for a friend. For me it was a symbol of Killi, of the kind of friend he was,

Killi was a stubborn character who listened to everyone and did what he felt was correct. He was a generous man who helped many people. For a friend, there was nothing he wouldn’t do.

In the 1980’s I was the Mayor of Colombo and at Prime Minister Premadasa’s request, the CMC began building the Khettarama Stadium (now R. Premadasa Stadium) for cricket. Though it was an international stadium, we did not use either foreign experts or money. The plans were made locally. The money came from the CMC, from the Mayor’s Fund. Mr. Premadasa funded the flashlights. There was one other person who helped with the project. That was Killi.

We needed a new scoreboard to suit an international stadium. It was going to be very costly and the Mayor’s Fund was running out of funds. One day, I told Killi about this. He and his brother immediately offered to help. The scoreboard that is there still was their contribution. They had one condition though – that their names should not be mentioned anywhere. They both insisted on that. He and his brother also provided funds for the Khettarama chaitya. That too was on the condition of anonymity.

There are people who’d give 100 rupees expecting 1000 rupees worth of publicity. Not Killi. When he helped someone, only he and the recipient knew the story.

Both Killi and his brother were close to Mr. Premadasa long before he became President. Their relationship with Mr. Premadasa did not begin through me. But it did help strengthen my own friendship with Killi. If he had been against Mr. Premadasa, I don’t think we could have remained such close friends for such a long time because Mr. Premadasa occupied such a central part of my life. Fortunately that was not the case.

We had many political disagreements on other issues. But those never affected our friendship. We could argue, debate, agree to disagree and remain friends.

In the mid-1990’s, a friend of mine sent me this verse about Friendship. I made a copy of it, framed it and gave it to Killi for his birthday. It was there on his table even on the last time we met – a few days before he was diagnosed with COVID-19. This is what it said:

Marriages, they say, are made in heaven,

But friends, like pearls, are picked and chosen.

Blessed are those who possesses a friend,

Who is steadfast and sincere till the end.

Friends are those who extend a hand,

When you are sinking into the deep quicksand.

Friends are like candles burning bright,

Taking care of you with their quenching light.

Friends are those who lend an ear,

To hear your anguish and bring you cheer.

Friends are those who lend their shoulder,

In times of distress to make you bolder.

Showers and flowers last for few hours,

But friendship has such power, lasts forever.

That was what Killi was to me for 57 years. I miss him.


B. Sirisena Cooray

Remembering his love of people and bold, fearless ways


Reverend Father Alexis Fernando was a student at St. Aloysius Seminary, Borella and entered the National Seminary, Ampitiya in the 1950s. While there he switched to the Kandy diocese and was ordained a priest. He served as an assistant parish priest at St. Mary’s, Badulla, St. Patrick’s, Talawakelle and Holy Cross in Hatton.

In 1972 he went abroad and did his graduate studies in Sociology at Fordham University in New York and obtained his Master’s degree and was a Doctoral candidate (ABD).  Fr. Alexis continued his parochial ministries in a number of churches and parishes in the Archdiocese of New York as well as in parishes in the Rockville center diocese in Long Island, New York.

Bishop Vianney Fernando appointed him as the designated fundraiser or the mission’s appeals coordinator for the diocese of Kandy in USA and he carried out a yeoman task for many years. He was also a chaplain for Lincoln Hall children’s home in Lincoln Hall NY and for the Franciscan Brothers monastery in NewYork.

Fr. Alexis had a keen sense of social justice and advocated for the rights of the tea plantation workers as well as the lay staff of the Catholic church in particular Catechists and domestic staff of the Kandy and Badulla diocese. He funded building houses for some of them as well as a number of poor families around Kandy. He was bold and fearless in confronting the authorities, civic or ecclesiastical when he saw injustice and inequality or behaviour contrary to the teachings of the Gospel.

Fr. Alexis was a gifted preacher in English and contributed to the local English newspapers while in Sri Lanka. In the early 1970s he wrote a series of articles advocating for optional celibacy for Catholic priests, and major holy orders for religious nuns in the spirit of Vatican 11 and carried out an islandwide survey among the Catholic priests who supported these new ideas. The Daily Mirror dubbed the rebel group “Club 61” and Fr. Alex their leader.

Fr. Alexis warmly welcomed his brother priests and friends to his abode wherever he was, entertaining them with his cooking, libations and singsongs. He helped many of his fellow Sri Lankan priests to find parish assignments or summer parish work in the New York area.

We remember his love of people, his generous charitable projects, his kindness for the downtrodden and dispossessed, his warm friendship and most forgiving Christian demeanor.

Fr. Alexis was a familiar figure in our New York Tri state area Sri Lankan community and represented the Catholic/Christian views and celebrated liturgical rituals at our gatherings often with thought provoking homilies and talks. While he remained within the ranks of the Catholic church until his death, he lived a lifestyle far beyond the boundaries of the official church yet practised Christ-like charity and sharing that few Catholic priests could match.

Fr. Alexis contracted COVID -19 virus from among the people he lived with and died on August 11 at the Peradeniya hospital. His remains were cremated with his fellow countrymen whom he served and who had succumbed to the same fate.

May the most merciful God our Father, forgive all his sins and weaknesses committed due to his human frailties and welcome him into His eternal communion. May he rest in peace.


Sydney Marcus Silva  (A colleague and friend for 50+ years )

Recalling youthful pranks and bonds of friendship

Professor Uditha Liyanage

It is with a great sadness that we, the classmates of Uditha from the kindergarten at Royal Junior school and later Royal College pen a few words on his sixth death anniversary.

Ujja as he was affectionately called, joined Royal Junior School on January 1, 1960 along with us and graduated to Royal College in 1968. It was the policy of then Headmaster H.D. Sugathapala not to mix the students when they moved to the next grade, but to elevate the same 35 students.This developed a very strong bond between us.

When we joined Royal College in grade 8 though, our classes were mixed but we were fortunate enough to be with Uditha up to our Advanced Level examination.

During our first year in the Advanced Level class, Uditha was interested in Psychology and made it a point to attend Dr. Abraham T. Kovoor and Dr. Krishnamoorthy’s talks. It was apparent that his hidden talents would surface later in life. He would always join us for college cricket and rugger but never miss a talk by Dr. Kovoor or Dr. Krishnamoorthy.

After leaving college, Uditha and I used to patronise most of the musical shows organised by the girls’ schools and English/Sinhala dramas at Navarangahala, through an unauthorised entrance to the compound.

Later, we never missed a Bradby Shield match in Kandy, mostly travelling by train and staying over on Saturday. I vividly remember one particular incident, when we were staying with one of Uditha’s close family friends who gave Uditha an invitation to attend a wedding at Hotel Suisse the next day as he was unable to. Since it was a Muslim wedding and knowing that there would be a scrumptious biriyani lunch, we insisted Uditha go in first with his friend’s gift, and mingle with the crowd for a while, and help himself to the lunch.

Thereafter it was a matter of exchanging the tie in front of the hotel and the rest of us numbering about 15 also went in, had the biriyani feed along with wattalappan for dessert, before hastily leaving the hotel.

Uditha first joined Commercial Bank of Ceylon for a brief stint, and realising that Banking was not his forte, moved to Brown & Co as a junior executive in the Marketing Division. Subsequently he joined the Maharaja Organisation as a Product Manager along with Chiko Gunaratne and Neil Wijeratne who became his good friends. While there, Uditha was instrumental in launching two new products – Black Knight and Chupa chups, which became a huge success, earning the praise of the Management. Thereafter he was offered a position as an Assistant Sales Manager at Shaw Wallace & Hedges and rose to become Sales Manager within a short time.

He opted to move away from Corporate Management and spend his working life in academia and joined the Post Graduate Institute of Management (PIM) as a part-time lecturer. In view of Uditha’s capabilities and utmost commitment, he was absorbed into the permanent cadre and appointed Director of the PIM following the retirement of Prof. Gunapala Nanayakkara. PIM held a special place in his heart, and he spearheaded its success.

Uditha’s contribution and commitment to the many students he trained and to the Marketing fraternity of this country are immense. As an academic, teacher, trainer and administrator, he was greatly respected. His yeoman contribution to the consistent development of marketing via research, theory and concepts has  been exceptional. The void created by his untimely demise is irreparable.

Uditha also served on the boards of institutions such as the Commercial Bank of Ceylon, Ceylon Cold Stores, Chemanex Plc, Richard Peiris & Co, Singer Sri Lanka Plc, Talawakelle Tea Estates and Wijeya Newspapers. He was a Fellow, Past Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Sri Lanka and past Trustee of CIM UK.

We have lost a dear and sincere friend, and thousands of students lost a dedicated teacher and great mentor. Sriyani and Chathuri lost a wonderful husband and loving father.

Aunty Nanda has lost a bright and most promising son.

May the Blessings of Noble Triple Gem be with you always!

May you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!


A Classmate


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