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

Sockanathan – A Brother's Appreciation

Subject: Sockanathan - A Brother's Appreciation

My dear Daughters, Sister, Brothers, Cousins and Friends,
I copy below a feeble attempt at an 'appreciation' of my elder brother. It is hard to disentangle emotions from memories of innocent and honest splendour.
But I have given it a try.

Please feel free to pass it on to other cousins, friends and whoever you think might want to remember Sockananthan with fondness and gentleness.


Sockanathan – A Brother's Appreciation

It was the great Rabindranath Tagore who wrote:
'Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.'
These are lines that I have had to remember very often in recent years, as friends, contemporaries and relations have begun to bid sad farewell.

I had grown very fond of Sockanathan in recent years and we had developed, without intentions on either side, a pleasurable routine of ringing each other almost every Sunday, wherever I was. He was as always - and as far as my remembrances go, back on time's treacherous arrow - cheerful, light-hearted in touch, generous and humorous, none of the attributes I was ever able to cultivate. He seemed to have been endowed with these noble qualities, almost from birth.

In childhood, we had a different Sunday routine; after Sunday morning classes at the Ramakrishna Mission, we were given permission to walk on to my Paternal Aunt's home, down Ratnakara Place, for a sumptuous lunch. Rasathi Mami – my Aunt - would prepare a wonderful chicken curry - using that inherited talent from Paatti, my Grandmother - and shower us with food and sweets and love and kindness. Even though we were young boys, always wanting to be on the street down Madangahawatte Lane, playing cricket, we would never miss those enticing Sunday Lunches at Ratnakara Place. It came to an end in April, 1956, when we - alas - moved from 17 Madangahawatte Lane.

It may well be apposite to mention here that the unfortunate 1964 Royal College cricket team that lost to the Thomians contained four players who were born and lived, as neighbours, down Madangahawatte Lane, in the early 1950s: Sockanathan, Cedric Fernando, Lakshman Thalayasingham and Asoka Samarajeeva! I still recall, with pure pleasure, the cricket we played in the small Thalayasingham garden, in those halcyon days.

He was also, always, immensely more talented than I was, or even than any of my other siblings; anything he touched, in childhood, turned into success. I recall the grinding paths I had to carve for myself, for any meagre success I ever achieved when growing up. Large doses of luck and hard work were necessary ingredients in my path in life, and even then success was always tempered by failures. His talents, gifts and light-heartedness seemed almost to have been the 'winner's curse' - since he did not have to try too hard, he - perhaps - did not have to cultivate the disciplines one needs for survival in a world that is infested with the Red Queen syndrome.
When Sockanathan was a student at Madras Christian College, I think he once told me that he played and opened batting for the South Zone Universities the same year that Sunil Gavaskar opened for the West Zone Universities and they played against each other. This was, I think, in 1967. I visited Madras to see him, on my way from Kyoto to Colombo. I had booked a large room at the old Woodlands Hotel; Sockanathan, Rajan Namasivayam and Ramanan, Mr Ratnathickam, our shcool history teacher's nephew, came to meet me at Meenambakkam airport. We shared that one room I had booked and enjoyed three days of pure splendour - eating every night at the Madras Buhari Hotel.

My father once wrote me: 'Sockanathan is like an elephant; he does not know his own strengths'. I still have that letter Appa wrote me, in 1973.

It was wholly characteristic of him and wonderfully amusing when I last met him, at my Sister's daughter's wedding, to look hard at me, with unblinking eyes - in response to my embraced greeting - and ask me: 'And who are you?'. I nearly dropped with laughter, thinking he was, as usual, being that little bit mischievous!

I shared many moments of splendour with him, some even enchantingly comic.

When he first arrived in Sweden, he sat next to Shivantha Tambiyaiya, on the plane journey. During that journey he had shown his disfigured passport to Shivantha - disfigured by an unnecessary stamp by the British High Commission in Colombo; Shivantha, being slightly irresponsible, had taken it and scratched over the British High Commission stamp and told Sockanathan that 'they - the British High Commission - had no business stamping with seals that were not requested'!!!!

So, he arrived in Sweden, and with admirable and princely unconcern, showed me Shivantha's silly handiwork.

I was aghast and had to devise a most devious and totally improper way of dealing with it so that he could get his visa to go on to England. It was a method a Swiss Pastor in Chur in Switzerland had taught me, having practised it during his years as a Partisan in Ticino, near the Italian border, to help Italian Jews to escape across the border near Porlezza.

But Sockanathan was completely unfazed - either by Shivantha's totally callous act or by my own trepidations!!

That was typical of him.

Whenever we spoke, on our regular Sunday conversations, it was invariably also about cricket and whatever match was then going on. He kept himself fully informed of the current cricket scene.

Since about his last birthday I had begun sending him some of my older cricket books - by Cardus, Arlott, Ray Robinson and so on; they gave him great and undiluted pleasure, to read and reminisce. He remembered more than I could, about the times of Hassett and Morris, Laker and Lock, Lindwall and Miller, Ramadhin and Valentine. It was with tremendous enthusiasm that he would, time and time again, recite that great calypso about 'cricket lovely cricket ... with those two little friends of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine', celebrating that famous Lords victory by a West Indian side blessed with the legendary 3 Ws and Ramadhin and Valentine.

Like my Father, Sockanathan never had a cruel or unkind word or opinion of anyone or anything. He was wholly devoid of envy and completely innocent of greed.

We had been brought up in a relatively enlightened Hindu home, observing – as most Tamil Hindus of old Ceylon did – the usual rituals and ceremonies. However, at some point in the mid-1970s, Sockanathan, I think, felt the need for a more individually satisfying faith and embraced, wholeheartedly, the Christian faith. I rarely spoke to him about his commitment to his new found faith, nor the kind of sustenance the new beliefs gave him – partly because my own experiences of being a student at Kyoto, Lund and Cambridge during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s had radicalised my views and visions of Church and State. But I know, from his silences and serenities, that he was at peace with himself, in spite of personal difficulties during the last decade of his life.

My fond memories of childhood holidays, shared with Sockanathan and my elder Thiruchittampalam cousins – Rohini, Chandran and Sarojini - in innocence and honesty that only children can muster, are still a source of great happiness. We spent happy times in Chavakachcheri, Kankesanthurai, Kalkudah, Kalmunai, Bandarawela, Nuwara Eliya and Kurunegala. The memories of unadulterated enjoyments at Paasi Kudah are unforgettable. Another holiday, together with intimate class mates – Rajan Namasivayam, Ravi Somasundaram and Rabindran Namasivayam (our cousin), at an 'uncountry' Tea Plantation that was being managed by Rajan's maternal uncle (for S.J.V. Chelvanayagam) was one of our most cherished shared memory.

Now, alas, Sarojini, Sockanathan and Rabindran are not among us.

In Chavakachcheri, it was he who introduced me to the wonderful sands and taught me to appreciate the 'Manal Pitti', off the Jaffna Lagoon – these are, in fact my own earliest memories, going back to 1951 and 1952. Often, during the 'December holidays' spent in Chavakachcheri, we would be taken to Keerimalai, to bath in the holy waters and, then, after a wonderful breakfast of hot thosai or puttu, to the Kandasamy Temple in Nallur. Occasionally, after that, a visit to Sangili Thoopu, in Nallur, my Paternal Uncle's home, situated where – allegedly – Sangilian had his courtyard during his reign.

Sockanathan's own earliest personal sadness was experienced when he lost his close and much loved friend, Ronnie Fernando, who died under tragic circumstances. For years he kept a framed photograph of Ronnie in his room at home.

But I think – and feel – that he had come to terms with 'loss as a way of life', in a graceful and serene way. Perhaps it was his commitment to the faith he had embraced that gave him some inner strength to sustain and overcome grief and loss and tackle these imposters with a judicious combination of disdain and reluctant respect.

I would do him no justice if I did not mention the last few years at Royal College and the evenings and weekends spent playing cricket at 'Uncle's Paradise'! The emotions and the enjoyments are impossible to describe in words – only those of us who were part of the 'Uncle's Paradise' community will know and understand what that camaraderie meant. The dusks, as the sun set, and as the last overs were being bowled, one began to savour the taste of the thosai or the rotti one was going to eat at Saraswathi Lodge or Buhari's or wherever one went, on any particular day, after a wonderful evening of cricket and friendship among friends. Often, the evening came to an end with more talk and gossip at the home of Norbert and Lloyd Perera, which was always open and welcomed all and sundry with immense kindness and generosity.
I will miss him and our routinised Sunday conversations - and for the inspiring light-heartedness that was infested with joy. But he has left me – and many others – with shared memories that enriched us in his lifetime and will enliven us in his absence, till we also reach him, and relive the past.

I can only recall Emily Dickinson's poignant words of Farewell, as dusk comes, yet again:
'Good-by to the life I used to live,And the world I used to know;And kiss the hills for me, just once;Now I am ready to go!'

Farewell to thee, my beloved and gentle Brother.


Mohamed Rafeeq Moosa

Mohamed Rafeeq Moosa

“Life is finite and accruals matter not a whit unless they are of the philosophical kind! We harvest, then we gather and we gather yet once more, and we capriciously yearn for yet another harvest of riches only to find Death as the farmer, which is when we cower in fear at the sight of our mortality in all of its dismal glory!”

This is an extract of the note I received from my brother when I informed him of my shock, sadness and grief at the sudden demise of Moos (as he was affectionately called by his friends).

Moos actually accrued nothing material during his lifetime and this is a fact; his was a life only full of memories, experiences and righteousness. Moos had always told me he wished his departure would be like a bolt of lightening and that was just how it was. He never wanted to be a burden on anybody. His family suffered a double tragedy when his only brother Abdul passed away in the same house, no sooner Moos’s mortal remains were carried away. His wonderful mother whom Moos cared for and doted on, is left floundering in unimaginable grief.

Moos belonged to the lively “friends for ever” 1962 batch of Royalists and networked faithfully with them all the way. He never missed a class reunion. Although a keen Ruggerite, he excelled as a cadet and as Platoon Sergeant won the coveted Herman Loos Trophy for Royal beating over 100 schools at Diyatalawa. He was also chosen to take the salute in front of Indian Premier Indira Gandhi during their Republic Day Celebrations in New Delhi. He was a live wire at Royal and later in the RCU, supporting every sport and activity with gusto. He was appointed a Prefect which was at that time a very prestigious achievement because only 12 made it. His attachment to Royal is unique in that he remembered minute details of specific matches that were played over the years, and never missed a Bradby or a Royal-Thomian. Passa’s bus and The Stallions will surely miss his “sobering” presence!

His memory and ability to recall specific incidents and relate spicy anecdotes involving masters, minor staff and class mates at Royal is indeed legendary and has been fortunately recorded by his 62 group. To celebrate 50 years since joining Royal he visited the primary school with his childhood buddy RH, and took photos outside his first class room, and then one riding a swing(!) and another with “ducky” at the RCU. Such was his attachment to his school and the memories he cherished.

Moos was an outstanding A division rugby referee and went on to become the President of the Referee’s Association later on. He was also called upon many a time to take up duties as an Assessor of Referees during International matches and was also a die-hard member of the CR&FC. He coached the Royal Junior teams with great enthusiasm and there is many a player who went on to represent the first XV and play club rugby who remember him with love and gratitude.

Although Moos was about 5 years my senior at Royal we always recognised and acknowledged each other, whenever our paths would briefly cross. By a very happy circumstance he commenced working for my Company in 1995, where he remained until his demise. Moos was truly a remarkable human being, and as the years went by, my respect and love for him grew. He was an exemplary employee and his Punctuality, Loyalty and Integrity was absolutely unquestionable. It was so easy with Moos to implement our code of business ethics because it was exactly what he believed in. He was loved and respected by all his colleagues because he never hesitated to reach out with kindness to assist, advise, inspire, motivate and empower anybody who needed it.

In his 13 years of dedicated service to the Company I can’t remember him taking even a single day of leave! He was a whiz at working cryptic crosswords, word games and mind games and never started the day without unscrambling “Jumble”. There wasn’t a day when Moos would not stroll into my room, sit down, cross his legs and shoot the breeze. The topics we discussed were diverse, ranging from, politics, hospitals and pharmaceuticals, to the origin of life, UFO’s, corporate social responsibility, farming, sport, where the youngsters of today were heading and, how our generation existed and enjoyed life with almost nothing in our pockets.

Moos loved his family and supported them unconditionally. He gave of his time (at any time) to his mother and until the end went shopping by foot for her groceries. He took her to Mecca to perform Hajj, shielded her during the fire and stampede amongst thousands of sandals left behind, and brought her home, safe and free. Although a devout Muslim, he never allowed his beliefs to come between himself and his friends or, anything for that matter.

He was cosmopolitan in the true sense.Above all, Mohamed Rafeeq Moosa was a simple man and lived a simple life. He took nothing from life excepting some happy memories. There was a certain sadness about him, which I could not take away. I wish I could have.

Jomo Uduman

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

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Skanda signs off

A fitting tribute to a great sportsman and a truely great Business Leader, among the mushrooming "Businessmen" which we find very rare to come across or recognise nowadays here in Sri Lanka

Skanda signs off with a flourish

“The values that I learnt at my alma mater (Royal College) and on the playing field from the noble game of cricket held me in excellent stead throughout my career, particular in the eight years I spent as chairman”

By Sa’adi ThawfeeqThere comes a time when all good things must come to an end. At ‘Steuart House’ at Janadipathi Mawatha in the heart of Colombo Fort where lies Sri Lanka’s oldest business house, George Steuart and Company Ltd, its group chairman S Skandakumar finally brought the curtain down on what has been a highly successful and distinguished career when he bid adieu to the establishment he had served so faithfully for 34 years on March 31.

The message that ‘Skanda’, as he was popularly and affectionately known to all, leaves behind in his retirement is a true example for the younger generation to follow. Through sports, which is a great leveller Skanda has shown that one can attain the highest echelons in the field of industry and commerce.

Skandakumar was a cricketer, cricket administrator and group chairman of a leading company that had withstood the times.

“I consider it a privilege to have served a company so rich in history and tradition and an honour to have been it chairman since April 2000,” Skandakumar told ‘The Nation’. “The values that I learnt at my alma mater (Royal College) and on the playing field from the noble game of cricket held me in excellent stead throughout my career, particular in the eight years I spent in the chair.”

The chair Skandakumar explained had its own history. It was used by HRH the Duke of Gloucester on his visits to Sri Lanka as emissary of the King of England and was secured by the executives in the company’s centenary year in 1935 and gifted to the chairman at that time, Sir Thomas Villiers. It has remained in the board room since as the Chairman’s Chair.

Going into a little bit of history about the company, Skandakumar said the founders of the company James and George Steuart set up business in 1835 for the right reasons and the plantation industry which they pioneered is still the mainstay of Sri Lanka’s economy. Further he said, the Steuart brothers maintained a sterling reputation for honesty in trading and encouraged fair mindedness, tolerance and justice in every sphere of the company’s activities.

“These precious values are still very much the hallmarks of the culture of the company even today and have coincided happily with all that I learnt at Royal and on the cricket playing fields,” said Skandakumar.

Another factor Skandakumar attributed to the company’s longevity was that although the Steuart brothers founded the company they did not pass it down to their families. Instead they established a concept of succession through merit which inspired confidence and encouraged commitment.

“Consequently, interpersonal relationships have always been most cordial and the 34-year period I spent there has been a long and happy one,” he said.

Delving into the ups and downs of the company Skandakumar said: “As much as cricket has been a great leveller, in business too there have been ups and downs.” He cited the nationalization of plantations in 1975 and the Central Bank bomb blast in January 1996 which destroyed Steuart House and set back the entire group’s business with devastating consequences which the company had to go through.

“Yet as in the noble game, staying united and committed without compromising our values and standards helped the group to grow to a formidable diversified conglomerate today,” stated Skandakumar.

He recalled how he still sports a broken nose as a testimony to the horrific bomb blast. “When the bomb exploded I was in the board room on the eighth floor of Steuart House which is directly across the Central Bank. I fractured my nose from the impact and had a gash at the back of my head. As I emerged from the room bathed in blood the grandfather clock which stood outside since 1917 chimed eleven. It was a grim reminder that no matter what happens: ‘Time was not going to stand still’. I believe that God saved me for a purpose and I think that I have fulfilled that where George Steuarts is concerned,” said Skandakumar.

Born on January 21, 1948, Skanda received his early education at Royal Primary and thereafter at Royal College Colombo where he distinguished himself as an outstanding cricketer winning his colours in 1965 and being awarded the Best Performance prize at the annual Royal-Thomian encounter of 1966 in which year he was also a prefect. Thereafter he gained admission to the University of Colombo to read for a degree in science and graduated in 1970 offering double maths and chemistry. He continued to be involved in sports at the university too adding tennis and table tennis to his cricket and was adjudged the most outstanding sportsman in 1970.
Further laurels followed when he joined the Tamil Union and was selected to represent the Sri Lanka Cricket Board team in its annual Gopalan trophy encounter against Madras CA in 1970, an event which was considered on par with the highest level of competition played in Sri Lanka at the time. His aspirations of representing his country at cricket suffered a setback due to serious ill health in 1976 when he suffered a serious attack of hepatitis. Upon recovery Skandakumar associated himself with George Steuarts SC and assisted them to emerge champions in the Mercantile F, E and D divisions. He was also president of the sports club and captained Tamil Union in the Premier division from 1982-86. He was assistant secretary of Sri Lanka Cricket from 1982-88, secretary from 1988-91 and, vice-chairman and secretary of the first cricket interim committee from 1999-2000 during which period he was responsible for negotiating the return of Sri Lanka’s successful coach Dav Whatmore. He wa s also president of Tamil Union from 1998-2000.

Skandakumar joined George Steuarts as an executive in 1974 after serving as a management trainee for three years at Whittall Estates and Agencies Ltd. He made steady progress and in 1984 was invited to the board of George Steuarts and in 1997 elevated to the post of managing director. Three years later he became the company’s group chairman, a post he held till his retirement.

Skandakumar will spend his retirement fulfilling his other aspiration in life – working for the welfare of the underprivileged. The message he leaves behind is: “Continue to place loyalty to the institution above everything else. Remember that when you are loyal to the institution, you are automatically loyal to both your superiors and colleagues. If however, you place personal loyalty ahead of your loyalty to the institution, you only succeed in creating conflicts which are best avoided.”

This article first appeared in our Sunday paper The Nation on April 6, 2008.

Note: Skandakumar joined Royal Primary School in 1953, Royal College in 1959 and is an active member of the Royal College '59 Group. He lived down Castle Lane at Bambalapitiya and has since moved over to Frankfort Place, also in Bamba.

Tribute to Thamba

In respect and retrospect - Sunday Times Apr 13 2008

Moses Thirugnanasingham Thambapillai

Tribute to Royal's revered Rugby Master 1947-1970, on his 10th death anniversary, which falls on April 19

He strode the Royal Touch-line like a mighty Colossus,
In Regal Dignity,
From 47 to '70,
And thereafter……..!
Cheering, urging, and, at times, fuming with rage,
Cracking his brolly on his knee,
In utter anguish, at the dropped pass, the missed tackle,
The referee's Faux Pas, all in vain, that caused him such pain.
"You, Son of a Sea Cook ", he would say,
"You play with your brain and not brawn alone"
In a voice so stern, but for us to learn.…
All in the cause of Royal Rugby…..
To urge his charges, how to play,
No matter, come what may,
And perform with Regal Dignity and Integrity,
Both off the field and on, like to the manner born.
For him the Game and the School far Supreme, than Potty Avarice to scream,
That befouled the Pristine Focus! With Sidney, Summa, Geoff and Mahes,
The Game he flavoured with such Grace.
And with Stanley, too, all Royal Blue,
The Aggregate Epitome, of Royal Integrity.
So onward he strode, straining every sinew, in a Royal Milieu:
To give her rugby its pride of place,
Her sons to play with finesse.
From Nihal K to Jagath 'CJ',
Her rugby to hold a Royal sway.
And his brow so wet, with honest sweat,
Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing, onward he went……
Oh ! Mighty Moses,The lessons thou hast taught,
Our fortunes to be wrought,
Have stood the test of Time,
From a Game so Sublime!