TRIBUTES: | Sunday Observer


Reginald Sebastian Rodrigo Candappa:

A centennial birthday tribute to the father of advertising

Deshabandu Reginald Sebastian Rodrigo Candappa, had he still been alive, would have celebrated his centennial on June 19. The numbers nineteen and nine were very important to my grandfather. He was born on June 19, 1919, his wife, Therese, was born on July 27 (two plus seven equals nine) and his daughters, Sriyani (born on June 18) and Neela (born on October 9) all fit into his love of numerology. This was where my grandfather’s auspicious and superstitious behaviours ended; he was a man that made his own successes and he believed in the fundamental good in all people. For those who knew him, he was an incredible soul, full of light and always a helping hand.

Reggie was a multifaceted and multitalented man. He wore many hats; husband, father, grandfather, journalist, author, adman, photographer, cartoonist, political satirist, student, unofficial therapist and artist to name a few.

He was inspirational on so many fronts; both in his public and private life. Even though we knew he was generous, I don’t think we comprehended how generous a man he was until his funeral; streams of people came to pay their respects, everyone with a story of how he had touched his or her life, or how he helped them in a difficult time or paid for their child’s education.

I felt the need to write this piece because we as people, in Sri Lanka and globally, are facing challenging times. There is no sense to this adversity that we face on a daily basis, and more and more, it is clear that people are finding it difficult to see the good in others and are being divisively divided by higher powers. My grandfather’s memory has begun to fade, however, the lessons he left with me feel more relevant to share today than ever before. With this in mind, I am going to share stories that my Seeya taught me, through his actions and his words. Hopefully, these lessons will resonate with you, the reader, and perhaps you will pass these on to your family and friends; and with any luck, like Reggie, we can turn the adversity we face into success and positive stories.

Many would never have known, but Reggie was an unwanted child. His father believed him to be a bad omen (as his mother died of child birth complications) and was desperate to give up his second born child. Legend goes that my grandfather was traded to a distant relative during a poker game, in which the said relative having lost a bet in jest had agreed to take care of the unwanted child.

A few weeks later, Reggie barely two months was delivered by rickshaw to the home of the Casie Chetty family, comprised of three bachelor brothers and their spinster sister. He was raised and showered with love by the Casie Chettys’ as a child and he never felt abandoned.

When I was little, I always remembered him saying his childhood was one of the happiest times he ever knew (even though his biological father rejected him) and that his adopted parents taught him what it was to be loved. This was an ethos that he always carried with him throughout his life, to love without condition; people may do you harm but love them in spite of their actions. I can only speak of my experiences with Reggie and I can attest, he loved with his whole heart – he never saw race, creed or class, he loved everyone equally and he made everyone feel special.

The cliche, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, never applied to my grandfather. One of Reggie’s best traits was his earnest love of learning, he wanted to know as much as he could. He wanted to learn about the world, nature and different cultures; he owned over a thousand books. He was a man that embraced change. I remember Seeya being about seventy-six when he decided to buy a personal computer and a modem; he hired an IT consultant to teach him how to use a PC and how to surf the web. He even started to use the computer to write his autobiography. He was also eager for anyone else around him to learn new things.

When I was fifteen, my parents bought me my first Canon SLR and I was eager to become a brilliant photographer; I went to Reggie and asked him to teach me as he was a seasoned photographer having done many solo photography exhibitions himself. Instead of teaching me, he paid for us both to learn photography at the Sri Lankan Photographic Society which ran lessons every Saturday at the Lionel Wendt and he attended every class with me to give me the moral support I needed to learn. That was the kind of man he was, always encouraging and open, never jaded. He never thought that he knew it all, he always knew there were more lessons to be learnt, no matter how old you were.

Facing adversity with positivity

My grandfather faced a lot of difficult situations during his life. The earliest I remember was when he decided to marry my grandmother, both his adoptive parents and her father Gate Mudaliyar Senadhira were very much against it and unfortunately, both sides disowned them. They had to start a new life for themselves, all on their own with no support from anyone.

A humble man, my grandfather started working at Lake House as a political cartoonist and journalist. Through his talent and hard work he soon moved into heading the advertising department. This was when his boss gave him the opportunity to visit the USA on a scholarship and also meet an American adman, Mr. Will C Grant in Chicago and this was how my grandfather became the Godfather of advertising, starting the first Grant office in Sri Lanka in 1958.

He always faced adversity with positivity, an extremely hard attitude to take when you feel as though the odds are stacked up against you. Another such occasion was to take place many years later, when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and given three months to live. He tackled his cancer with absolute positivity; whenever you were with him even when he was sick, he would always crack jokes over a hot coffee. He’d make hospital visits a time to catch up and learn what had been happening in friends’ lives. He never allowed the illness to overcome him and this is why he was able to fight it into remission never to return.

My grandfather was always generous with his wealth. If anyone came to him, if he couldn’t help them physically, he would always try to help them emotionally. He was a brilliant listener and would always be a great source of advice. He was also generous with his time, always contributing to the art community in Sri Lanka, serving on as many boards as possible, writing books on artists and communities. He would often judge any kind of art or advertising competition whether it be nationally recognised or in a small school or orphanage. Nothing was too small an honour for him.

In this fast-paced world, it is so easy to get sucked into the world of social media and care about how you are viewed by others. Maybe Reggie had the benefit of growing up in a time that was not so self-centred, but it always fascinated me how happy my grandfather was with his little rituals.

He loved sitting in our garden every morning and enjoying the bright morning dew, taking in the plants and looking at the freshly sprouted flowers. He woke up every day at 5.30am to enjoy the quiet and read his newspaperwith a hot cup of coffee.

He loved sneaking off to buy fast food when my grandmother was playing bridge with her friends (she never allowed him to eat unhealthy meals). He loved collecting cookbooks though he never cooked but he was fascinated by the topic. He found joy in simple moments and in turn, this brought him peace in difficult times.

My grandfather was an extremely forgiving man. In business and in his personal life, many people had wronged him. However, he always forgave everyone, and he never carried anger with him. He always let things go. I remember him saying, never carry any regret or anger with you, because it weighs you down and it does not benefit you. If you let it go, you will feel light and move forward to many more wonderful things.

One of Reggie’s big principles in business was never to be afraid of people who are better than you – cleverer or more creative, Reggie always embraced his best staff. He smartly recognised elevating those around him, who are great at their jobs only benefitted the company and made it stronger. He always ensured that he helped his staff be the best they could be and encouraged them into bigger and better roles, even if they weren’t with him.

I assume that is why when I meet former Grants staff who have moved on to important roles in competing agencies or moved client side will always refer to him as ‘Boss’ recognising his role in their careers and to this day, still paying their respects to him.

Reggie always enjoyed a good party. One of my favourite memories from my childhood was my grandfather’s birthdays. Grants would throw the most epic parties; I remember his 75th birthday in particular, the office staff dressed him up in royal robes and made him a King for the day. They even hired fifty trishaws as well as a classic car and took him on a royal tour of the city before taking him to a night club and partying the night away. Seeya was always celebrating life and revelling in every moment.

He truly lived his life to the fullest. He recognised that with all its adversity, life was a blessing and bringing joy into the world was one of his missions.

He travelled widely with my Grandmother and rejoiced in learning about other cultures. He made friends where ever he went. He kept connections alive with his beautiful letter writing. He enjoyed a good beer on a Sunday with friends and whisky in the evenings with my father. He loved music; he loved watching the philharmonic orchestra and choirs, and latin music as well as Motown.

His love of life ensured that he captured every moment he could on his camera organising the most beloved moments in numerous photo albums captioning them all. Reggie understood that life was a gift, and took full advantage of it, something I try to mimic in my daily life too.

Follow your gut

Reggie was a risk taker and this was the secret to his success. As a young man he had one dream, to runaway to Paris and paint on the banks of the River Seine but circumstances changed for my grandmother, Therese and instead, he followed his gut and they decided to elope.

This changed the course of his life and led him down the path that made him one of the most respected advertising legends in the country. He never gave up on his dreams of being an artist, and carried out solo exhibitions in both fine art and photography many years later. He was considered one of the most famous men of his time in Sri Lanka because he never gave up. If there is one lesson that you take away from this article, let it be this one; no matter how small or grandiose, follow your gut and your dreams – they will only lead you to happiness and success.

Tasha Marikkar
- Granddaughter of the late Deshabandu Reginald Sebastian Rodrigo Candappa and a graduate from the London School of Economics and working in digital marketing in London.


Sulaiman Jiffrey Mohideen:

A friend with a broad outlook

It is almost a year since my dearest friend and mentor Sulaiman Jiffrey Mohideen who was fondly called by his friends since Law College days as ‘Moiya’ departed from this world. Cannot believe that he has gone away from us all except that a few of us: Max Bastiansz, Raja Mudannayaka, Nimal Ranamukarachchi and Rohan Gunapala who are reminded only when we see that empty chair in the Lawyers’ lounge where we are seated.

We miss his anecdotes, his battles in court and party jokes which he encountered.

I am beginning to wonder whether His Almighty took him away from us so that he will not witness all what is happening today in this beautiful Sri Lanka since he was broadminded in his outlook and moved with everybody as a friend, which is manifested when I hear from his friends how much they are missing him. He was known as a lavish entertainer among his friends.

Maybe because of his broad outlook and understanding he was looked upon by his party members for which he worked tirelessly ever since he joined the ruling party from his Law College days.

He was instrumental in influencing me to get involved in party activities and its social gatherings by telephoning me with prior warning to attend the meetings and functions at Sirikotha or at any other venue. He became the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UAE.

Moiya, it looks as if every Ramazan is going to be devoid to me since you are no more and the day I cannot forget when I was by your side a few days before your death and broke fast with you and you forced me to have a meal with you.

I hope with all the happenings today you are finding peace and solace in eternity elsewhere with the blessings of His Almighty Allah who will shower his blessings on Nelufa who will be missing you the most, your children and grandchildren. As a friend, the vacuum you have left cannot be filled and goodbye sweet prince, till we meet again.



Swarna Iranganie Senanayake Meedeniya:

A dedicated teacher

Swarna Meedeniya and I have been friends for 62 years. Our friendship began when we started our teaching careers at St Paul’s Girls School, Milagiriya, Colombo 5 in 1956. Swarna was a descendant of an aristocratic family from a Walauwa, in Kegalle. She was the eldest daughter of Arthur George Senanayake Meedeniya and Junita Meedeniya. She had two sisters and a brother who passed away at a young age. Swarna was qualified with degrees in Sinhala and English. She was a dedicated teacher with a quiet and unassuming disposition. Punctuality was her motto. Always smartly dressed, methodical and well-organised in all she undertook.

I have many fond memories of our time at Milagiriya, including our trips to select books to be given as prizes when Swarna and I were responsible for organising the annual school prize giving.

While she was Vice Principal of St Paul’s Milagiriya, Swarna went through a difficult time when she was suddenly transferred to a remote rural school in Middeniya where she had to teach with limited resources. She bravely undertook the challenge. The headmaster of the school was appreciative when he realised that he had gained a dedicated and well-qualified teacher to his staff. It was rare to find teachers of her calibre. After her stint at Middeniya, Swarna also taught at Dehiwala Central School and St. Anthony’s Kollupitiya.

Her pupils loved her, and she excelled at bringing the best out of her students as evidenced by their stellar achievements.

Wherever we were, we always kept in touch making it a point to celebrate birthdays together and there were many happy memories created at get-together lunches. We were like one family.

Swarna and her sisters Leela and Shanthi were a close-knit family. They all moved to London to live with her niece (Shanthi’s daughter) Rajni and her husband Tony. This allowed them to continue living together as a family and Swarna enjoyed the company of her two grand-nephews. Swarna’s nephew Mario and wife Anupama who live in Melbourne visited them in London regularly.

During her last years, she led a happy life surrounded by her loved ones. Swarna was a devout Catholic. She passed away peacefully in London on February 24, 2019 and a funeral service to celebrate her life was held at The Chapel of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart, St John’s Wood, London.

I was fortunate to have Swarna as a lifelong friend.


Indrani de Silva