Visakha’s legendary ‘Wilson uncle’ | Sunday Observer

Visakha’s legendary ‘Wilson uncle’

3 October, 2021

Many have known him for his iron fist, his unwavering perseverance and seeing right through you when you are up to mischief.

A legend in his own right, Wilson uncle’s name will forever be etched in the golden annals of the history of Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo for being the longest serving staffer and for dedicating his entire life to the school.

His story is that of love and hate; especially for the students who feared him during school days but still loved him as a father figure. The passing of Wilson uncle on September 4, 2021 at 81 years is a closing of a chapter and an end of an era marked by genuine dedication and honesty - qualities hard to find these days. With his lifelong service to the school as a security officer, he truly became a part of the school and it’s this reason that his departure tugs at the very heartstrings of thousands who associated him.

First job

Wilson uncle was recruited to the school in 1965 arriving from Matara in his early twenties. It was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Visakha Vidyalaya, then Supreme Court Judge Justice Dharmadasa Wimalaratne who recommended Wilson uncle to the school. As recalled by Justice Wimalaratne’s daughter Amala Jayakody, also a past Visakhian, Wilson uncle had been a part of their lives until his demise.

“Wilson uncle worked at our place for some time and later my father recommended him to the Visakha nursery which was at a different location those days,” she recalled.

Handi Senarath Dahanayake was his name as in his National Identity Card but he was commonly known as Wilson uncle.

Coming to Colombo opened a gamut of opportunities for young Wilson uncle. Although many know him for his humble place at the security hut at school, he was a man who travelled the world.

“Senator Reggie Perera was appointed as Sri Lankan Ambassador to Cairo, Egypt and he asked my father if he knew someone trustworthy that he could take. My father recommended Wilson uncle who was working at the Visakha nursery at the time, and thus began his world tours,” said Amala.

Wilson uncle served the Ambassador as a chef for about five years and later went with him to London. After being in the UK for two years, Wilson uncle next accompanied the Ambassador to Singapore for another two years.

“Throughout his world travels, Wilson uncle kept constant contact and we were the happiest as he used to bring us many wonderful gifts from abroad. He was close to my family all along,” Amala remembered fondly.

Amala recalled the way he used to help them make Vesak lanterns and support them during family gatherings when they were children.

“He was such a generous, obliging, honest, and loyal person who gave his whole self to the people he worked with - to our family and school. Although many have known him for his hot temper, he had the best interest of the school at heart. He cared about the school and served it with all his might,” she said.

Upon his return from Singapore, Wilson uncle was recruited back to the school during the time of Principal Hema Jayasinghe. But of course, his association with the school was since the time of Visakha’s beloved Principal Susan George Pulimood. Like the Maara tree that saw Visakha’s twists and turns into greatness, Wilson uncle too was with the school since its humble beginnings that included just a thatched roof, and witnessed it grow and flourish with grandeur to the present day. Until his passing, he was at the school for over five decades.

Tough times

In a special article to the Visakha Centenary publication in 2017, written by Kasun Thamarasi, he was quoted as having recalled many landmark events at the school.

“During Madam Jayasinghe’s time, I saw new buildings spring up. The SSC building, the three storey primary building, and the play area were some. I can even recall the time when former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike came to the school to lay the foundation stone for the Jeremias Dias Hall,” he said during the interview.

One of the toughest times he had was during Principal Eileen Siriwardena’s time in the 80s and Principal M.N. Edussuriya’s in the 90s when the country saw youth uprisings and LTTE terrorism.

“Due to the threat of terrorist attacks, only O/L and A/L students were allowed to come to school in different clothes for safety. The wall was short and the gate wasn’t covered which made matters worse. I lived in constant fear that someone might enter the school and threaten the children,” Wilson uncle told the publication.

However, students in recent time would mostly remember Wilson uncle for his defiance to maintain school rules and the countless scoldings he gave the girls who were up to no good.

Many a times he was teased by the ‘Big Match boys’ for chasing them away from the school gates. Before the school walls were raised, he kept an eagle eye for girls who would jump over the walls and leave before school ends.

Suspicious young men loitering outside the school gates received the full brunt of his wrath and would flee unable to do anything but mutter a few derogatory names under their breath. He didn’t take any chances with the boys who would arrive to participate in school events either, escorting them to the Principal’s office first before letting them loose and ensuring that they walked right out the gates when the event was over.

He kept guard of the telephone booth too which needed as much protection as the gate. That is how Wilson uncle safeguarded the girls and the same reason for being so fondly remembered by many. Mischievous boys would never have imagined that a day would come in later life when they hand over their little daughter to Wilson uncle, certain that she too will be taken care of.

He returned to his roots in Matara in his twilight years after retiring from service and was taken care of by his close relatives.

The school also supported him until his demise and many past students even visited him on many occasions. It was rather a quiet life for him after being at a place full of children and full of life. According to his relatives, his mind was still at Visakha even though he was at home, calling out instructions to close a window and a door in his sleep.

Even though Wilson uncle is no more, his name would forever be intertwined with Visakha as a second father to the girls and for dedicating his entire life for their wellbeing.