TRIBUTEs | Sunday Observer


Gurudeva Gunapala Wickremaratne:

Educationist par excellence

It was, reportedly, the most turbulent period of time for the well known school, Ananda Sastralaya, Kotte. That was almost immediately after the schools take over by the government on January 1, 1961. It was no sooner the highly respected Dr. E. W. Adikaram retired as Principal. Students became unruly with arrogant conduct, ignoring tradition, violating rules and disobeying the Acting Principal and the teaching staff. On several occasions students lit crackers in the compound, and damaged the property of the school, and even disrupted the teaching in classrooms. Parents defended their children for reasons known only to them.

Authorities in the Department kept changing the Head of the School, but with no success, and ultimately decided to appoint a Principal through an advertised interview. The interview board made an uncompromising decision to select a well experienced, strict disciplinarian as a no-nonsense Principal, who could rebuild the school to its former glory. There were five candidates, one of who was Gunapala Wickremaratna, who passed away recently at the age of 91. Six-foot tall, sturdy looking, smartly attired GW impressed the board with straightforward responses to prove his capacity, skills and vision to meet the situation as required to calm down the students and restore law and order in the school to the levels it should be. He knew the tasks ahead of him, and was ready to deliver.

On the day Principal Gunapala Wickremaratne assumed duties, student leaders lit crackers supposedly to frighten him, deflated two tyres of his car and started making various noises in the classrooms in the vicinity of the Principal’s Office. The Principal started the day with a brief meeting with the Academic Staff to introduce himself and request cooperation, emphasising that his foremost business is to bring everything under control. He then summoned all the students to a Students Assembly, and started his address by thanking the students for welcoming him with crackers, at which the students were dumbfounded at first and then erupted into a thundering applause that lasted a few seconds.

Wickremaratne, the clever strategist that he was, reconciled all issues in his new school by assigning new responsibilities to the students and his teaching staff. He pioneered the Junior Cadet Corp of the School, organized nine Student Societies, prioritized support for all sports and recruited a Cricket Coach, while personally supervising the sustenance and the progress of all such activities. All in all, in 1965, when Wickremaratne was shifted to become the Principal of Nalanda College, Colombo, the entirety of the student population of the school and the Parent-Teacher community lodged a massive protest against the transfer, but with no avail.

At Nalanda, from 1965 to 1969, he performed a splendid service guiding the future of thousands of students, who today are the champions of their respective professions - both in their motherland and overseas. They displayed their gratitude, respect and veneration in no small measure, when they contributed magnanimously to record the funeral of their beloved Principal as an all-time memorable event.

Former Education Minister I. M. R. A. Iriyagolla, in his wisdom took Wickremaratne off Nalanda and made him the Principal of the first-ever Junior Technical College in his own Kuliyapitiya Electorate. Then onwards, there was no looking back for this remarkable and willing educationist, Gunapala Wickremaratne, for his dedication and commitment to serve the country and its people, with undisputed focus on the student population. Thus he was honoured by every Government in power, from time to time offering him some of the most responsible positions in the country’s administrative structure such as, Principal - Polytechnical Colleges in Maradana and Galle, Director of Education, Commissioner of Examinations, Deputy Director General of Education and Chairman of Educational Service Commission.

Gunapala Wickremaratne’s parents, both, teachers, guided their son towards the highest echelons in learning by admitting him to Mahinda College, Galle. After some time, he decided to join Rahula College, Matara. When he came before Rahula Principal, D. J. Kumarage for the interview to enter Rahula, he asked why the young man wished to leave Mahinda and join Rahula, at which he had at once said, “Sir, I would like to receive higher education”. With a smile Kumarage had said, “It is an honour to have you in Rahula, coming here for higher education from Mahinda.”, and Wickremaratne truly received higher education at Rahula, successfully getting through the 1943 Senior School Certificate Examination and two years later entering the University of Ceylon as one of the first batch of the undergraduates of the new University.

Having graduated from the University, Gunapala Wickremaratne came back to Rahula as a teacher and being equipped with many more academic qualifications, he rose to be a Vice Principal of Rahula up to 1961, before joining Ananda Sastralaya.

His wife Vineetha - a retired school teacher herself, the two sons – Eng.Ajith and Dharman(Senior Journalist), the three daughters – Dr.Medha, Dr. Sardha and Eng. Mahidha - and their spouses - all proven professionals in their respective fields, are leading the large network of those bereaving the loss of their close relative, true friend and trusted colleague in Gurudev Gunapala Wickremaratne. In the words of William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon -

“His life was active

And the elements so elegant in


That all those who knew him


Bow their heads and say to all the


‘He was a Great Man’

And, Mr. Gunapala Wickremaratne was a Great Man, indeed. May he attain the supreme Bliss of Nirvana.

Lal Hewapathirana


 M.W. Karunananda:

Pioneer of teaching Science in Swabasha 

Malliya Waduge Karunananda, popularly known as M.W. Karunananda, a leading educationist, was born on January 15, 1906, in the village of Kalawadumulla, Ambalangoda. He was the eldest son in the family, and had three brothers.

Having had his primary education at Dharmasoka Vidyalaya, Ambalangoda, in 1918 he entered Ananda College at Grade 5. Karunananda passed the Senior Cambridge in 1923 and entered the then University College, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and Mathematics.

In 1927, he joined the tutorial staff of Mahinda College, Galle, and a few years later, became the Principal of Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, Panadura. Also for a short period he functioned as Principal, Dharmaraja College, Kandy.

In 1930, Karunananda returned to Ananda, as an Assistant teacher, during the era of Principal P. de. S. Kularatne. Karunananda received regular promotions due to his dedication as a teacher.

He was appointed, Senior Physics teacher, then, head of the Science Department and finally, Vice Principal. In 1954, Karunananda was appointed Principal of Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo.

Karunananda considers that A.T. Ariyaratne, one of the staff members, had rare qualities of leadership, and recognized him as the leader of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.

Karunananda returned to Ananda, in January, 1961, becoming the 12th Principal of Ananda and continued till 1964. As a leader, he continued to develop the Science Department at Ananda. The standard of education imparted was of an extremely high quality. Very good results were obtained, especially, in the Science subjects, and in the University Entrance examination in Engineering, Medicine and Science. Karunananda organized and improved the school and showed that teaching Science in Sinhala was practicable.

Karunananda and his deputy V. Kirthisinghe and others in the Science Department, lead in an ambitions plan to develop the Science, Botany, Chemistry laboratories with lectures identical to those at the University of Ceylon.

Karunananda took the task of providing the basic materials necessary for the teaching of Science in Sinhala to heart, and worked untiringly until he accomplished it in a long career in teaching. He earned national recognition for championing the teaching of Science in the mother tongue and writing the Sinhala textbooks on Chemistry and Physics for the G.C.E. (O/L) examinations.

Karunananda was acclaimed as the father of teaching Science in Sinhala. In a characteristic fashion, he did not want to claim the sole credit for this achievement.

Whenever he was praised he did not fail to mention that Dr. E.W. Adikaram, himself an old boy of Ananda and a great educationist, was the first to publish a Science Magazine in Sinhala.

In September 1964, Ananda College was enveloped by dark clouds due to the then Government’s abrupt transfer of Karunananda and his deputy Kirthisinghe.

Karunananda was transferred to Head the Schools Publications Department and in the same week Deputy Principal Kirthisinghe was transferred to Isipatana Vidyalaya as Principal.

The political interference that started with the removal of Principal Karunananda and his deputy Kirthisinghe, damaged the school to a degree entirely unforeseen at the time.

State policy on education and in particular the area rule for the admission of children has adversely affected Ananda.

Referring to the sudden transfer, Karunananda had said that he bid farewell to Ananda in 1964 and had wept on that day.

He was known as a strict disciplinarian, a sensitive and emotional person who was deeply attached to Ananda, where he spent the best part of his life. He excelled as a student, was a dedicated teacher, built the Science laboratory in the school and was acknowledged leader and administrator as Principal.

Karunananda was an advisor to the Sarvodaya Movement from its inception and organized Buddhist Centers to promote relationship between the village and the temples. He also advised the movement on International Affairs. His service was respectfully recognized by the Sarvodaya Chairman Dr.A.T. Ariyaratne.

Karunananda passed away on Wednesday, October 25, 1989, at the age of 83. He leaves his wife Maggie, daughters Emalini and Buddhimathi and son Vimal.

Meghavarna Kumarasinghe


K.B.V. Romiel:
A gentleman in the true sense of the word

It is with much grief that I write a few words about my brother-in-law and sincere friend Romiel who passed away a couple of weeks ago in California USA. He migrated to USA about five years ago together with his younger daughter Yasanthi and her family. Rommel’s elder daughter had already settled down in America at that time. I came to know Romiel after the marriage of my son Darshana to his daughter Yasanthi. Since their marriage about two decades ago I have had a close relationship with Romiel.

When I met him for the first time, he had already retired from Government service. He was a Deputy Director of Education in the Education Ministry, when he retired. Prior to that he was Principal of Hanwella Central College. He had also worked as a Science Teacher at Nalanda College, Colombo, where he had been instrumental in producing many professionals who had excelled in their own fields.

I remember, when I entered a private hospital for an urgent surgery, one of his students was the surgeon who attended on me. He was a clever and kind hearted doctor, who performed the surgery with utmost care and I was able to recover soon despite the gravity of the case.

Romiel’s wife, Kusuma Fernando predeceased him. As a result he had to look after the two daughters, which was an additional responsibility entrusted on him.

Romiel was an active member of the Nalanda Retired Teachers’ Association and participated in all their activities while in Sri Lanka. Even after his departure to USA, there had been frequent inquiries from his colleagues about his health. Romiel was an indefatigable teacher who had discharged his duties without fear or favour. During the Insurgency period in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, he had been posted to serve as an Election Officer in a terrorist dominated area. Many public servants declined to go there due to the imminent risks involved. However, Romiel had volunteered, and in fact he had gone for election duty without informing his family where he was going.

They came to know about his visit to the Wanni only after his return. Such was his commitment to his duty to serve the country, as a senior public servant.

Romiel did not go after politicians for favours or promotions. In fact, he lost an opportunity to go abroad on a scholarship due to the interference by a politician who was a Minister at that time, and refused to release him from duty as the Principal of a school in the Minister’s electorate. The life he spent as a public servant was exemplary. He had rare qualities such as humility, simplicity, honesty, and integrity, which had outshone throughout his career. Above all he was a gentleman in the true sense of the word. His younger daughter Yasanthi had the opportunity to look after him during the last few years. She can be satisfied that she has done her best to make him comfortable during the last few years of his life.

May he attain supreme bliss of Nibbana.

H.M. Wijesuriya