The legend of the late Charles Henry de Soysa, will never die or fade away; as is apparent as we approach the 3rd of March each year, which is his birth anniversary.
There are millions, who have benefitted from his largesse, in the fields he chose so well with a vision which was far ahead of his time. There are buildings which stand tall as living testaments to his memory. These include the De Soysa Hospital for women, The hospitals of Panadura, Marawilla, Lunawa. His descendants, representatives of the hospitals he built, past and present students of Prince and Princess of Wales Colleges, are among those who remember him with gratitude, appreciation and pride.
Philanthropists come and go, but his name stands out as one who gave unstintingly; with sincerity and a steadfast belief that his actions would benefit us all, with a better tomorrow.
My father, his grandson, often said that the life of his grandfather was like an incredibly fascinating fairy tale. His life certainly, was one filled with the joy of giving. Religion, far beyond the precincts of his own religion - Christianity, Agriculture, Education and Health were the main avenues in his unmatched and unprecedented style of giving. It is imperative that religion has to be a significant part of everyone’s life. It is a fact, that spirituality, among all religions, has decreased today, which is the root cause of indiscipline and the total breakdown of law and order. Although a Christian, there is proof that Charles Henry donated to and built Temples, Kovils and Mosques as well as Churches. Agriculture is most important in a country like ours, where we should long have been self sufficient in our needs.
Education to my mind is a priority, and is the most important and best thing; that we can give our children and those of future generations. Today, we see more than ever before, the need for educated thinking; which reaches far beyond the barriers of race, class or creed. Dedication and commitment, to whatever our individual education or religion may be, and the freedom to practise that of our choice, is the key to opening widows and doors of opportunity. The combination of religion and education is an unbeatable one; and transcends our thinking, beyond violence, intimidation and thuggery.
Health again is an integral part of our wellbeing. The late Charles Henry had all this and much more on his mind, when he sought through his philanthropy; to endow these four fields so abundantly.
He also reached out to the landless, the homeless and gifted land, paddy fields and houses to a hundred poverty stricken farmers in far off Walapane, far away from his hometown Moratuwa. This deed in itself shows that even in those days when bias and prejudice dominated most minds, narrow peripheries were simply non existent with him. One sign of his greatness was that his kind heart reached out to whoever was in need, in all parts of the country.
He was reputed to be the wealthiest Ceylonese of his time. He lived in an era of peace and prosperity, of gracious living, and contentment. He could have lived in an ivory tower, involved only with his kith and kin, inviolable and unconcerned about his fellow men, but he chose a path in which he reached out to others in countless ways. He inherited wealth from his father and his uncle, but his business acumen, good sense and astuteness, made him venture into new fields of enterprise and development; which increased his wealth more than triple fold, which he shared with others. He owned 74 plantations, several valuable residential properties in Colombo, its suburbs and other areas. He shipped his own tea to markets abroad, was the first Ceylonese Banker and a Founder member of the Ceylon National Congress.
The late Charles Henry’s statue stands tall at De Soysa Circus as a monument to his memory. There are many roads named after him, as they are all part of property, once owned by him. Alfred Place, Alfred House Gardens, Charles Place, Charles Way, Charles Circus are among them. Some of the beautiful old family homes built by him or his sons are also living testaments to his memory. His philanthropy reached far beyond our shores. The Great Ormond Street Hospital for children in London, Brompton Hospital, The Royal Free hospital, Victoria Chest Hospital, The hospital for accidents to Dock labourers were all richly endowed with donations by him and some of these carry plaques with his name as a benefactor.
This year, on his birth anniversary, one of his great grandsons, Sunimal Fernando, Presidential Advisor, Convenor of the Presidential Task Force on English and IT, will launch ‘The English Speaking School’[TESS] under the English as a Life Skill’ initiative of the President, which will be implemented by The Ministry of Education together with the Presidential Secretariat.
The late Charles Henry lived his life, serving God, his country and its people. His life had its share of challenges and hurdles, but he overcame all this to be an inspiration to everyone. We, as his descendants, feel a deep sense of humility that the blood of this extraordinary man flows in our veins.
‘I vow to thee my country, all earthly things above.
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love:
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar, the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted, the final sacrifice.’