Pulimood Memorial Oration on July 23 | Sunday Observer

Pulimood Memorial Oration on July 23

Susan George Pulimood
Susan George Pulimood

The annual Susan George Memorial Oration of Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo will be held on Sunday, July 23 at 5.15 pm at the Jeremias Dias Hall.

The Oration will be delivered by Dr. Iyanthimala Abeywickrema, Senior Consultant Venereologist, Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo.

She is also the immediate Past President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association and former Regional Adviser/HIV, World Health Organization, South East Asia Region.

The subject of the oration will be ‘30 Years into the HIV Epidemic in Sri Lanka; Achievements, Challenges and Perspectives’.

Mrs Susan George Pulimood was born to a Syrian Christian family in Travancore, South India, in 1907. She graduated from Queen Mary’s College and did her Master’s at President’s College, Chennai, South India.

Coming over to Ceylon during World War 1, she joined the staff of Visakha Vidyalaya in 1941, then functioning from Bandarawela due to the war. Botany was her forte, having authored a book in her early years.

Together with Botany, she also taught Maths and English Literature. She often quoted poets and philosophers, to inculcate good values in her students.

At the end of the war, the school relocated in Colombo and in 1946 Mrs Pulimood was appointed its Principal which post she adorned for an unbroken record of 22 years.

No sooner she took over, she opened the Science Stream at Visakha with the help of a few of her colleagues from India and fortified by male and female Science graduates from Sri Lanka.

Laboratories were set up and equipped suitably and she made sure our Science students forged ahead to achieve great heights.

Today, at every hospital and medical institute there is at least one Visakhian holding a prestigious post, thanks to her courageous vision.

This year’s Orator is no exception. Dr. Iyanthi Abeywickrema is a Fellow of the College of Venereologists, Senior Fellow, PGIM an expert on STD / AIDS control programs in Sri Lanka, and a former Advisor to the WHO.

In 1950, the school was conferred Grade 1 status, and in 1959 Super Grade Status in keeping with the extensive facilities available to its students.

Mrs Pulimood didn’t neglect the Arts stream. She strengthened the Fine Arts by making sure all co- curricular activities took equal importance in the school calendar.

English and Sinhala drama, dance, and music performances of high calibre were executed with much joy and finesse.

Sports activities were also given the necessary boost and our girls excelled in all these spheres, winning many accolades nationally and internationally.

Mrs Pulimood as a botanist, loved flowers and nurtured the gardens of Visakha to have flowering bushes and large trees with overhanging branches, like the iconic Na tree that stood for many years in the centre of our grounds.

She often compared her children to flowers and wanted them to be nurtured gently and gracefully. She herself was always gentle and soft spoken.

Immaculately dressed in high necked and long sleeved blouses, and draped in beautiful South Indian silks, she cut an impressive figure at our daily assemblies, addressing us from the stage with a few lines of advice or admonishment.

She knew every child by name and as she stood on the semicircular steps leading to her office, she would beckon us by name to inquire or admonish us, if we were seen out of class at any given time.

Mrs Pulimood was a foreigner and a Christian, but she stamped the Buddhist culture on our educational ethos in an indelible manner.

She had ‘bana’ preached to us every Friday, ‘Ata Sil’ administered on poya days and the Annual Founder’s Day pirith and dana conducted with great respect and solemnity.

She taught Visakhians to be confident of their abilities ‘to walk tall’ and be proud custodians of a special legacy that still lives on.

On a personal note, I might add that living in the vicinity of the school, my mother herself, an old Visakhian, was a friend to her.

She often visited Mrs Pulimood at night and found her signing reams of report cards till late into the night commenting on each child’s progress, to the best of her knowledge. She never lost that personal touch.

After marriage, my husband and I visited her in India and I shall never forget how she hugged me and told my husband to look after her ‘Visakhian.’

As we commemorate her legacy at the Annual Pulimood Oration, all of us who knew her personally, and all those who benefitted from her foresight and vision, bow our heads in saluting a truly great lady of ‘Mother Lanka.’

Srini Karunaratne nee Gunaratna