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Colonel Rajapakse An educator and a gentleman

6 February 2021 01:16 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “When the work of a leader is done and his aim fulfilled, the beneficiaries will say, we did it by ourselves.” 


Since I do not wish to fall into that latter category, I was delighted when asked to write an article on the 100th birth anniversary of Colonel George Alfred Rajapakse. I hope readers will forgive me for basing this article on my own interactions and experiences with Col. Rajapakse. 


I estimate that since the advice, help, and guidance of Col. Rajapakse may have benefitted more than ten-thousand Anandians, we can easily multiply my accomplishments at least by this number in order to gauge the enormity and the significance of the services rendered by him. My memory goes back to one fateful day in 1964, when I first met Col.Rajapakse. I remember him as a tall and handsome person with a commanding personality. He was the Vice Principal of Ananda College at the time. Yet didn’t he have a personality that could shame the Vice-Chancellor of any leading university? 


I had gone to Colombo from our home in Badulla with my mother, expecting the results of the GCE Ordinary Level Examination. I had received five distinctions; four of which were for Physics, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics, and Pure mathematics.Since this result was somewhat rare at the time (and obtained without private tuition), we headed to Royal College. The Principal, after carefully studying my examination results and various certificates, reluctantly agreed to recruit me. My mother pleaded with the principal to give me a slot at the hostel, as that was a major condition from her for me to study in Colombo. With that request not materialising (to my great fortune, in hindsight), we decided to head for Ananda College. I had never visited Ananda, yet I knew that the school had achieved top results at G.C.E. (A.L.) in the mathematics stream. I still recall the markedly peaceful, pleasant, and contrasting environment of the school even though it was located in buzzling Maradana. Unfortunately, the response that we received from the principal of Ananda was similar to the previous one. Highly disappointed, my mother and I slowly walked out. There was another person in that office. He had the physical features and the stature of a commander of the armed forces yet a face symbolizing human kindness. “Please wait one minute,” he told us and walked out. He returned in about ten minutes. He told my mother,“Okay, I found a place in the hostel for your son. But you will have to bring a mattress!” On that day, this remarkable person showed us the true nature of human compassion and care. Certainly Col. Rajapakse did not have to help me like that, which became a pivotal moment in my life. Col. Rajapakse possessed the innate talent and capability to recognise the diverse capabilities of students, and guide them appropriately in appropriate directions. Even though he was a great patriot who nurtured and supported our armed forces (he led the cadet platoon of the college to major victories as early as 1949 and nourished many personalities), he did not blindly encourage the Anandians to join the armed forces. For example, when I planned to apply to the Air Force without completing my GCE (A.L.) he vehemently opposed it. He flatly told me, “Governor, don’t be foolish. Before you find a job go to university and get a degree”. From the time I imitated the “throne speech” at a school function, Col. Rajapakse addressed me as “Governor.” Col. Rajapakse encouraged us to speak and write proper English, but he never humiliated us for ‘murdering the queen’ unlike the people at my previous private school. When a class teacher was absent, he came and coached us in the correct usage of English.  


I remember contesting for the post of Secretary in the Senior English Literary Union of Ananda. The school atmosphere was somewhat like that of a parliamentary election because the officers were elected by a secret ballot of the students. We printed flyers, climbed on desks, gave speeches, and responded to questions from students. During such encounters we received the treatment of rotten eggs and tomatoes. ‘The harsher the treatment the better the chances of winning,” my friend pacified me. They were right because I went to win the election. Again, this achievement also should be credited to Col. Rajapakse. During the campaign, the opposite group publicised the rumor that I was a Christian and I should not be elected. On hearing this, I discussed the matter with Col. Rajapakse, who called a school assembly. In that he eloquently and emphatically advised the students that the election should not be based on religion or race, but rather on the candidate’s qualifications. 


When the results of G.C.E. (A.L.) were released, I was delighted to receive two distinctions, one credit, and one ordinary pass. The ordinary pass was for Physics, the subject that I thought I had performed the best in. Two other students had better results. When it came to the time of deciding on the prizes based on the A.L. results, Col. Rajapakse approached the Government Department of Education to get the actual scores of the students for the subjects. In their review of the answer scripts of the students, they found out that I had the highest score in Physics, and accordingly revised my grade to a credit. Hence, the school decided to give me the Dr. Irwin de Silva Gold Medal in Physics, again thanks to Col. Rajapakse. 


After entering the Faculty of Engineering at the University Peradeniya I did not fail to regularly communicate with Col. Rajapakse, promoted to Principal then. On receiving a 1st Class Honors degree and the Dr Hewavitarana Prize for the best performance among all department of Engineering, I went to meet Col. Rajapakse, to express my gratitude. “Governor, you can do bigger things. Work harder!” Now I realise that apart from my parents Col.

Rajapakse is the other key person who should be credited for all my academic and professional achievements, including my two PhDs from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Cambridge, the Higher Doctorate from University of Cambridge, and the Professorial appointments in USA and Canada. 


Before concluding, I must mention a trace of his legacy. He was able to acquire the Mackwoods Land adjoining the College hostel, and build an excellent sports complex for the school. Before that, the students had to use the field adjoining Nalanda (at Campbell Place) for sports. Also, as the Vice Principal, he took the initiative to build a Buddhist religious complex in the school which facilitated the spiritual wellbeing of students. He was not only a great educator, but also a true patriot, visionary, humanitarian and a leader like no other. 


(Clarence W. de Silva Professor of Mechanical Engineering The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada)      

  Comments - 2

  • Clarence de Silva Saturday, 06 February 2021 09:04 PM

    The middle name of the colonel should be “Wilfred.” Sorry for this error.

    Rajasinghe Mudunkotuwe Sunday, 07 February 2021 09:55 PM

    All the buildings started by Mr Meththanada had to wait for Mr Rajapakse to complete. Strict disciplinarian who directed big operations such as the school carnival behind the scenes with clockwork precision. He shunned publicity.


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