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Dr. Mary Srikanthi Handy, philanthropist extraordinaire



Dr Mary Srikanthi Handy was the daughter of the famous Dr George Rajanayagam Handy who was the pioneer cardiologist of Sri Lanka and the founder president of the Sri Lanka Heart Association. She was born in 1935 and is the eldest child and only daughter of Dr. George and Mrs. Kanmanie Handy. Even as a very young lady she is known to have organized and coordinated fund-raising events for the YWCA and similar associations to help the poor.

Dr Srikanthi had her primary and secondary education at Ladies’ College, Colombo. She obtained her MSc from the University of Bradford, UK and joined the University of Sussex, UK for her doctoral research on motor neuron disease. She was awarded the PhD for her thesis on “Putative protein abnormalities in the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” which also generated several scientific papers on related scientific matters in peer reviewed journals.

She has two brothers, Dr John Lakshman Handy, consultant anesthetist in UK, and youngest brother, Emeritus Professor George Handy, University of Southern Carolina, USA.

Dr Srikanthi worked as a medical researcher in the university department in the UK for over 30 years and returned to Sri Lanka in the early 1990s to care for her father Dr G R Handy who was ailing at the time. Dr G R Handy passed away in 1995 and it was then that Dr Srikanthi decided to harness her resources and energies into philanthropic projects to commemorate her father’s memory.

She adored her father and used to relate how he would take her as a young girl on his hospital ward rounds, casualty and home visits and describe the medical condition of the patient and how he planned to tackle the problem. One had the impression that she would have liked to have pursued a career in medicine, but it was not to be so.

Her lasting legacy will be her philanthropic efforts in her father’s name.

She founded the Dr. G R Handy Foundation that donated a state-of-the-art cardiology ward at the General Hospital, Colombo which she then visited daily to assist and support its maintenance.

She donated a computer laboratory to St John’s College, Jaffna where her grandfather had been a principal and where Dr. G R Handy had his initial years of education.

She extended a generous hand to the Children’s heart project which was run under the supervision of Dr P N Thenabadu and Dr J J Stephen. Many children with heart disease profited from this project. Later on she decided to embark on her own by establishing the Dr. G R Handy memorial trust fund.

A major target for this trust fund was the Children’s ASD surgery project. When she realized that the waiting time in the National Hospital cardiac surgery lists were long, she decided to help these children by sponsoring their surgery in the private sector. She put in place an efficient mechanism to assist the patient’s families, with monetary difficulties, to obtain the President’s fund allocation and paid the remainder of the surgical expenses for the closure of the ASD in the private sector. Over 100 children with ASD’s were assisted in this way. The patients were referred to Dr. Y. K. M. Lahie, MBBS, MS, FRCS, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon who helped and cooperated with Dr. Srikanthi in this work.

When ASD closures were transformed from thoracic surgery to device closure techniques, she provided the funds to purchase ASD devices when the General Hospital Device stocks were exhausted.

Dr. Srikanthi’s special concern for children with heart disease made her decide to sponsor a pediatric heart disease ward in the institute of cardiology. Ward 70 was allocated for this, and she refurbished the ward and equipped it fully. This unit functioned very efficiently until pediatric cardiology was shifted to LRH. Dr Srikanthi was disappointed but agreed to have ward 70 as a post cardiac procedure ward.

Other major contributions by Dr. Srikanthi were to donate the funds and organize the Cardiology unit at the Teaching Hospital, Jaffna, which was named as Dr G R Handy memorial cardiology unit. It is now a full-fledged Cardiology unit, rendering invaluable service to the Northern province.

From the academic perspective, Dr Srikanthi endowed the annual Dr G R Handy memorial oration of the Sri Lanka Heart Association, now Sri Lanka College of Cardiology. She would attend the annual oration with her friends and well-wishers.

She used her personal wealth both inherited and earned and also organized fund raising events (A musical extravagance organized by Dr Srikanthi made a profit of one million rupees) to extend and expand the Dr G R Handy memorial trust fund.

Her love for her father flowed out to his village as well.

Eagle Care Project: This Project is based on the slogan “Give a child a life”

The Eagle Care Project operates in the below areas:

(Provision of scholarships at St John’s College, Jaffna for needy, academically gifted children, Improvement of educational facilities at St John’s College, Provision of financial assistance to children with medical needs, Technology enhancement programs, Mental health awareness and children with special needs etc).

She also donated a stock of bicycles to the students of that area to facilitate their school transport.

The agriculture improvement program at St. John’s College is up and running. Under CTF’s “Eagle Care” has been invested in this project. This project is funded by Dr. G. R. Handy and Mr. John Roy Fussey, Memorial Agriculture Improvement Fund. The primary purpose of the project was to educate the students on agricultural science and as it is related to the syllabus, the project provides practical knowledge and farming experience for the agriculture students.

In more recent years, the Dr G R Handy foundation also funded the building of a considerable amount of social housing for widows in Jaffna and 16 houses were built in the village of Ariyalai, which was her father’s birthplace. The social housing project was facilitated through Zonta International. The ground supervision of this project was personally done by Prof Chandrika Wijeyaratne who was the Zonta president at that time.

Dr Srikanthi went out of her way at times to help patients. A case in point: A young woman with primary pulmonary hypertension who needed domiciliary oxygen to help her breath was given an oxygen concentrator and container which was fully funded by her. This equipment was passed on to three more patients.

During her final years when her health was failing and she was frail, she chose not to live in luxury with all comforts but decided to leave her assets in a trust to facilitate education for children of poor families.

Born and bred in a strong Christian family with an ancestry of priests within it as well, Dr Srikanthi would attend Sunday mass whenever she could.

Her only child, Professor Paul Rohan Mather, studied at St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and qualified as a chartered accountant in the UK where he worked for many years. He did further studies at the University of Lancaster and completed a PhD at Monash University, Australia. He has had many academic roles including as an Associate Dean at Monash University, Dean of La Trobe University Business School and had visiting professorial appointments at the London School of Economics, University of Liverpool and the University of Colombo. She also has three grandchildren and two great grandchildren in Australia.

Dr Srikanthi used to recall that her father Dr G R Handy would often quote “Service is the rent we pay for the room we occupy on earth”. None could contest that Dr. Srikanthi has paid her ‘rent’ more than fully, when she peacefully passed away in August 2023.

Sri Lanka College of Cardiology

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Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)



By Chandre Dharmawardana,

A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.

Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.

A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used [1]. However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.

I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note [2]. I quote from it below:

The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE)[3], initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.

Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.

Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.

Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.

[1]Madras Tamil Lexicon.

[2] index.html

[3] Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.

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How to conserve electricity at home and workplace



Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.

There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.

Here is how

(a)  Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.

(b)  When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.

(c)   Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine

(d)  When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.

(e)  Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.

(f)    Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.

(g)  Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.

(h)  Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.

(i)    Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.

(j)    Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.

(k)  Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.


Via e-mail

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Some lesser known historical facts



The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties

Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.

In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.

Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.

Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.

A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.

Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.

When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.

Dr. Leo Fernando

Talahena, Negombo

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