Retired Principal of Central Colleges Mr. M.B. Ratnayake passed away on the 23rd of August at the ripe old age of 103 years. He belonged to a reputed family from Lunugala and was the very first graduate from Uva Province. He is a pioneer in the free education concept introduced by Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara. It was the practice then, for the Hon. Minister to personally interview and select the Principals, who were going to implement his national policy. Mr. M.B. Ratnayake was one such gentleman who was selected personally by Dr. Kannangara. He was posted as the first Principal of Bibile Central College. Thereafter he served in the same capacity in many Central Colleges, like Bandarawela, Welimada, Seevali Rathnapura and Kalutara Tissa and contributed in no small measure to produce a large student population who were disciplined and cultured, who are now leading citizens of this country.
As an admirer of his exemplary life and contribution to education, I wish to sketch these lines, in appreciation of the life and activities of this unique personality and as a mark of gratitude for the knowledge and guidance he imparted to us by this educational colossus without whom, we would not have been able to make a success of our lives.
My first encounter with him was as the Principal of Seevali Central College, Ratnapura, in the year 1954, where I studied for my HSC & UE, after having completed the Senior School Certificate at Karavita Central College. Though a slim and erect gentleman with silver hair, we students were virtually mesmerized by his dominant personality. This was amply demonstrated by the pin drop silence at the morning assembly and when he strolls down the corridors of Seevali. The white full suit he always wore evinced the character of this great Guru, who commanded the unenviable respect and veneration of the students as well as the academic staff.
Like all good Principals of his calibre, he maintained discipline with a capital D. At times he showed dictatorial attitudes to uphold discipline and order in the students, to the extent of generating temporary animosity towards him, amongst the students. But sooner or later we realized that it is for our own benefit and future guidance.
He helped many a student with his wise guidance and rich experience. The strong point in his administration was firmness and determination to maintain discipline. I recollect, with respect and love, the many instances, he had reprimanded me, even as a senior student and a monitor.
During his stewardship of Seevali Central College, he did not stress on the improvement of academic standards only. He did his best to encourage the children to engage in extracurricular activities and promoted sports activities. He also encouraged the habit of reading and promoted writing and debating among the literary associations and with brother schools. To this end he took action to improve library facilities and found the time to be present and personally supervise proceedings of student associations. He organised annual cricket encounters with public schools and due to his endeavours in the field of sports and athletics Seevali always came first in the Sabaragamuwa annual athletic meet.
Whatever he undertook, he handled with competence, commitment, honest and responsibility. Those who knew him would endorse the fact that honesty and integrity were his best policies in private as well as official life. What a difference with the Principals of today, some of whom have even been hounded by the Bribery Sleuths.
Throughout his life he cared little for honour and fame and always dedicated himself for the cause of education and served his institution with much love and affection. Hundreds and thousands of students and teachers who passed through his hands, who are now spread out in the world, will continue to revere him and value his inspiring life style. His silent service to the country is known only among educational circles, and as is usual will be forgotten with the passage of time. But we who were inspired by his noble ideals and exemplary characters, deeply respect him and owe a debt of gratitude for what we are today.
I will be failing in my duty if I do not pay a tribute to Mrs. Vimala Rathnayake, the dutiful wife of our Principal. She was our History teacher and she left no stone unturned to inspire and guide us to get to the University. As a result two students entered the Peradeniya University in 1957, the first from Seevali Central. She was an amiable person who was loved and respected by all.
Mr. Ratnayake lived a very saintly life in retirement and practiced Dana Seela and Bhavana. He was an ardent follower of Krishnamoorthy Paddhati and pioneered the establishment of the Krishnamoorthy Centre in Kotte. He had a thorough knowledge of Buddhist scriptures and was a fountain of knowledge.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.