Tribute to Neville Wijeyekoon on his death anniversary
On this day, in 1968, he died unexpectedly as a consequence of complications during surgery following a motor accident of which he was an innocent victim ....
When my aunt Ramani Ponnambalam suggested that I wrote a brief note on her father (My grandfather), Neville Wijeyekoon on his death anniversary, I accepted the task of writing same on behalf of our family, without hesitation.
A somewhat strange reaction considering, I never even met him. However, I felt that it would be an opportunity to research his life. A flavour of my findings are as follows:
Neville was the youngest child of Sir Gerard Wijeyekoon, first President of the Senate of Ceylon, and Lady Florinda Wijeyekoon. His elder brother Winston Wijeyekoon was the second Commander of the Ceylon Army.
Neville’s adult years were spent both during the period of colonial Sri Lanka under the British and the postindependence period
He undertook his schooling at St Joseph’s College, Colombo, and obtained his law degree at Hertford College, University of Oxford, England. His teachers described him as, ‘exceptionally bright, and that he never hurt the feelings of others.’
His friends included Dudley Senanayake and J. R. Jayewardene. The latter who was also a family friend, described him as a ‘loyal and trustworthy friend… a just and good man, cultured in many ways’
He was the Founding Chairman of the State owned Ceylon Ceramics Corporation and retained his position despite the change of Governments - it was one of the few profitable state owned entities; the first Sri Lankan director of Hayleys; He was also a director of Ceylon Cold Stores, Acme Aluminium, James Finlay, Lanka Estate Agencies, and Laxapana Batteries.
His fellow directors described him as a, ‘tireless worker, with deep humility and graceful charm’
He was a Founder Member and General Secretary of the Congress of Religions. It was an organisation which promoted religious and racial harmony – a cause very close to his heart.
He was also a prominent member of the Executive Committee of the Arts Council of Ceylon, since its establishment. He wrote several books including, ‘The Achievement of Mental Harmony or the Philosophy of Living for Modern Man’
He married Grace Cooray (My spirited and loving grandmother), granddaughter of Sir James Peiris, somewhat late in life and had three daughters. By all accounts he was a devoted husband and father – family time was a priority despite his many demanding commitments. His family always reminisce fondly of him and describe him as, ‘gentle, thoughtful, kind and generous’
On this day, in 1968, he died unexpectedly as a consequence of complications during surgery following a motor accident of which he was an innocent victim. He was on a routine trip taking his family on holiday. National leaders lamented that ‘he was not spared a few more years to be of even greater service to his country.’
The measure of a man is often only really known long after his life is over. It is determined by an inventory of accomplishments, scrutiny of moral conduct, and an assessment of one’s legacy. It would appear that history judges Neville Wijeyekoon most favourably. RYAN J. ROCKWOOD MENG, MA HONS (1ST) CANTAB.