The epitome of gratitude | Sunday Observer
Sophia Weeerasinghe

The epitome of gratitude

15 May, 2022

May 22 marks the 100th birth anniversary of our beloved Amma – Sophia Weeerasinghe nee Gunawardena, who passed away on November 6, 2019. She was born at Elibank Road Colombo, the second in a family of six children. Her parents, Samuelson Amarasiri Gunawardena and Mary Gunawardena nee Molligoda were compelled to move the family to their ancestral home in Galle, after the death of her grandmother.

Amma’s nostalgic memories were related fondly to us. She said that living at ‘Thistle Court’ in Mahamodara, Galle among the extended family members had its ups and downs. Her home was always bustling with people, but Athatha, her mother, had focused on bringing up her children while the aunts managed the household affairs.

She loved Aunt Ella, who had remained unmarried and lived in the family home. She played a pivotal role in the annual ‘Katina pinkama’ of the Kovilagoddalla temple. The ‘Katina Chivara’ was stitched on the long dining table and even the little ones chipped in with their till-money and participated in the rituals. This simple but meaningful procession used to start at ‘Thistle Court’, proceed to the temple, inculcating wholesome habits and respect for religion among all the residents.


Gratitude was a quality ingrained in Amma. She would often talk of all the family members with much affection. The family of three girls and three boys were quite a handful for Aththa to manage, who didn’t spare the rod! The siblings who quarrelled were caned including those who aided or those who happened to be nearby! However, the children were given a well-balanced diet and always had some tasty yams or boiled gram to feast on after school.

Her father’s visits to Galle was similar to Xmas and the arrival of Santa Clause. He brought bags full of goodies from Cargills including Cheese Balls. They used to vie for a seat close to him at the dinner table, but Amma hastened to add that they never squabbled to get that privilege. They all turned up to be well brought up human beings who loved their parents dearly. The endearing manner in which she spoke of her parents, depicted how much she loved them.

Gressel, the eldest sister was the ‘mother goose’ who kept her siblings under her wings of love and care. Amma’s gratitude to her was immeasurable. In fact, I should add that Loku Amma was not only a second mother to her siblings but to all her nieces and nephews too. It is the same sense of appreciation she had towards her other siblings.

Her younger sister Lilika, did not hesitate to come to Colombo although she had just got married, to be with me when Amma had to be hospitalised for nearly a month before ‘Cukoo’, my Malli was born. Her younger brothers Measton and Olson were always supportive. Basil, her bachelor brother stepped into her father’s shoes when he died suddenly, and fulfilled all his duties to the letter.


She fondly mentioned, Violet Akka, her cousin who used to sew dresses for them, played the violin to entertain the young ones and always took them on her outings in the Buggy Cart. Rani Akka, was another favourite of the family, who was treated like a queen by all! They all used to do their bit to make her happy when she visited them. These aunts were loyal to her parents and thus Amma was infinitely grateful to them for their support.

It is said that ‘Gratitude is the parent of all virtues’ and our Amma with her foremost virtue of gratitude possessed so many wholesome qualities which she passed on to us.

She loved to make jam and would often relate about the Damson jam she made and along with her cousin Rupa, they used to relish the home made jams. She tried her hand at other sweets such as Turkish Delight, and her own master piece was Peaches in Syrup made from the humble Passion Fruit shells. She even did a demonstration at the Girls’ Home, to popularise local entrepreneurism. Her semolina pudding was legendry. Although she shared her recipe with us, I doubt if anyone could reach her standard.

Her most cherished memories were her school days at Southlands during the illustrious Ms Ridge’s tenure. She often relived those glorious days at Southlands and spoke about how this great Principal’s liberal ideas had fostered a salubrious, learner-friendly ambience within the school.

According to Amma, Ridge’s attempts to empower girls through education was hailed to be extremely successful. Many girls, especially from the minority ethnic communities in Galle were fortunate to enjoy an extended school education which enabled them to pursue higher studies and carve out great professions for themselves.

The friendships Amma nurtured during her school days continued even after she moved to Colombo. Thatha used to take her to visit Gladys in Wattala, and Demathi and Mallika in Colombo. All the friends she continued to associate were truly genuine friends indeed. Getting married and coming to live in Colombo was another experience for Amma which, true to her nature she took in her stride. For her, living with an extended family at Embuldeniya was a joy. She amazed everyone as she opted to do her own cooking armed with the Daily News Cook book and a kerosene cooker!

Family passion

After moving to her newly built spacious home with a large garden, Amma helped Thatha in his interests - vegetable gardening and dairy farming. Being like-minded and on the same wave length, both of them got on fabulously, like milk and honey! Going to see films on weekends, trips during the vacation were part of their life. Travelling became a family passion and during the holidays we used to travel all over the country and eventually would end up either in Galle or at Loku Amma’s home in Gampola.

She enjoyed the insightful programs on TV and would make her own comments and judgments and relate them to real life. The more I think of you, Amma, the more I realise that the numerous lessons to be learned from your life are truly amazing indeed. Amma was loyal to her kith and kin and went out of her way to help all those she felt needed help.

Amma didn’t have to be asked for help. She did whatever she could to help all the relatives. She was gracious and neither had any remorse, nor ill-feelings towards anyone. She was content with what she had done as she did not expect anything in return. To help unconditionally is Amma’s legacy, to all of us.

Among Amma’s lessons in life are - Doing what we do to the best of our abilities and doing it happily, being happy with what we have, helping others in whatever way we could, rejoicing in others’ achievements, being forthright without fear or favour and having the courage to face any adversity with her “never say die” attitude. Her motto- “We will find a way” was always encouraging indeed. Thus, she could face any adversity with courage.

As our family commemorates the 100th birthday of this remarkable, quiet and unassuming lady who had taught many valuable lessons in life to all those who came in contact with her, she is indeed worthy to be emulated. I am proud to call her my dearest Amma and yes, Amma, we will remember to be happy and to keep smiling always, as you advised us.

May your journey in Samsara be short and joyful! May you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!

With love and gratitude,

– Saroja