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Working with him was always a novel experience

Appreciation on Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria

5 December 2020 12:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Dr.Wickema Weerasooria, son of Queen’s Counsel NE Weerasooria, studied at Royal College, and entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, having won Harvard Memorial Prize and the Governor General’s Prize. He graduated in Law from Peradeniya, with First-Class Honors, and was later called to the Bar, as an Advocate.


I had known and associated with Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria in different capacities. First, I knew him as a pioneer Law Educator at Vidyodaya University. His students at Vidyodaya and later even at the Post-Graduate Institute of Management recall how he lectured, without even a short note in his hand. Additionally, he focused on teaching Commercial, Administrative, and Constitutional laws, and published texts in Sinhala, one on the Law of Contracts, another on Commercial Law.


Some of his publications were on the Australian banking systems. Later, he delved into Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law, which produced a monumental work and a Treatise on Sri Lankan Statute Law and Judicial Decisions on Buddhist Temples and Temporalities. 


His book ‘The Law Governing Public Administration in Sri Lanka,’ is a text that must be read by all. Whilst at Monash University, he wrote ‘Links between Sri Lanka and Australia.


With President JR Jayewardene in Office, Wickrema was appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Plan Implementation. Working with him was also a novel experience and challenge for officers too since he pushed them to the deep end to make quick, practical, non-traditional, sometimes unsavory decisions for the benefit of 
the public.  


He was the innovator of Integrated Rural Development Projects. 


Sri Lanka Planning Service was made a professional service in 1985, for which the initiatives and support given by Wickrema were substantial. 


Specifically, his contribution to my work when I served as Government Agent, Nuwara Eliya was substantial. He was the guide, mentor, and sometimes savior. His involvement was on behalf of his brother-in-law Minister Gamini Dissanayake. Wickrema was instrumental in planning Nuwara Eliya through the establishment of Nuwara Eliya Development Commissioners Committee, where I served as Chairman.  


He was the key person to organise the Spring Festival in Nuwara Eliya. I remember how he planned the city and revived the Car Racing event after a lapse of some years. I remember Upali Wijewardena taking part in the first motor car road race. The new Motor- Cross racing event on the newly constructed track was added to Mahagasthota Hill Climb. 


A little-known fact about Wickrema is that the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind (as President) and Sri Lanka Federation of the Blind (as Advisor) still appreciate his services rendered to the blind community, especially in resource mobilization and housing. 


He had subtle wit and humour. While teaching, he used this talent, as a student has reminisced, for “easing the pressure and stress of learning.” His wit and humour depicted by cartoons in political campaigning, (i.e. The Family Tree), left an indelible mark in canvassing votes at the 1977 Elections. It is recycled even today, making Wickrema’s talent eternal.  


I remember his “evaluation of the efficiency” of public officers. He used to quip that when asked to produce relevant documentation within two days to send an officer on a foreign scholarship, well knowing it would take weeks, he would swear with utmost certainty that the officer would fulfill the requirement within two days. The best litmus test of the efficiency of an officer is the offer of a foreign scholarship! He lamented that such efficiency is lacking to serve the people. 


I have a personal regret. Just before I left for India as High Commissioner, he promised to visit me in Delhi with his dear wife Rohini, which he could not fulfill, bidding adieu in weeks. Hence, I missed his company, advice, wit, and humor before departure.


In summing, I may say he was a great student, scholar, academic, educator, public officer, diplomat, social worker, an advisor, innovator, and above all a great friendly human being, who enjoyed life and made others enjoy too, with his friendship, and camaraderie. Sadly, we will miss him forever.
May he attain Nibbana!
Austin Fernando

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