Otley Perera (OF) was a man of few words but a gentleman to the core. Most of his friends and acquaintances over the years knew him as the man of stupendous integrity who headed the country’s income tax department for a period of time.
Going back to his childhood, he lived in Dehiwela and studied at St. Peter’s College, Bambalapitiya. His school days were partially marred by the Second World War. He used to relate how the war had forced St. Peter’s to be relocated and he had to, for some years, attend school in Dehiwela. He was from a close knit, simple family of 5 siblings. His mother passed away at an early age and father had to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up the family all alone. Otley and his older siblings had no luxuries at all as they grew up and truly learnt to appreciate the value of life’s every element while also learning how to take on responsibility for themselves at a very early age.
In his personal life, he was always an exemplary family man – never ruffling any feathers and always being generous with advice, in his own soft-spoken manner
As the youngest in the family, Otley was always looked out for, and his three older brothers Terrence, Annesley and Claude did their best for him and gave him priority in many ways, probably more so due to them feeling the loss of a mother so early in life would affect him. His sister Decima who took the role of the mother of the house remained his constant maternal figure in life and was always there to spoil him a little and look out for him in a special way that her 3 elder brothers wouldn’t know how. After school, when he qualified into the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya his family was so supportive and is known to have sacrificed quite a bit to make sure he was in want of nothing. Their unselfish support and encouragement was truly appreciated by Otley, and often he used to speak about his siblings with love and affection.
At Peradeniya, Otley took up classics and was resident in the Jayathileke Hall. He used to recall the wonderful time he had with his contemporaries and the innocently memorable life they lived for those few years in Ceylon’s most salubrious of surroundings where new generations of students were educated each year to end up in serving their country in its high echelons. He was a part of many associations and clubs of the university during this time; a notable one being the Newman Society for Roman Catholic students. His Jayathileke Hall group remained close to him all his life, some of them the late Fr. Derrick Mendis (SJ) and the late Fr. Egoton Perera who served at the university itself passed away a few years ago.
There had always been accolades pouring regarding his stupendous honesty and integrity and the fact that he was not ‘bribable.’ He lived without a single bit of lavishness`
After leaving the university, he enrolled as a teacher of English at St. Peter’s College as well as St. Joseph’s College, Maradana for some time and from there went on to join the Department of Inland Revenue, Ceylon as an assessor. He married Nelia Leitan in 1962 and they had completed 56 years of marriage when he passed away. While at Inland Revenue, he rose slowly up the ranks over the next many years and was made the Commissioner General in 1992/93. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando, Bishop of Kandy, brought up an interesting anecdote at his funeral service which at the time none of Otley’s family members were aware of. He said Otley was such an honourable gentleman that he refused an extension of office offered by the then President D.B. Wijethunge with the simple reason of not hampering the next in line to the position. His Lordship said this was a fact known by many at the time who held high positions in the government service and the private sector.
Otley was known to have conducted his affairs at work in a very sensitive manner and always made sure not to cause more than needed disruption in the case of people involved. He was also known to have conducted his affairs with utmost respect and honour even if it be with regard to a criminal. There had always been accolades pouring regarding his stupendous honesty and integrity and the fact that he was not ‘bribable.’ He lived without a single bit of lavishness. In fact his wife Nelia and children attest to the fact that he was more careful with his pennies than the next man, having had an upbringing that forced him into this line of thinking. He washed his own car every Saturday, cleaned out the fridge to perfection and prepared his own clothes and polished his own shoes everyday before work. He travelled by bus to work for many years and started using a car to go to work only after he was made a Commissioner of Inland Revenue.
His real passion in life other than work was overseas travel. He has visited almost every country and most of the time combined this with his official travel. He had friends all over the world and used to stay with them, never spending money on hotels and luxuries. His friends in turn loved hosting him.
In his personal life, he was always an exemplary family man – never ruffling any feathers and always being generous with advice, in his own soft-spoken manner. Otley never ever argued with anyone but would only say what he felt in a very mild but firm manner.
He was a faithful and loving husband to Nelia who came from a completely different background to his, but adjusted to his simple lifestyle. He meant the world to his 2 daughters Roshini and Nirasha and his son Onesh whom he was blessed with a little later in life. To his 2 grandchildren Dushan and Nuran, he was a much adored grandfather who delved into the past and dug up interesting stories and memories from the good old days. I used to pick his brain and get him to open up about any and everything and I miss those interesting chats we used to have about what life was like back in the old days. He was lucky enough to see his older grandson Dushan’s wedding to Amanda. He had a special place for his son-in-law Dillon who was always there for him. The last event he attended was Onesh’s wedding and he was happy to see him settled with Lasika.
He lived at Rosmead Place for many years of his life next to his parents-in-law Hector and Erica Leitan, and later in life moved to St. Michaels apartments in Colpetty. He was always a staunch parishioner of All Saints Church, Borella where he served on the parish council for some time as well and was a deeply spiritual human in his own way. He practised his religion by helping people throughout his life in a very Christian way and never holding malice against anyone. He had implicit faith in the Blessed Virgin Mary and never failed to wear his miraculous medal across his neck as well as recite the daily rosary with Nelia in the night before turning in.
He did not wear his heart on his sleeve but Nelia and his family loved, respected and relied on him in so many ways. He was their rock, the silent advocate and they were his world.
It’s been 6 months since Otley left this earth. We as his family appreciate all he did for us and for his country in his 85 years of rich life. May the Lord grant him eternal rest and peace!