PROFESSOR C. C. DE SILVA How I Found that Bright and Guiding Light in my Father’s Loving Wise Eyes A daughter’s tribute to her doctor father
It is 30 years after my father’s death, and I thought it was time I paid a tribute to him. Sri Lankans from all over the world still contact me to get his book ‘Mother, Your Baby’, which they say was the medical bible that their children were brought up on. They want it now so that their children could do the same. My thoughts go back to my childhood when my tall, incredibly handsome father was my hero and the only man in my life! He had little time to spend with us, as he was busy building up his private practice in Dehiwela and in Kollupitiya.
I would long for his company and my happiest hours were spent on his lap, listening in rapt, awesome wonder as he related tales about his childhood and family legends about his grandfather, the late Charles Henry de Soysa. My father to me, was the embodiment of love, faithfulness, sacrificial giving and strong faith. He lost his own father, the late Dr W.H de Silva when he was just four years old and was brought up in his early childhood, by the late Lady Catherine de Soysa, his maternal grandmother at Alfred House.
The late Dr. W.H. de Silva, was the first person from Ceylon to qualify as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in Opthalmology and on his return worked without a salary at the Eye Hospital soon after it was built. My father’s colleagues at that time, who were in and out of our home, were all great names in medicine, the Late Professor M.V.P. Peiris, the late Dr. Noel Bartholomeusz, the late Professor Milroy Paul and the late Dr. A.D.P.A. Wijegoonewardene, whose son Preethi, is now my doctor. During the many trips I made with my parents to Europe, it was a privilege to meet leading paediatricians all over the UK, Europe and Scandinavia.
While in private practice, my father was family doctor to many well-known families and also the school doctor at Bishops College, which was his first Alma Mater, before going on to St Thomas College, Mt Lavinia, where his portrait now adorns its walls as a distinguished old boy. After his schooldays, where I’m told he had a brilliant academic record, he entered Medical College here for the first year, and then proceeded to University College, London for the rest of his years as a student where he got his degree. When he returned, he started his private practice here.
My father’s special interest was always Paediatrics and he was made the first Professor of Paediatrics in 1949. It was a sacrifice financially, but his heart was with paediatrics and researching the subject. He was keen on finding out more about both prevention and cures to help decrease suffering in children. He took a special interest in the children in his ward 1 at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital and every Christmas, straight after Church we would go there, laden with gifts for the children and staff.
The children loved him and one of my most vivid memories of those days was the exuberant and loving way, they greeted my father. He was also in charge of the newborn babies at the De Soysa Maternity Hospital. As Professor, he entertained every group of students. Among his favourite students and interns were the late Dr. Tony Don Michael, the late Dr. Hubert Aloysius, the late Dr. Christopher Canagaratne and Dr. Denis Aloysius. Denis related an anecdote when he was once late for a ward round. My father had inquired why and when Denis said he had danced all night, Thaththi had danced with him down the ward to the amusement of staff and patients. Most doctors today refer to father as a legend.Among his other great enthusiastic interests were reading, writing and music. He had a vast library at home, full of every kind of book, biographies, history, fiction and we were encouraged to read anything we wanted to, from his library. He later gifted much of this to the Jaffna library, when it was burnt. He was a founder member of The Ceylon Paediatrics Association, and was its President three times.
The Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science, where he was President General in 1961 and The Family Planning Association. He founded The Convalescent Home for Children at Talagolla and paid regular visits there even after his retirement. He chaired the National Committee of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign and The Meals for Millions Campaign Foundation of Ceylon. He was also Chairman of the Board of Governors of C.M.S. schools which included Ladies College, Trinity and Mowbray in Kandy and Chundikuli Girls School and St John’s Jaffna and visited all these schools regularly. The first book authored by him was ‘Mother, Your Baby’, written in collaboration with Mrs.
Visvanathan and is still being used and talked about. After his visit to Russia, he wrote a book about it called ‘Out Steppes The Don’. After his retirement, he chose to live at Kaduwella, grew acres of passion fruit, which unfortunately was lost through land reform, other fruit and had a few chickens as a hobby. Later on he returned to Colombo to my childhood home Ellora Green Path and I occupied the upstairs with my husband and family, while my parents lived downstairs. Despite his failing health, he wrote his autobiography, ’Life As I Lived It’, the title was suggested by me. The book was finished the day before he died and it was my privilege to hand him the first copy to look at. I slept by his side that last night, but left to go to Church early that morning, when I returned he had breathed his last. He was always keen that I follow his footsteps into medicine. Not being a studious, academic type, the idea didn’t appeal to me.
But I’m glad that I have followed him into his other great interest, writing and I know that from wherever he is, he is my inspiration. I always knew that he was regarded as the last word in Paediatrics in Sri Lanka, but to my surprise, I learned with great pride the other day, about how great a reputation he has in the UK.
A Paediatrician from the UK who was here a few years ago for the Paediatric Conference and the commemoration oration for my father, told me that it was because of my father’s research and writing that Paediatrics gained importance in the world map of medicine. It made my day to hear those words. I miss my beloved Thaththi more and more each day, especially when I feel ill and regret the headaches I gave him in my rather rebellious youth! ‘Oh for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still.’
He dedicated his autobiography to his six grandchildren, with these words’ ‘What else is wisdom? What of man’s endeavor? Or God’s high grace so lovely and so great. To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait. To hold a hand uplifted over hate; and shall not loveliness be loved forever.’
From the translation of Euripedes by Sir Gilbert Murray.