Trib­ute to Neville Wi­jeyekoon on his death an­niver­sary

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FEATURES/TRIBUTE -

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.

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