It is the birth anniversary of the late Elina Jayewardene , a first lady beyond any compare and that memorable day will fall on December 15. Her youngest grandson Amrit shares the same birthday. I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to have known her well and associated with her closely from my teenage years. She was an icon in her time and a legend even now, long after her death. She was an only child, an heiress, who was never sent to school, but educated at home.
She was the late President Jayewardene’s greatest asset, support and strength, was well read, and maintained the highest standards, in every aspect of her life. She was always dutiful, attentive and competent as a wife, never pushing herself forward and was content staying in the background. Their only child Ravi, was a man of simple tastes like his mother, who never made use of any privileges when his father was President. He never used the official cars given and I recall seeing him more than once walking from Braemar, his parents home.
The late President and Mrs Jayewardene brought the late President’s sister’s stepson, Nihal Wiratunge up with their son Ravi and treated Nihal as a son. Mrs Jayewardene, like her husband, was a dog lover, and sat after her evening walk, either at Independence Square or later on when he was President with him and their dog in the back garden of their home. I recall a rather amusing incident when the late Elina and I were at our first attempt of making milk wine before Xmas. Ravi walked in and said that both of us and the kitchen reminded him of a tavern.
It was a learning experience to work under the late Elina who was an example and an inspiration in every sense of
The Seva Vanitha movement, to help women in the government service was the late Elina’s brainchild. The first committee formed was a subcommittee of seven wives of Ministers, she included me although I was only the wife of a Deputy Minister. We planned the aims and objectives of the movement with the help of the late Dr Wickrema Weerasooriya, after which the working committee of the Seva Vanitha movement was begun. All were the wives of cabinet Ministers, but as Minister Anandatissa de Alwis had no wife, I was the representative of the Ministry of State. It was a learning experience to work under the late Elina who was an example and an inspiration in every sense of the term. She was resolute, forthright, determined, had her own ideas and views ,but gave all of us a chance to discuss ours with each other and with her.
The Seva Vanitha movement, to help women in the government service was the late Elina’s brainchild
She explored all options and was blessed with the ability to look at everything objectively and realistically. Many projects were done and crèches were opened under her able guidance and leadership. She was also the Head of the committee that ran the Peter Weerasekera Home for children and took an active interest in the running of this home being sincerely concerned about the inmates, their education, their nourishment and their future. I would stress that she was the epitome of the ideal woman behind a successful man.
She stood by her husband in all the ups and downs of his political life and had sharp political acumen, although not a politician. She preferred to stay away from the glare of publicity, which was more in keeping with her own retiring nature and desire for privacy.
But she was always there for him when needed, when he was out of Parliament for a time when he lost Kelaniya at the 1956 election, she provided a haven of peace for him at home. They both loved music, and this gave them more time together, to enjoy the things which interested them, apart from politics. After the late President’s retirement, I recall sitting with him at a wedding, she wasn’t there and he left before lunch, saying he wanted to have lunch with her at home and that she would be waiting for him. She had learned the gift of humility as a child and although an heiress, never thought she was better than anyone else and judged people accordingly, was always concerned about her relatives and friends and ready to reach out to them with a sympathetic ear and a helping hand, whenever the necessity arose to do so.
She was unflappable , open hearted never guilty of self importance. Her resilient spirit made her a sustainer of morale to all who knew her. She contributed generously to causes for youth and often anonymously advanced funds to those who lacked the advantage of an easy start in life. She was always, warm, well groomed and totally in control. She never took umbrage, never harboured rancour or allowed her calm equanimity to be ruffled in any way. Her deep depth of strength was a symbol of stability for her husband.
My memories of times I spent with her will always be among the treasure trove of my most precious memories.
‘A perfect woman, nobly planned, to guide, to comfort and command’ --- William Wordsworth.