7th death anniversary – Melville Assauw

Posted on 30 September 2017 by admin

September 21, 2010.



My friend, Melville Joseph Assauw, passed away on the 23rd of June this year, just short of the Biblical three score years and ten. I had known for some time that Mel had been seriously ill and the news of his demise should not have been a surprise. But it was. The sad news cast a shadow of gloom and carved a deep niche of sorrow in the hearts of those, such as myself, who loved and respected him.

I often met Mel at Jonathan Studio where in the company of Mervyn Wijeratne, my wife's cousin, we had many a pleasant and jovial chat. Mervyn had given Mel a small area to do his art work and from such small beginnings he progressed to be a true icon in the field of advertising in an era which saw the likes of radio and media personalities, Tim Horshington, Greg Roskowski, and others.

Mel was educated at my alma mater, St. Peter's College, Colombo. He took to advertising firstly as Director of International Advertising Services (IAS) and later as its Creative Director, in addition to being the Creative Director of Prachards, a subsidiary of IAS. The natural outcome of all these early endeavours was for Melville to form his own Company – Mel Ads Ltd – a family business which now counts 35 years in the field of advertising. Mel's initiative and drive and, most importantly, the goodwill that he made him expand into other fields. He initiated what I believe was the first ever Teledrama in Sri Lanka: Dimuthu Muthu, in addition to producing many other publications for the local and public sector. Melville became President of the Four ‘A’s in Sri Lanka during the years 1986 –1988, and headed the International Advertising Association (IAA – Sri Lanka Chapter) in 1999-2001.

Being the man that he was, ever willing to help those less fortunate, he became a Rotarian and was President of his Club in 1987 – 1988, and subsequently became District Governor of Sri Lanka in 1994 – 1995. All the above commitments took up much of his time, but of course he also had to direct his energies to his own firm. There is something of a paradox here in that Mel Ads was a great success and at times also a failure. There were those who joined him as raw neophytes, worked hard and later on left to do their own thing. He had no problem with these people. Sadly, however, there were also some unscrupulous opportunists who sought his help, joined his firm, virtually sucked his brains and with nary a thank you left him surreptitiously and in an underhand manner taking with them some Mel Ads accounts which, to say the least, undermined and threatened the viability of his Company. Mel certainly had business acumen, but he lacked shrewdness. His kindly disposition also had with it a degree of naivete which prevented him from quickly identifying those who would use him solely to further their own agendas. These events caused him untold anguish and further exacerbated his failing health. Mercifully, with the help of his devoted wife Bernie and daughter Maryse, and also a lifelong friend who stepped in, there was a turnaround and Mel lived to see his beloved Mel Ads on a firm footing once more.

If one took his accomplishments in the pioneering field of advertising to be the high watermark in his life and his only achievement, this would be a mistake.

Mellville was a man of many talents. He was an oil painter of considerable repute, a landscape artist, a man interested in the culinary arts and immune to the overwhelming influence of TV, much preferring to read a good book. When I was at his home in Maharagama to photograph his daughter Maryse's engagement, the late President J. R. Jayewardene (a personal friend of Mel and the family) was present and expressed his admiration of the numerous oil paintings created by Mel which tastefully adorned the walls of his lovely home. If anything, Mel's abiding interest was painting. He admired and was influenced by the works of David Paynter, Ivor Baptist, Donald Ramanayake, among others, but would not imitate them. He often lamented that his other commitments left him with little time to indulge in his passion for painting, but nonetheless managed to have four solo Exhibitions of his work. He generously donated several of his paintings for relief work in Indonesia.

Above everything else, Melville Assauw was a deeply religious man. By this I don't mean mere strict observance of the formalities of a church- going Catholic. He didn't carry his religion on his shoulders or in his pocket. His abiding faith was an ingrained quality which influenced everything he did. Mel was greatly blessed in having a beautiful family; his son Angelo and daughter Maryse, and of course a wonderful soulmate in his wife, Bernie. A Company Director, a refined and accomplished person if ever there was one, Bernie above all was his great love and tower of strength in good times and in bad. As his energies ebbed and the end of his journey through life inexorably drew to a close, Mel's spirituality blossomed further, even to the extent of his seeing beautiful visions of the after life. In the wee hours of the morning he would ask Bernie to sing his favourite hymns, a beautiful and fitting scenario which continued till the end. Bernie can surely take comfort in the Christian and perhaps universal concept among believers) that death is but a star-lit strip between the companionship of yesterday and the reunion of tomorrow.

We all grieve his passing, but more importantly rejoice in having had the opportunity of knowing such a good, decent and accomplished man. A Thanksgiving Service to celebrate the life and works of Melville Assauw will be held at St. Theresa's Church, Thimbirigasyaya, on Thursday 23rd September 2010, at 6.30 pm.

Jerome Crusz

(Courtesy: The Island)

Comments Off on 7th death anniversary – Melville Assauw

Advertise Here
Advertise Here
%d bloggers like this: