Royal People

A dedication to those wonderful people who served Royal Primary School & Royal College, in Sri Lanka, since 1835, and, who will be remembered for their committment, sincerety and unselfishness.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Viji, the Educator

Mr. Vijitha Weerasinghe, Educator

Be careful to leave your sons well
instructed rather than rich,
for the hopes of the instructed are better
than the wealth of the ignorant.


I do not hope to compete with the flood of heartfelt and much better-written appreciations that have no doubt preceded my own back home in Sri Lanka as well as abroad wherever Royalist diaspora reside. Yet despite the delay (due to the demands of academia, the one excuse Mr. Weerasinghe might have accepted for my tardiness), I am compelled to add a somewhat younger voice to the chorus.

When I first came into the great presence as Primary Schooler, Mr. Weerasinghe was the Deputy Principal of the Middle School at Royal College. My generation will forever associate the inner sanctum next to the Navarangahala with Mr. Weerasinghe’s imposing presence. In those days of fear and uncertainty, Mr. Weerasinghe’s office was the natural sanctuary to which our fathers instructed us to retreat at the slightest hint of disturbance. He would know what to do.
As we graduated to the Middle School and became involved in school activities, we began to look forward to visiting Mr. Weerasinghe’s office, remarkable when you consider that even today a visit to the Principal’s office can stir up as much foreboding as any other emotion. The familiar greeting, “Come in, Putha, come in” stayed with us forever more; I find it hard to comprehend that I shall not hear it again when I poke my head around the corner at the Royal College Union office, knuckles poised to rap on the door.

I was never fortunate enough to have Mr. Weerasinghe as a classroom instructor. My generation learnt more from Mr. Weerasinghe by how he carried himself; from how he dealt with the widely varying teachers, students, Principals (he ended up being called a “father” to more than he may have cared to acknowledge) and Old Boys who came to him; and from the subtle, insightful advice he gave us when we came to him for approval and guidance in the many activities he oversaw.

Mr. Weerasinghe was a firm believer in the purity of the immense duty educators performed. We all know what a deep and lasting bond he had with Royal College. “I have been with Royal for all but the first five years of my life,” he once told me with the greatest pride as I interviewed him for The Royalist newspaper. It is no overstatement to say that he became an Institution within the institution. He became a trustee of all that was great at Royal College, an oracle even, to whom so many turned for guidance, inspiration and reassurance. No man was greater than the school and Mr. Weerasinghe did not hesitate to say so, firstly of himself, and certainly to anyone who had the temerity to behave otherwise. “Scholars need not change Royal,” he once told me, “it is Royal that should change the Scholar,” placing the burnish of a complete and rounded education on the abundance of youthful talent that Royal is fortunate to have pass through her hallowed gates.

In the decade since I left College I continued to visit Mr. Weerasinghe in his little office at the RCU whenever I could, and encouraged my contemporaries to do the same. Apart from occasionally chiding each other gently, the one for his continued smoking habit, the other for the “fancy dress” attire of t-shirt, jeans and sandals in which he went to “work” as a software engineer, we spent many an agreeable half-hour chatting in his office. (Indeed, I took to dressing so much better when dropping in on Mr. Weerasinghe before work that my teammates could soon tell whenever I had been to College!) As Old Boys now separated by only a desk and a few decades, we swapped tall tales and discussed topics Mr. Weerasinghe would never have dreamt of discussing with the schoolboy of a few years ago. I will always cherish those candid tete a tetes; I condole with those who were unable to find the time in their busy lives to steal such moments for themselves.

Two scrolls hang on the stage backdrop in the College Main Hall. For those of us not fortunate enough to have learnt the Classics, these were always far more mysterious than “Disce Aut Discede.” Mr. Weerasinghe was of course the one person who could be expected to know their meaning. I still recall how his face lit up as, teacher to the last, Mr. Weerasinghe held forth for a good few minutes as I furiously scribbled down notes on a little notebook that is today one of my most treasured possessions. “Labor Omnia Vincit” – Work Conquers All. “Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat” – He Who Deserves it, Shall Bear the Prize. Royal sentiments indeed.

An epoch has passed. Preserving institutional knowledge has become a primary occupation for leaders in all forms of organizations. We can view the inscriptions I just quoted as mere etchings in a forgotten language, in an institution that does not suffer for lack of colourful etchings on its many walls. On the other hand, we can consider them to symbolize the greatness of a school that for many decades, one man represented for many of us. We can choose to honour his memory by redoubling our efforts to achieve for Royal College the greatness that she deserves and preserve in her the best in all of us, just as “Vijie” Weerasinghe and a memorable few invested so much of themselves in her that the very walls ring with the echoes of their voices. I cannot conclude any other way than with the brief but powerful valediction that I first saw used by Mr. Weerasinghe himself,


J.C. Ratwatte, Jr.
Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
Island, Mon Nov 26 2007


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