Camillus and I were contemporaries at St. Peter’s College, Colombo in the 1950s, though in different classes. After passing the SSC. exam, he chose the police for a career at a time the service attracted talent in sports and studies. Many other outstanding Peterites, some in sports, some with leadership skills, joined the police in the 1950s. They included Muni Gomes, Sivendran, Navaratnarajah, Lakshman Jayawardene, Maxie Fernando and Nissanka Dharmatillake.
It is to the credit of the school which nurtured them that these stalwarts held not only the school but also the police flag high, and with pride. Camillus and his band without exception were honourable men who respected values and ethics. Their careers embraced standards and principles. What mattered to each of them was not the rank but the way it was held.
A recurring theme in my recent book, Perils of a Profession was the irreparable harm caused to the service because self-seeking officers found space and scope to climb over those ahead of them in seniority with the backing of powerful patrons. I had also pointed out that those without such patronage suffered in the hands of such cheats because seniors in the highest police echelons stood mute without offering resistance.
Camillus Abeygoonewardena and Muni Gomes were on President J R Jayewardene’s security detail. But they did not seek backdoor promotions, increments, lands or houses. Such honourable conduct deserves the highest praise for they resisted greed and selfishness in an emerging environment conducive to aggrandizement through dishonourable means. Camillus and others of his ilk were above such knavery. He at all times respected fairplay and discipline and in his own persuasive style often held his ground when having to disagree with his superiors or the establishment on professional matters.
The police as a career has much to offer by way of temptations not consonant with ethics and values expected of the profession. At no point of time in an illustrious career did Camillus succumb to these. He joined the service with modest means and left the same way. Nor did he seek benefits by being close to powerful patrons. Many others who joined the police in the 1950s’, including his Peterite colleagues, were no exception. Their professional lives were exemplary with virtues including honour, pride of the service, simplicity, respect for the law and honesty. It was an era when such role models were aplenty. Excess and subservience were not for them. This breed which is now extinct stands in sharp contrast to the police of later days.
I remember the time somewhere in 1960 when I met Camillus after we left school. I was then an undergrad in the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, while he was a Sub Inspector. I was in the gymnasium when he walked briskly up to me to renew our acquaintance. I was impressed by the friendly manner in which he spoke to me. Despite being a Sub Inspector, a rank highly respected in bygone times, he displayed modesty and simplicity.
We next met after I joined the police. Camillus came into prominence for his outstanding work in the Traffic and Transport Committee which performed admirably at the Non aligned Summit of 1976. He was the ‘anchor’ to late Senior DIG Leo Perera who headed it. They together handled the complexities of innumerable motorcades of a galaxy of VIPs’ with excellent timing, precision and panache. Being then in the Security Committee for the conference, I saw Camillus’ efficiency.
He chose traffic work as a career. It is my view, as I have said in my book, he was the best in that field in my time. I saw his stellar performance during the Pope’s visit in 1995. Let me quote from my book (page 80) – ” I must make special mention of DIG Camillus Abeygoonawardane who as Director of Traffic of the Colombo Range won the appreciation of the public for his excellent traffic plans. He was probably the best traffic enforcer in the country at the time.”
Camillus’ advice was regularly sought to untangle as best as possible the bedlam on the roads as a result of too many vehicles. It was my firm opinion that his skills were not adequately harnessed. While serving as an Advisor to the Defence Ministry I proposed that he should serve in a Project Ministry for traffic, given the traffic complications particularly in Western Province. I did not even receive an acknowledgment of my proposal!
He displayed drive and initiative in whatever he undertook. He was a key member of the Committee of the Senior Police Officers Mess of which I was the president in 1992-93. I took over when the facility was poised to undergo a major revamp. We together achieved a virtual miracle transforming the Mess to provide the highest standards. His enthusiasm and innovative suggestions were remarkable. He produced an acquaintance who for a mere two bottles of arrack provided two beautiful paintings for the bar. Sadly they are now missing, together with the valuable carpets which adorned the bar and the “IG’s Lounge”. What happened to them remains a mystery. Far worse, marble floors replaced the carpets. What looked awesome became awful.
He was an excellent organizer, administrator and coordinator holding many positions where such skills were in demand. He was a president of the Old Boys Association (OBA) of St Peter’s College, President of the Retired Senior Police Officers Association (RSPOA) and a president of the Nondescript Cricket Club (NCC). He also played a leading role in the emergence of St Peter’s as a formidable presence in inter-school rugby. His sons were excellent players doing the school proud. Sadly one of them passed away two years ago.
Camillus did not join the post-1977 scrum for promotions, positions and ill-gained loot. He stood tall when the decline in the police began to worsen as a result of outside interference assisted by the inertia in the highest echelons of the police. His wife Mali, and sons Sanjeewa and Dilan, have every reason to be proud of Camillus who has left them unforgettable memories together with an honourable name and goodwill earned for extraordinary efficiency and the observance of the highest standards.
Sohan…adapting to the ‘new normal’
Surprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic seems to have galvanised our entertainers into action.
True, most of the big bands are finding the going pretty tough, these days, as most public shows, like concerts, sing-along, and dances, have been put on hold.
Fortunately, we do have artistes who capitalise on unexpected situations to continue to keep the public, and their fans, entertained – of course, doing it differently
Band leader Sohan, of Sohan & The X-Periments fame, who is always innovative, when it comes to music, has hit upon a novel idea, in order to keep his band occupied, for the next three months.
He has decided to put The X-Periments into ‘recording mode.
Says Sohan: “I’m getting them involved in doing in-house recordings at my home studio.”
And, what’s more, I’m told that Sohan has found a secret sponsor, so the boys will be paid, too. Obviously, it’s a win-win situation and that makes Sohan extra happy!
The veteran artiste/entertainer went on to explain that the main CD will contain cover versions of his favourite songs, and will also include a duet with his daughter Erandika who is scheduled to be in Sri Lanka, hopefully, in May. She is currently in the States.
The song, Sohan has in mind, is that immensely popular golden oldie, made popular by the late Nat king Cole (and daughter Natalie Cole) – ‘Unforgettable.’
Clifford Richards will be seen in a virtual concert, along with Corrine Almeida, and Sohan
The second CD will feature Sohan’s original songs, both western and oriental.
Sohan will be working with Shobi Perera, Kumar de Silva, Rajiv Sebastian, Roshan de Silva, Chrys Wikramanayake, Rukshan Perera and Damian Wikkramatillake on his novel project, while Krishantha de Silva, who manages Sonexco Enterprises, will take on the role of coordinator.
Although this project will keep The X-Periments, busy, one day of the week will be designated as ‘recording day’ and they have a deadline of three months to complete this project, said Sohan.
There is also a possibility of Sohan inviting a few of his friends to join him in the vocals but that will depend on the materiel he decides on.
“There is no point in hanging around, waiting for work. Musicians have to innovate and create work to keep going, during these challenging times.”
Sohan is also working closely with Corinne Almeida and Clifford Richards and has an idea of doing a virtual concert, with the same line up that was featured at the Valentine show, called ‘Love at the Edge.’
Rajitha, of Misty, is helping them with the technical details of the show,
No doubt, things are looking a bit rosy for Sohan & The X-Periments, and Trishelle..
The guys are also working with Benjy and Aquarius, on a mega event, for Richard de Soysa, to be held at Nelum Pokuna, which is scheduled for mid- May, of 2021, and will feature 10 leading artistes ..
Remembering Dr. Neville Fernando
This tribute is in remembrance of my father-in-law, the late Dr. Neville Fernando who would have celebrated his 90th birthday on 9th March 2021. He passed away unexpectedly on the 4th of February 2021 due to the deadly COVID-19 virus.
His birthday will be remembered with an almsgiving to the priests at the Kotikawatta temple to invoke merits on him to attain the Supreme bliss of Niravana. Religious observances on his birthday were an annual occurrence even during his lifetime.
As I ponder his memories, being ‘no more’ is the saddest thought that crosses my mind. I suspect that if you are reading this you understand what I mean logically. Death means that our loved ones never grow a year older, although logic does little to clear up our confusion when his birthday continues to happen year after year.
His memories and deeds throughout his life brought back towards the day I joined his family, when I was just a medical house-officer at the Nawalapitiya Hospital in 1982, through the marriage to his only daughter. Even then he was known to be a real legend and an honest politician. Today, I am in this position as a cardiologist due to his encouragement, loving care and continuous assistance in whatever means. My mind is full of memories of those loving moments shared together. He was a loving, kind and straight gentleman. I may also use the words handsome and charismatic leader. He will inspire us throughout our lives. His pleasant disposition will charm anyone and uplift our mood.
He led a good life and now has a left a good legacy of four children( three boys and one girl) whom any father would be proud of, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren loved by everyone. He is now no more and no one can fill the void nor bring back the warmth and love he exuded.
We all have courage and we have our convictions, but rarely have the courage of our conviction. His kindness and compassion were his key attributes that made him so special. He had been a good general practitioner before coming to Parliament defeating a formidable leftist politician Leslie Goonewardene who represented Panadura for decades. It was a landmark victory for the UNP in 1977. He was a kind and compassionate doctor who served the rich and poor alike in Panadura for many years and was sought after by his patients for his well known ‘athguna’ (healing hands). This is where he earned his loyal fan base to enter into politics.
Among many things he achieved in Panadura establishing the “Kethumathi” Maternity Hospital, the only one of its kind outside Colombo, helping Sri Sumangala Girls College expansion programme, starting Agamathi Girls school and Janadhipathi Boys School and self funding the Sri Saugatha Vidyalaya Pirivena building at n the Rankoth Viharaya temple in Panadura. Likewise he helped many Buddhist temples during his tenure.
He also started an industrial zone in Modarawila, Panadura which was an abandoned marshy area before that. He had provided the first computer lab and two acres of additional land to expand the Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya which is spoken with gratitude by the students of his alma mater. He did not expect anything in return.
He was a fearless ,principled and honest man who opposed JRs’ motion to takeaway Mrs.Bandaranaikes’ civic rights as he never wanted to compromise his basic human qualities over politics. Very soon he left the Government before any attempt to expel him and formed a small party with few other honest politicians. Later he joined SLFP on the invitation of Mrs.Bandaranaike and worked in the party as an Assistant Secretary for the progress of the country.
He was a maverick par excellence ,an entrepreneur ,extraordinaire and a businessman with a foresight. As one of the pioneers in the hospitality industry, he built hotel Swanee, subsequently he started JF and I, one of the most modern printing and packaging factories in the country to date. He also pioneered a porcelain factory called “Royal Fernwood Porcelain” in Kosgama. Which provided so many employment opportunities and in time to come, helped to economically develop the area.
Continuing his political career, he entered Parliament again as an SLFP opposition member. Later on in 1994 he decided to give up politics.
His divestments in the Porcelain factory enabled him to purchase Asha Central Hospital which was developed with latest equipment and brought to international standards. This is the time I had to take a difficult decision to leave the Government as a Consultant Cardiologist and join Asha Central Hospital in 1998 to help him in his endeavour. He developed and managed Asha Central Hospital till 2007 and subsequently sold it to start his new venture SAITM or South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine with the encouragement of the then Min.of Higher Education Wishwa Warnapala.
Infact I was very much concerned about the new development because of the past experience in the country with the North Colombo Medical College. He always used to tell “every child should have the right for a decent education either in a government or non-government organisation”. His main vision was to give a higher education opportunity for the students .Therefore apart from medicine he also established nursing, engineering , IT, management programmes with the help of esteemed academics who believed in his vision. He established the Dr Neville Fernando Teaching hospital (NFTH) in Malabe to provide clinical training for his students at the medical faculty .It was a impressive state of the art hospital with 1002 beds and latest medical equipment . All of this was done during his 80s which was a remarkable achievement.
SAITM gave him immense pride and a lot of pain at the same time. He was very proud of the fact that he was able to give so many scholarships to deserving students (close to Rs.600 million scholarships during his time).In addition to saving a tremendous amount of foreign exchange he was also able to give an opportunity to students to stay in Sri Lanka with their parents, without having to go overseas for their education leaving behind all family and friends.
However, he had to face many obstacles during this period and was socially and politically crushed due to SAITM. With time, he made a decision to give the NFTH to the Government in return for the clinical training of the medical students of SAITM. In 2017 SAITM was closed down by Maithripala Sirisena who gave in due to the heavy opposition made by the unions against private medical education.
At 89 years of age he was an avid Facebook warrior and used to keep abreast of what was going on in the social media. He was a big cricket fan and never missed watching a cricket match day or night.
Writing about this unique personality cannot be limited to a few words. His life is a monumental story full of new chapters. He dreamed big and his dreams were of public service, even when he was no longer a politician. He yearned to make this country a better place for people to live in, even in his eighties.
May his journey of Sansara be a short one and may he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!
Dr Mohan Jayatilake
Boogie Night with Suzi
Yes, music lovers, get ready to boogie the night away, this Saturday, March 13th.
From 9.00 pm to 10 pm, you would be given the opportunity to see Friends’ former female vocalist, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger) boogie away on Facebook, on Talent Network Group (TNG).
Suzi is excited about this new scene, which will be live streamed, worldwide., and she plans to belt out songs from the Friends’ era (’80s and ’90s), country, and rock ‘n’ roll.
She is already working on her repertoire and says she will make ‘Boogie Night with Suzi’ a real exciting event.
TNG is a Dubai-based project, administered in Dubai, with moderators, worldwide.
And, that means, the whole world is going to see Suzi boogie away.
Several local artistes have already been featured on TNG.
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