One of Lanka’s greatest sons who made his mark wherever he went
Sir Lalita Rajapakse
“Dullabo purisajjanna na so sabbattha jayathi yattha so jayathi dhiro tan kulam sukhan edhiati.”
Sir Lalita Rajapakse in his Presidential address at the 43rd Annual Sessions of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress held at Ratnapura said, “Whatever the sphere of activity may be, if one becomes a public man or a leader of society, his life, both private and public must be free from moral blame. He has to be an example for others to follow and emulate. It is entirely incorrect to say of a public man that his private life is his own. It is wrong to think that as long as he is a saint in public life, he may be a villain in private life”.
Sir Lalita was always a man of virtue both in public and private life. His moral goodness was never in question, nor was his honest quest for justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, faith and charity ever in doubt. He lived up to Justinian’s maxim, “Honeste vivere neminem lacdere sua alicui tribuete.”
Louis Alexander Rajapakse was born on May 3, 1900 and commenced his brilliant scholastic career at Ananda College Colombo, and ended up at St. Joseph’s College Colombo during the era Rev. Le Goc reigned supreme. He was the grandnephew of the distinguished orientalist and scholar, the first Maha Mudliar Louis de Zoysa, chief Government translator and interpreter. He would have been named after his grand uncle Louis, but he opted to change his name to Lalita Abhaya subsequently.
In 1922 he graduated in Arts, in 1923 he graduated in law, and in the same year he passed out as a Barrister at Law from the Lincoln’s Inn, was placed first in order of merit and obtained a first class pass in Roman Dutch Law. He was called to the Bar in 1924. On that particular day, he was representing the Indian Gymkhana Club in a cricket match which was played at the Lord’s cricket ground. He scored a century and informed his captain that he was to be called to the English Bar that very day and requested his permission to leave the grounds early.
He crowned his academic career by obtaining a Doctor of Laws in 1925 being the first and the youngest ever Ceylonese to date to receive a Doctorate in Laws from any University in the English speaking world.
In 1968 when Sir Lalita returned to the United Kingdom as Ceylon’s High Commissioner, his alma mater honoured him by making him a fellow of the University, and his portrait was unveiled in the Hall of Fame.
He was a lecturer and examiner at Ceylon Law College, and devoted his time and energy to Legal Education. With his brilliant academic career and lucrative practice in the apex court, it was no surprise as a comparative junior practitioner of 14 years that in 1939 he was invited to serve in the Council of Legal Education.
There was no one who was his equal in knowledge of elephants and elephant lore. There were but a few who were his peers in the art of argument either at the Bar or in the Senate. When Sir Lalita addressed the Court, Judges would listen to him with rapt attention. Everyone in Court was spellbound.
Sir Lalita never hesitated to sacrifice his lucrative practice whenever other calls were made on his talents. He served as Commissioner of Assize in 1946, when trials by Jury were in vogue. He served with H.V. Perera, Ivor Jennings and T.A. Martenss on a Commission appointed to review the “Order in Court”. Sir Lalita was for many years part of a devastating legal team which comprised his closest friends at the Bar, H.V. Perera, N.E. Weerasooriya and E.B. Wickramanayake.
When the Ceylon National Congress led by D.S. Senanayake and Sinhala Maha Sabha led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike merged to form the United National Party (UNP) by common consent, he was made its propaganda secretary. When an invitation was extended to him by D.S. Senanayake to be the Leader of the Senate and to serve in his Cabinet of Ministers as the first Minister of Justice, he accepted, and was sworn in on September 26, 1947. Both posts he held with great acceptance.
There was a drawer in his writing table which he used exclusively to collect monies for charity, an exact percentage of every fee collected went into it, and most of the money collected was used to uplift his native villages.
Sir Lalita founded, maintained and financed Revatha Maha Vidyalaya which was a national school until it was handed over to the government. The land on which the Teacher’s Training College Balapitiya stands was a gift by Sir Lalita. He donated a laboratory room to the General Hospital. The Queen recognised his services to the nation as a philanthropist, statesman, lawyer, lecturer, judge and scholar when he was made a Knight Bachelor.
On attaining three score years, he gave up his lucrative practice in the apex court and devoted himself entirely to the study and practice of Buddhism. At the request of Wathuregama Somalankara Maha Thera (better known as the Kolonnawa Priest), Sir Lalita was mainly responsible for the erection of a life-size statue of the orator monk Mohottiwatte Gunananda Maha Thera in his native village (Mohottiwatta) in Balapitiya.
On a personal note during the period the writer sat for the Law College final examination, Sir Lalita used to send his car sharp at 6 o’clock in the evening to fetch the writer from “Voet Inn” the law students’ hostel at 19, Barnes Place, Colombo 7 and used to question the writer as to the manner in which the question papers were answered. At the conclusion of the examination he requested the writer to inform his parents of the results before they were conveyed to anyone else and to inform him next.
When he considered that there was a threat to democracy, he came out of retirement in 1965 and went round the country explaining to the people the ills of autocracy.
Most of Sir Lalita’s descendants are lawyers. His son Bimal is a law graduate of the University of London and a Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn. Daughter Ramani is an attorney-at-law, who heads the All Ceylon Women’s Buddhist Congress, Bimal’s son Amrith and Veneeta’s daughter Thilaksha are also attorneys-at-law.
He was invited to Law College to deliver a speech in the first part of the 1960s and on seeing a number of lady students he commented. “When I was a lecturer there was only one lady student in Law College. I could not fall in love with her, I did the next best thing by falling in love with her sister.” Such was his sense of humour. The lady student referred to was Ruby Mendis Gunasekara who was destined to be the first ever Proctor in Ceylon. Her sister is Christoble Rajapakse (nee Mendis Gunasekara) whom Sir Lalita married, both of whom are no more among the living.
Sir Lalita Rajapakse lived a fruitful life and made his mark wherever he went. His life from birth to death was meticulously planned and implemented. This remarkable man who wrote books in English and French died 47 years ago on May 25, 1976 and Sri Lanka was deprived of one of her greatest sons.
May he attain the Supreme bliss of Nibbana.
T. Senarat Mendis
You handled life’s ups and downs with grace
Beryl Gunasekera died quite unexpectedly after a very brief illness and it was quite a shock to us, all friends and close relations.
She was in great shape when we met her at her daughter Rehana’s beautiful home at Pelawatta recently.
Beryl was a well accomplished lady with many talents.
She was one of the foremost cookery demonstrators this country had. Her book “Feast of Flavours” was launched at the BMICH, a few years back with the assistance of her two daughters Rehana and Renuka.
She had excellent communication skills, was courageous and had the ability to manage people of all walks of life. She was capable of facing any situation. She believed in that biblical quote, Psalm 145:18.” The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
The tributes paid to her at her memorial service conducted by Rev Fr Melvin De Silva, at the Anglican Cathedral on May 12 were ample evidence of what a unique person she was. Everyone who knew her had great admiration and love for her.
I had known Beryl for many years. She and her husband, the late Mervyn who was a Director at Brooke Bonds were very close friends of my eldest brother Chandra and Rita for several decades. Rita was connected to Beryl. It was later after my marriage to Damayanthie that I learned that Dammie’s late father, lawyer Vincent Gunasekara was a cousin of Mervyn from Baddegama.
Beryl and Mervyn were a loving couple and they enjoyed entertaining friends. They really enjoyed life, attending dances or functions as well as many hunting trips and pilgrimages. When I got married, Mervyn and Beryl along with Renuka, Rehana and Amrajith and their spouses, invited us to their lovely estate in Maho and we had an enjoyable stay.
Beryl has been a great asset to the family. When Mervyn had a heart attack and was hospitalised, she cared for him with great love and commitment. Beryl, you handled life’s ups and downs with grace and never failed to encourage others along the way. You faced challenges with courage, compassion and conviction. We are proud to have possessed a friend like you!
Nihal de Alwis
Thank you, friend, for those times
Geevaka Kosala De Soyza
Geeva, to all who knew him was a lovable friend, and unassuming though a highly creative architect. He surrounded with atmosphere an era amongst a prominent Colombo youthful circle, enjoying the life of theatre, painting, music and architecture, fellows of the 1960s, 1970s and beyond.
Geeva was individual and very naturally off the beaten track.
One of my first memories of his not being on the ordinary ‘main road’ was in October 1961 when he arrived at the Katunayake airport with the ashes of his father, Gunasena de Soyza, who was Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in London. Geeva who was appointed to carry his father’s ashes from the aircraft naturally embraced the container with love and sadness under his arm and started walking. Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetillake who was nearby quickly stepped up to him and whispered, “Not like that son, on your head”. Geeva complied on that occasion.
I first got to know him when he returned in 1960, from Cambridge University after architecture studies, with an English wife, Jane Phibbs. His second wife was Dinali Amaratunge, a fellow architect. With Jane he created love and the lives of children and grandchildren, with Dinali he fulfilled their love, with creative architecture. Each loved one in their ordained time, a predetermined history called destiny.
When an era of great young community fulfillment like that with Geeva is long past, it still has a vicarious residence within you, as long as some of its dwindling numbers still live.
Geeva is gone peacefully this month and the feeling for an era is eroded. Thank you friend, for those times.