Ninety years ago, on July 25, 1928, the Sir James Peiris Convalescent Home was declared open at No.17, Siripala Road, Mount Lavinia. This home was built on a property bought by Sir James Peiris on recognition of the need for such a facility during the course of his work at the Ceylon Social Service League (CSSL), a privately-funded association.
According to Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the initiator of this league was Sir James Peiris. In 1917, during his term as CSSL Chairman, a child welfare clinic, a milk depot, a needlework class for girls, a night school for adult education, a workman’s resort and a crèche for children and the poor were initiated. These facilities were established by the league as the then government had not attended to the disadvantaged sectors of the society.
Today, the Sir James and Lady Peiris Cheshire Home stands on this property where the Convalescent Home once stood. This is home to sixteen differently-abled male and female adults. They are provided with all needs free of charge. Finances, meals and other donations are received from local companies and private well-wishers to fund day-to-day needs of the home. The Sir James Peiris Trust makes a contribution towards the maintenance of the building. The home is run by a 20-member board of management headed by Mala Salgado, a great granddaughter of Sir James Peiris. It is also on record that the grandson of Sir James Peiris, Captain Dennis Cooray, was the Chairmen of the home for over 40 years.
Sir James Peiris was also known for his efforts towards political reform. His ‘Memorandum on reform for Ceylon’ which he submitted at the bequest of Colonel Seely, Secretary for the State for Colonies (1909), was a milestone document. Two of the important changes suggested were the abolition of the then system of racial representation and introduction of the elective principle in place of nomination. This memorandum is regarded as being a visionary document which paved the way for the ‘independence movement.’
In 1924, the Legislative Council was reconstituted with a majority of elected representatives. Sir James Peiris was elected Vice President, the President being the Governor. This meant Sir James occupied the highest position available to a Ceylonese, and it was the highest position which any Ceylonese had ascended to during that time.
He lived according to his motto, which was ‘truth conquers,’ and according to Louis Cooray, his eldest daughter: “He proved that a man need not stoop to unworthy tactics to gain his ends.”
To celebrate the important event of the establishment of the home 90 years ago, and of the continuance of Sir James Peiris’s legacy, religious ceremonies were held on July 25. Family members and a few others also donated wheelchairs and funds required to refurbish the storeroom, a long-felt need.