Categorized | In Memoriam

Appreciation – Lalith Weeratunga

Posted on 01 June 2014 by admin

APPRECIATION – Lalith Weeratunga.LALITH-W.jpg

A gentleman of rare calibre I was deeply grieved to learn about Lalith Weeratunga's sudden demise in Canada recently. Memories of my long association with Lalith are yet vivid as I pen these lines, despite such memories stretching back to more than seven decades. Lalith and I were neighbours in Bambalapitiya. He lived in Sagara Road and I in Clifford Place. He and I happened to enter St. Peter’s College together in 1943 when the school was at Seminary Gardens where the Bambalapitiya Flats are now located.

In 1943, Ceylon as we were then known, was a colony of the British Empire. More significantly, in the early ’40s the Second World War raged across nations including those in Asia. As a part of the Empire and of the allies fighting against the might of Germany and Japan, Ceylon too was affected by the war. Schools premises, particularly those in Colombo, were taken over for war-related work which was why St. Peter's too was relocated during the war years. The war ended in 1945 and our school moved back to its original location. It was during the subsequent period in school that like all the others, I too partook of the delightful fruits of adolescence, besides experiencing the lovely and growing friendship I had with Lalith. Among other Peterites of that era were the brothers Ratnapala and Ariyapala of Maliban fame, Ranjith Gunawardena, Brian Van Twest, Robbin Kreltszheim, Tyrell Muttiah, Adiel and Maurice Anghie. Practically all such individuals made their mark in later life some as sportsmen which speaks well of the all round education that St. Peter’s imparted to its students.

It was a pleasant coincidence that the Rector of St. Peter’s at that time was Fr. Basil Weeratunga, paternal uncle of Lalith Weeratunga. But special favours on account of relationship of friendship were clearly unheard of at that time. Education was merit based, strictly. Lalith was an all round student and a good sportsman too. He captained the under 14 and 16 cricket teams and also excelled in tennis. He also captained the college in tennis and led the public schools tennis team. I had the pleasure of partnering him in the doubles in the inter-house tennis matches. A sterling trait of Lalith was his selflessness. He loved his friends. I recall not without emotion Lalith forcing me get on to the stage to accept the tennis shield. It was he as skipper who should have proceeded to receive it from the Rector.

After that inevitable parting at the end of our school careers, I did at times associate with Lalith. Clever as he was, Lalith entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in the 1950s. It was a time when Peradeniya University was considered one of the finest universities in Asia. It attracted the best students in the country and from the leading schools. Lalith graduated in law and opted to join a leading private sector firm. He finally became a director in this firm. In the early 1980s when Lalith Athulathmudali was the Trade Minister, the country's trade policy was attuned to the needs of the time. With characteristic dynamism and vision, Athulathmudali selected outstanding trade promotion figures from the private sector to man the Trade Commissioner's service. One such personality the minister picked was Lalith Weeratunga as Trade Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Denmark. Lalith also had the honour of being a Fullbright scholar in the USA. He later joined another leading tea firm as its General Manager.

Subsequently, he decided to migrate to Canada with the intention of providing a good education for his two children. This was in 1994. His sudden demise has evoked deep sorrow among his contemporaries at St. Peter’s and among a large circle of friends. He was a gentleman of rare calibre and I cherish the years of my association with Laith. Perhaps, one day we shall meet again on the beautiful shore.

Courtesy: Ben Gomez – Ceylon Daily News of June 2, 2014.

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