|Sunday, 14 July 2002|
Tissa Wijeyeratne, an illustrious son of Lanka
by AJITH SAMARANAYAKE
How does one define Tissa Wijeyeratne? Yesterday's obituary notice in the "Daily News' described him as a Barrister-at-Law of the Inner Temple. That was characteristic of the man who hid his light under a bushel. Patriot, diplomat, entrepreneur, Tissa Wijereratne was a Renaissance Man who personified our times.
Wijeyeratne was the son of late Sir Edwin and was married to the late Visakha Bulankulame, who in her own right was an artist and kept an elegant home in Kegalle. Political legend has it that when the Soulbury Commission came to Ceylon and the commissioners were on the way to Kandy, D. S. Senanayake had stationed Edwin Wijeyeratne, bare bodied, in a paddy field in Kegalle. There, he was introduced to the commissioners as a typical Sinhala farmer and who spoke in English to the commissioners and impressed on them the need for Ceylon to obtain self-government!
Tissa Wijeyeratne led a colourful public life. Like all young men of his times, he was inspired by Communism as student in England and was a comrade of the late Pieter Keuneman, the leader of the Communist Party. This was the time in the inter-war years when Ceylonese students in England were inspired by Marxist ideas. The influence of R. Palme Dutte, an Indian Marxist, who was the General Secretary of the British Communist Party, greatly influenced Ceylonese students to embrace Communism.
Tissa Wijeyeratne who will be always identified with the national dress, served as Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs during the regime of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike during which time he sought to give an indigenous identity to Sri Lanka's Foreign Service. He had his own concept of "indegenising" the Foreign Service, but like most concepts in this country of embattled administrations, this also fell by the wayside. Tissa Wijeyeratne also served as Sri Lanka's Ambassador in France and with Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra and Sumitra Peries belonged to an illustrious band of Sri Lankans who served in the French capital where they were also the country's representatives to UNESCO.
In the late 1970s, Tissa Wijeyeratne took up residence in Kandy, where in an amazing career turn he established the Sinhaputra finance company, which in no time became a flourishing venture.
Patriot, Marxist, entrepreneur, Tissa Wijeyeratne's death evokes a sense of epochal loss. He might have made a full circle from being a Communist to a capitalist but in my heart I feel that he never lost his old sense of idealism and commitment to social justice.
Produced by Lake House