Winifred Hettiaratchi - An exceptionally fine person | Sunday Observer

Winifred Hettiaratchi - An exceptionally fine person

14 August, 2022

It is with deep heartache that I pen these few lines on my beloved friend Winifred Hettiaratchi. It breaks our hearts to know that Winnie as she is known to all, passed away on July 26, 2021. It is really too much and too bitter to hear that she is no more. To those of us who had the good fortune of associating with her closely, we have lost a sincere, genuine personality, a charming gracious lady of exceptional calibre from our midst.

My association with her commenced when we first met as students of the first university a little after Dr Ivor Jennings’ era in June 1956 at Sangamitta Hall, Peradeniya, when the university was a true wonder and when it was at the height of her glory. Here we developed a friendship in the true sense of the word, a bond which continued to blossom over this long period. This first meeting has remained to this day adding colour to our lives making our friendship stronger day by day.

She was an exceptionally fine person that one really does not come across often. She was calm, soft-spoken, well-mannered with a friendly personality. A simple but elegant, slender figure graciously dressed when in saree doing things successfully without much effort.

She enjoyed life right from the beginning when she met her husband-to-be, Dayanandana, the very first occasion when we were watching a documentary in the Arts theatre on the very first day which decided her fate and destiny. She was born to a respectable, well-renowned aristocratic family in Kurunegala during the imperial regime. Winnie, being one of the daughters, one person whom she adored very much was her only brother Joseph Perera, who was also at the university during her time who went on to become Senior Deputy Commissioner, Inland Revenue dedicated to his profession, he is now living a peaceful life in retirement with his loving wife Soma.

Winnie equally loved her younger sister, Neela, a lovable lady and impressive teacher. Her mother was also a teacher by profession. From her early childhood, Winnie had been brought up in the family tradition. She grew up to be a pretty young girl when she entered the university. Going down memory lane, I am glad that I could visit all of them at Mawathagama in the early 1960s to be entertained by her parents.

Winnie had her education in the most prestigious girls’ school, Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala, in her native land, where she excelled in studies and extra-curricular activities. While at the university, she read European and British history, Economics and Sinhala for the degree. It was hard work filled with joy. We still have pleasant recollections of our stay at Peradeniya. She entered matrimony immediately after leaving the university.

She married Dayanandana Hettiaratchi, a Chartered Mechanical Engineer, a very sincere honest personality who believed in the diligent performance of his duties. Since then they have had a happy family life first in Panadura then in Kiribathgoda. Winnie’s early working life was in teaching.

Her leaving for greener pastures to the UK was a sad event for those of us in Sri Lanka. Though this signalled the parting of friends, our friendship flourished in a more fruitful way extending invitations to visit UK which we did enjoy. Though domiciled in the UK, her deep love for motherland and the deep attachment to us made her visit her relatives and me and still later with her children too.

Duty to her parents was wonderful. Her mother spent her last years in the UK. She passed away while under her special care. The stability of a good home was always there. She took great delight and pleasure in actively participating in household activities, naturally in a happy family.

She had a nice garden laden with fruits and flowers roamed by two pet tortoises. She was a devoted wife and an affectionate mother to her two illustrious sons, shining in their fields. Dushyanta, the eldest is a Chartered Civil Engineer and the younger, Kaushika, also chartered, is a university lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, both dedicated to their professions. She was a loving grandmother to Sapphire, a university student in the UK.

She should be commended for her devotion to her family. Her delightful humour was entertaining. She had read widely. Her wide reading skills had given her a wonderful ability for narration. She had found it a soothing diversion to write on folklore mostly inspired by Sapphire, finally bringing her inborn talents and skills to light. She wrote about Mahadenamutta to the joy and excitement of Sapphire which took her back to childhood dreams. I am sure her deep love for Sapphire had motivated her to venture into this area with her stunning creativity.

She made a significant contribution to Library Science. Selflessly devoted to her work and profession, she performed in the UK a valuable service in the field of Library Science. As a trusted British citizen, she devoted her full-time energy and effort to the UK institutions where she worked firstly in Westminster Public Library and later in Goldsmiths University until she retired during her sunset years.

She had many friends and relatives in the UK, those whom she held close with a noble heart. Now her demise is mourned by all of them. Her sincerity towards me can never be erased from my mind. I remember so well the many trips we made to Kurunegala in the recent past to visit her sister and her charming and enterprising niece, Tharanga who now attends to her mother’s care with devotion.

We all have special memories of Winnie and of those I cherish most is her trip to Matara at the Southern end of Sri Lanka all the way from Kurunegala when new technology in transport was unheard of. That was to attend my wedding held at my residence with her three month old baby. He is none other than Dushy, now a versatile person who figures prominently on every occasion.

Another friend of ours, Padmini who was in close association with Winnie in the UK before her demise, reminded me of the unforgettable event going back to our good old days. Winnie was fortunate to have had the privilege of her two sons attending to her needs until she breathed her last. Her funeral was held in the UK with due honour awarded to her by all her family and friends. That was the end of a beautiful life of a noble lady. The fragrance of the days gone by will never fade away.

Rupa Banduwardena 
Melbourne, Australia