With each day that passes, it seems I miss my father more; he was a man with tremendous presence, tall, incredibly handsome, compassionate, brilliant as a doctor and as a writer. It is to him that I owe my love of reading and writing which still remain my favourite pastimes which were instilled in me by him almost from birth.
He was born on February 25, 1904, and was four years old when his father, the late Dr. W.H. de Silva died. The latter was the first from Ceylon to qualify as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in Ophthalmology and was previously an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen. He gave his services free to the Government of Ceylon, and organised the first ENT and Eye clinic at the Grenier Hospital in Colombo. My son entered Aberdeen University in 1987, one hundred years after my grandfather, and I was proud to see his name on the panels of the University. They also sent me a photocopy of my late grandfather’s application in his own handwriting when my son was there. After his father’s early death, my father spent most of his time at Alfred House with his grandmother, the late Catherine de Soysa, widow of late Charles Henry. His first school was Bishop’s College and later schooled at S. Thomas College, like his father and grandfather and excelled academically. His choice of profession was medicine after doing his first year here, he went to University College, London as a second year student. He excelled there too, obtained his MD early and returned as a most eligible bachelor. Marriage was on the cards, he returned to the UK with my mother to further his qualifications and later on started his own private practice in Dehiwela, living in Mt.Lavinia. He used to tell me that his luck took a turn for the better after my birth, which thrilled me no end then as it still does.
Unfortunately, his work left him little time to spend with us and my happiest moments were when he was at home and able to relate tales to us mostly about his grandfather Charles Henry and the many family legends related about him. My father always rose at 4.00 am as he said his brain worked best at that time, He gave up his most lucrative private practice to be Sri Lanka’s first Professor of Paediatrics, a chair which was created for him. This enabled him to do more for the underprivileged and also more research, he was the first to start using Thambili (King coconut) for saline and also to discover Thalassaemia in Sri Lanka. He had a vast library, and donated part of this to Jaffna when the library was burnt. He had a very kind heart and never turned away anyone who came to him for help, in kind or in advice.
He had a vast library, and donated part of this to Jaffna when the library was burnt. He had a very kind heart and never turned away anyone who came to him for help, in kind or in advice
He was a devout Christian who never missed going to Church on Sundays, was a collector of Art and appreciated the finer things of life including good food. He was the founder and active member of the Ceylon Paediatric Association, the Family Planning Association and also began a home in Ragama for children from the Lady Ridgeway Hospital where they would be sent for recuperation under supervision before they returned to their homes.
It was my pride and privilege to suggest the title for his autobiography,’Life as I lived it’ and to hand him the first copy the night before he died. I had slept in his room that night as he was restless, left to go to Church early in the morning and returned to find that he has passed away, as handsome in death as he was in life.
He dedicated his autobiography to his six grandchildren in the hope that they will learn many a lesson from his life and pass the token down to their descendants with these words;
What else is wisdom? what of man’s endeavor?
Or God’ high grace so lovely and so great
To stand from fear set free,to breathe and wait,
To hold a hand uplifted over hate;
And shall not loveliness be loved forever.
From Euripedes translated by Sir Gilbert Murray