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.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Air Vice Marshal Harry Gunathilake

Nation Sunday 15 June 2008

A comet that blazed across the skies

- Air Chief Marshal W. D. H. S. W (Harry) Goonetileke

Air Chief Marshal W. D. H. S. W. (Harry) Goonetileke N.D.C., P.S.C. the fifth Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force, an excellent flyer, capable administrator, outstanding sportsman and above all an officer and gentleman par excellence is now among the departed. He passed away peacefully on 11th April 2008. His sojourn here on earth however has been colourful, fruitful, gracious and remarkable. A multifaceted personality he has left an indelible mark in the several fields of activity, which he enriched with remarkable competence.

Born in Mutwal on 27th November 1929 he was the only boy in a family of five. While he lost his mother in his early childhood, he was brought up by his father with loving care and affection. He received his education at Royal College where he pursued his studies up to HSC and the London Matriculation. Apart from excelling in his studies he displayed a keen interest in sports, particularly in rugger and cricket.

He was proud of his alma mater and he loved his school very dearly. He has left an indelible mark at Royal College by instituting the “Mustang Trophy” which is awarded every year to the winners of the Royal ¬Thomian one day Cricket encounter. Of an outgoing and adventurous disposition, after his secondary education he displayed a keen interest to join the armed services, and in 1951 he joined the then “Royal Ceylon Air Force” as a flight cadet. After his initial combat and flying training in 1954 he was awarded his “Wings”, and subsequently assigned to various flying operational positions. His peers identifying in him his dedication to duty, competence as a flyer and his leadership potential, gradually groomed him for command. He was selected for courses of study in operational flying, administration and management in India, United Kingdom and U.S.A.

Appointed to various executive positions he was afforded adequate exposure to all salient aspects of operations, command and administration. These included base Commander Katunayake, Commanding Officer China Bay, Officer Commanding Flying Operations and Director Operations, and in 1971 he was appointed Chief of Staff. All these appointments he performed with commendable efficiency and dedication. He led his officers and subordinates from the front by his exemplary ethical conduct, and high moral rectitude and remarkable dedication to duty.

A hard “Task Master,” he was a firm disciplinarian and would not condone the slightest breach of discipline. However, he was very humane in his dealings with the staff, and zealously looked after their welfare. In 1955 he married Marion Perera with whom he lad been in love for sometime. Marian fitted into the Air Force environment admirably. She was very supportive of the husbands’ multifarious duties. Together they brought up their two sons and two daughters with loving care and affection, inculcating in them moral and ethical values., Both sons joined the Sri Lanka Air Force while the younger son Shirantha who had a very promising career, excelling in his flying and command capabilities within a relatively short period made the supreme sacrifice, when the Avro he was piloting came under missile attack. The elder son Roshan assumed duties as Commander in 2006. Imbibed with enviable personal qualities of his father, a capable flyer he certainly will make the country and the Air Force proud. The two daughter Shiromi and Sharmini are well accomplished and are professionals in their chosen fields. While serving in the Air Force, I closely associated with him in his official duties as well as in social activities and sports. As President of the Sri Lanka Air Force Ex-Servicemen’s Association from 2000 - 2002, active member of the Retired Air Force Officers Association and the Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers and Ranaviru Family counselling services during the formative years of these institutiona he made a significant contribution and guided them. The Air Force Seva Vanitha branch was instituted by him and with Marion as President and many humanitarian projects were initiated and successfully pursued.

An avid sportsman he actively participated in sports captaining the Air Force Rugger and Cricket teams. His name was synonymous with Air Force rugger. He coached rugger team for many years. Along with WG. Cmdr. E. H. Ohlmuis he made concerted effort to improve the infrastructure of the rugby referees union and improve the quality of referring. After 30 years of service, he retired from the Sri Lanka Air Force in 1981 as Commander.. On retirement his life revolved around his family. His straight forwardness and honesty made him outspoken and he could not bear the injustice and the corruption in society. He regularly contributed articles on current topics, including on defence matters to the newspapers.Air Chief Marshal Goonetileke was a rare personality, as he possessed the four Sathara Brahma, loving kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity to the maximum. But he practiced his religion unobtrusively. His exemplary and ethical conduct, integrity and high moral values left an indelible impression on those he came in contact with him.

The hall mark of his character were patience, simplicity, humility, modesty and accessibility. There never was any vestige of superciliousness and assumption in him. Marion lost a devoted loving and reliable husband, the son and daughters their caring and guiding mentor, his friends a loyal, lasting friend and helping hand. Air Chief Marshal Goonetileke was literally a comet who blazed across our skies, leaving a trail of luminescence which passing time can hardly erase. May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana. May his journey be short and comfortable. J. T. Rex Fernando (Sqn. Ldr. S.L.A.F. Retd.)


Sunday Times Apr 20 2008

You were always there to help and guide

Air Vice Marshal Harry Gunathilake

We note the passing away of Harry Goonetilleke with the deepest regret. He was the fifth Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force. But our appreciation is not only because he was Commander of the Air Force, but also because he rendered yeoman service to the Sri Lanka Ex-Air Force Association and to the Sri Lanka Ex-Servicemen's Association.

As its Founder Patron, he was the driving force behind the Ex-Air Force Association from its inception. He did not stop at that. He was instrumental in forming the war widows’ rehabilitation and counselling projects and initiated the payment of dividends from the profits of Welfare Services (Pvt.) Ltd.

He was always present at meetings and functions of these associations, to advise, direct and guide the members co-ordinating these events. He always stood up for the welfare of members and spoke on their behalf.

Although he was a former Commander of a fighting force Air Chief Marshall Harry Goonetilleke was a down-to-earth man who used to have a drink, even with people of lesser calibre. He did not have a chip on his shoulder. He was a man of the people loved by everybody.
We are proud to note that Harry Goonetilleke in his humble way was there at every beck and call of the people who rallied behind him for advice and assistance.

Till we meet again somewhere in the realms of samsara - or in that distant hill far away, Goodbye Commander, Sir and Friend.

By S.S. Gunawardene, Secretary, Sri Lanka Ex-Air Force Association.

He rose to great heights, but never lost touch with reality

Air Vice Marshal Harry Gunathilake

After watching the nail-biting first one- day international between Sri Lanka and West Indies, when the Windies hurricane struck the day- lights out of the Lankans, Air Vice Marshal Harry Gunathilake succumbed to a heart attack and passed away peacefully. An officer and gentleman, Harry worked and served for the right reasons. He led a humble life and lived by his principles until his last breath.

I knew him for over three decades and his contributions on and off the field to help uplift the down-trodden youth of this country were immense. He had to face setbacks for speaking his mind, but he never sought personal glory.

A proud product of Royal College, he adhered to the principles of Martin Luther King (Jnr.): “The time is always right to do what is right. You are here for good times, but not for a long time. Everything is temporary”. Harry lived and worked for others. He never mis-used his power even during the height of his career, but helped less affluent airmen to go places in life on and off the field. Harry enjoyed sports and of course rugby was his first love. He was an administrator, player, coach and referee.

One of those he trained initially was the "Golden Boy" of the kicking boots, late Charles Wijewardena, who later joined the Police .Others who benefited from his know-how were 'Viper' Gunaratne, Rohan Gunaratne, "Lofty' Perera and others. Those were the days when the Air Force 'Chipmunks' flew to great heights, thanks to his vision. The Police Sports Board organised a Charity Match with the combined Air Force –Police SC- CR and FC Vs. Kandy SC at Nittawela, on May 20, 2006 and he was invited to be the Chief Guest.

When he retired, he hadn't an abode to call his own, nor a car, but President Ranasinghe Premadasa, gave him a Govt. Flat at Elvitigala Mawatha, Borella. He refereed a number of first class rugby matches. In 1973, he refereed the Clifford Cup Final between Police SC – Army which ended in a thrilling 19-all draw.

Recently, there was a family get–together to celebrate Harry’s grandson's solo flight after training in a private flying school. He skipped that to be in Anuradhapura to assist the Services (widows’) Association.

He was a quiet man and shunned social obligations even at home. He preferred to spend time with those who suffered in silence. Truth was his religion, humanity was his race, and the world was his country.

One of his grand-daughters Nirasha Guruge, won the (Junior/Senior) Women's singles Squash championship five years in a row. Thanks to her sporting prowess, she earned a scholarship to Harvard University to follow a degree in Commerce. He was proud of her achievements.
At his funeral on April 12, at the Borella Cemetery, despite barriers and tight security there was a coterie of loyal friends, from all walks of life, to say goodbye to him. Former Airmen, who served under him - the likes of Eddie Buell, Buddhi Siriwardena , Noel Fernando, T.M. 'bull' Khalid Peiris, Duncan Perera etc. Service Commanders of yesteryear, the Principal of Royal College, Upali Gunasekera, and the homeless, the present (SLAF) rank and file, were among those present.

By Bernie Wijesekera


Blogger ruch70 said...

I am Ruchira,son of retired flight Sergent and former Airforce Cricket captain G.A.D.Donald Perera ( capt in 1968)served in the Airforce from 1953 to 1978.
I came to know Air Chief Marshal W. D. H. S. W (Harry) Goonetileke when I was little 5yrs old then at the age of 10 yrs i came to know him after moving to Guwanpura quaters in 1973.
I remembered he was saying that my farther was the only Non commissioned officer who captained a Sara-trophy team ( Those days it was called as Adastrian cricket club), we used to call him Harry Uncle. i remember , Roshan , Shirantha, shiromi,.etc
few times I was so interested in Joining Airforce, but my father obstructed several times, and wanted me to study further. on this regard I personally talked to Harry Uncle.
then in 1995 when he was a working directer at Airlanka and Airport and Aviation services, I seek is advise as there was political involvements happened for selecting criteria in Air-traffic control candidates in that year. so he was almost to dissolve the selected candidates as it was not correctly considered. how ever after carefully reviewing the situation we finally decided not to proceed it . As a result of it I left the country in 1999,hating political atmosphere and how people influenced and get influenced from political henchman's.
so I met him many times during 1997-1999 period and assisted him, in ex Airforce servicemen Association related work held in YMCA. He was a very kind hearted person, simple of living, good adviser. he had a brilliant way of resolving the LTTE WAR with Minimum Impact, How ever the Government that never Listen to war Veterans Opinions.
He is a Man of word. I still remember in 1977, after UNP Government elected my fathers name was in list of transfer by the government officials to Jaffna For no reason, just because some of the the henchmen officers influence taking side of political parties, but Harri Uncle as the Air Chief Marshal W. D. H. S. W (Harry) Goonetileke cancelled the list of transfer order issued by the government. He was very straight forward, Clean and do the Right Thing.
It is already witnessed and proved by his families contribution to save our motherland from Terrorists and reinstated the countries Independence. His son Air Chief Marshal WDRMJ Roshan Goonetileke did his excellent devotion to save the nation as you all know handling and resolving the problem with care with proper Airforce Contribution during the LTTE operations,. mean time his second son Shirantha Goonetileke got sacrificed his life as Fighter Pilot due to a foolish decision taken by the heads of the states at that time.
Good people comes and goes, But Animals act according to their Nature to screw our country traditions, culture and creating threat to our Independence again and again.
My Humble salute To Uncle Harry,Air Chief Marshal W. D. H. S. W (Harry) Goonetileke
as well to his Family

10:57 AM  

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