TRIBUTES | Sunday Observer

TRIBUTES

Sunil Rodrigo

Always sided with the underdog

“The evil that men do live after them. The good is oft interred in their bones.”

It is a year since the passing away of Sunil Rodrigo, a former Chairman of Lake House described by an editor as ‘a gentleman to his fingertips.’

Sunil was born 90 years ago in Paragastota, a hamlet near Horana and was named Sunil by none other than Anagarika Dharmapala, a kinsman. On graduating from University College Colombo, he proceeded to London to study Law.

At the London School of Economics, he was active in student politics and was elected president of the student union known as the Majlis. There he made friends with Krishna Menon and Paul Robeson.

At the first Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, Krishna Menon introduced Sunil to the then Prime Minister D S Senanayake as “a young man whom you should keep an eye on.”

At this time Sunil had a regular weekly broadcast in English over the BBC overseas service regarding life in post-war England.

He graduated in Political Science from the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar from the Middle Temple in England.

The Shell Company recruited him in London soon after, and he returned to Ceylon as a junior executive at their Colombo office.

His stint at Shell Colombo did not last long as he could not tolerate the obnoxious behaviour of the other British executives towards the natives.

Sir Ukwatte Jayasundera invited him to join his Chambers.

Sunil had acted as an unofficial tour guide of London when Sir Ukwatte visited London as part of the Sri Lankan delegation to the first Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference.

Soon he developed a lucrative law practice by dint of hard work and punctuality, and treating his clients and opponents without denigrating or disparaging them. Later, he joined G. G. Ponnambalam’s chambers.

I met Sunil quite by accident when I was stranded at the Ratnapura bus stand on my way to the Rakwana Magistrate’s Court to give medical evidence. I managed to hitch a ride to the Pelmadulla Rest House where I met Sunil sipping a drink.

He invited me to join him for dinner, which I demurred but he persuaded me to join him as I believe he guessed the reason for my hesitancy.

The next day when I went to check out, I found out that not only had Sunil paid my bill but he was offering a ride in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz to the courthouse in Rakwana.

He cross-examined my medical evidence mercilessly. This event was the beginning of a life-long friendship. In spite of his short temper, he was a very generous man and always sided with the underdog.

Thus when the Health Department declined to grant me leave of absence to accept a Fellowship at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sunil intervened pro-Bono on my behalf and obtained the leave.

On most evenings his veranda was like a clubhouse with clients and junior lawyers discussing various topics. Mr. Premadasa on becoming President offered the Sri Lankan Ambassadorship to London to Sunil which he declined, but as an appeasement to the President, he accepted the Chairmanship of Lake House for a short time.

Sunil had an extensive knowledge of the history, flora, and fauna of Sri Lanka. He collected old Sri Lanka books and coins.

On our frequent trips to National Parks, he always carried a pair of binoculars and his tattered book on Birds of Ceylon.

We endlessly discussed various topics of Sri Lankan history such as, urn burials practised by the pre-Vijayan inhabitants of Thambapani or the Kudirimali, the ancient port city in North Western Sri Lanka where horses were imported as Hippuros mentioned in Ptolemy’s map of Taprobane.

I met him last in February 2016 when he offered me a second drink of his favourite single malt scotch.

When I hesitated, he said, it would be the last drink we will be having together. When I finally got up to leave, Sunil and Tilaka his wife of 60 years, slowly walked me up to the door, and bade me goodbye saying that we would meet again somewhere in Samsara.

Dr. Mahinda Jayasinghe


Eng. J. K. Lankathilake

It is with profound sadness and sorrow that I learnt of the passing away of Eng. J. K. Lankathilake, better known as Uncle Jayantha, on Wednesday, November, 29, 2017 and decided to pen a few words, in appreciation of this true gentleman.

I have known Uncle Jayantha ever since I was a toddler. He is my aunt’s brother-in-law. Even though we were not related by blood, he was a huge part of my childhood.

At this moment, I take a stroll down memory lane, when we used to visit one of the most fun-loving homes in Borella, where Uncle Jayantha, his beloved wife - Kantha, son - Amilamalli (my cousin) and mother-in-law- Indraniachi lived. I have so many memories attending my cousin’s birthday parties, where Uncle Jayantha would take many photographs of all the kids - capturing the wonderful times, and would make sure we had a great day.

He was part of the annual cousins’ trip during Christmas holidays that we eagerly waited for. During the numerous trips, he kept an eye on all the kids, just like taking care of his own son.

He always had a smile on his face, and never forgot to crack a joke or two, which made us all laugh.

Having served as one of the most senior and highly accredited Engineers in Sri-Lanka, until his last breath, we have now lost a valuable asset. He served as part of the management board of many leading bodies, such as, Engineers’ Guild of Sri Lanka, Institute of Technology - University of Moratuwa, Construction Industry Development Authority and Institute of Construction Training & Development – to name a few. Despite the positions he held and the recognition he had in the industry, as well as in the country, Uncle Jayantha led a simple life and was generous and humble beyond measure.

Although his death was a tremendous blow to the field of Engineering in Sri Lanka, and has created a big void in the lives of his beloved wife, Kantha and loving son, Amila, we must admit the way of life - that one day, all of us must leave our loved ones, and at this time of deep sorrow, I offer my condolences to his family. Uncle Jayantha, you have lived a genuine life and I am sure you will attain the ultimate happiness.

My last memory of you, is your family visiting me a few days before I left Sri Lanka to pursue a better career in Australia.

Right now I am sad beyond words as I am not around to pay my last respects to you.

May all the merit you accrued during your lifetime help you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana in the shortest possible time.

You will be missed uncle,

Vindu Palihakkara 

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