Monday, June 28, 2010

J N Oleap Fernando

I wish to express my thanks to the President & Editorial Committee for having requested me to write an article about Oleap & his professional & academic activities as I know it from my knowledge of him during the 35 years of our married life.

Oleap is a unique name given by his father to commemorate the unusual fact that he was born on Leap Year's Day; the letter "O" runs down the family & hence his third name & the name by which he is called came to be OLEAP. His other names Jerence Nansel are also unique since like his 2 sisters & 1 brother all their names have been coined by their father after names of relatives and/or God parents.

Oleap had an excellent scholastic record at St. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, where he received 12 years of his post Kindergarten education: he was the recipient of many prizes & scholarships including the Panel Awards of Liturgy Prize Winner for 3 years, Gregory Scholar for 2 years and Miller Mathematical Prize winner. He was placed first in the island at the 1959 SSC/GCE (O/L) examination & was awarded the C. A. Hewavitharana Prize. He was again placed first in the Science stream at the University Entrance examination in 1961. Oleap takes great pride in reiterating again and again that on many occasions in his personal & family life he has tried to do things in the way that he preferred rather than "go with the crowd". As a striking example, one could cite the fact that while all his classmates at St. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia customarily applied to enter the medical faculty or the engineering faculty at the end of their school career, Oleap was unique in applying to join the science faculty instead since he felt that he was not interested in becoming either a medical doctor or an engineer.

His parents had been broadminded enough not to force or influence Oleap to do the more popular or perceived to be prestigious courses. Oleap & I were also similar broadminded enough 30 years down the road, to permit our only child Oshan to do what he wished, which happened to be Arts, which usually only those students who are not eligible to offer science do as a third hand option; looking back on life, Oleap always maintains that neither he nor his son have been any the worse as a result since both have done what they liked & wished with relatively low stress & much peace of mind! Financially too, neither has suffered!

Oleap thus entered the University in 1962 to do a Science degree, not necessarily in Chemistry since he was equally good in Physics and even better in Mathematics; he could have chosen any of these 3 disciplines for his special degree but after a great deal of internal debate, investigation & consultation he chose Chemistry perhaps because it seemed to be the most relevant & useful for him in the Sri Lanka scene in the middle of the twentieth century. However, his passion for Physics made him choose that as his subsidiary although most students chose Mathematics since it is less exacting as it does not involve practical classes. He was once again placed first in Chemistry at the B.Sc. examination of the University of Ceylon in 1966 & awarded the Bhikaji Framji Khan Gold Medal for Chemistry.

Soon after graduation, Oleap joined the University system as a temporary Assistant Lecturer at Peradeniya for the first year & then he received his permanent academic appointment at the University of Colombo.

He pursued his PhD at Imperial College London in the area of Surface Chemistry while on a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship. Returning to Sri Lanka in 1971, he became a Lecturer in Chemistry and in 1977, a Senior Lecturer at Colombo. His love for University teaching has made Oleap continue in the University system for 41+ continuous years and looks forward to a total of 43 years in the Sri Lankan University system when he retires in September 2009.

Another unique feature in Oleap's academic life is the unique feature that he was a Chemistry Special student at both Colombo & Peradeniya and subsequently an academic staff member in the Chemistry Department at both these campuses: such a record no other can ever achieve. Looking back on his professional life, Oleap wanted to pursue an academic career in the University system in Sri Lanka and has for the past 41+ years never thought it relevant or necessary to think of a change within the country or by going abroad for financial or other gain!

The lack of physical infrastructure, funding and the critical minimum peer atmosphere for extensive research was quite evident in the seventies, when Sri Lanka had a foreign exchange starved closed economy in which nothing substantial seemed to happen. In such a situation, Oleap found it rather difficult to continue with experimental research particularly in the area of his specialty. Oleap, however, thought it more relevant and useful to involve himself in an honorary capacity in a big way in the activities of learned societies and professional bodies, which very badly needed human resources to provide the services that they are expected to provide. Oleap's organisational capabilities in organisations had come to the forefront while he was a teenager doing church work in the Junior Guild and Sunday school teaching staff in his home parish at Holy Emmanuel, Moratuwa.

These abilities were well recognized by his professional peers in learned societies & professional bodies. Initially, it was at the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) where as Treasurer and General Secretary even before he was thirty years in age Oleap utilised his leadership abilities & organisational skills to raise the quality & service provided to members. Oleap regards his association with the SLAAS in an honorary capacity as something that benefited him personally a great deal as well in putting out his innermost abilities and also getting to know & working with professionals in all scientific areas including the Social Sciences, an opportunity he would never otherwise had. Oleap's current "on the job" knowledge of finances, investments, taxation & economics has its origin in what Oleap learnt informally at the SLAAS while being Treasurer.

That knowledge & experience served him personally very well in later years. Oleap served the SLAAS in numerous capacities and was ultimately elected General President in 2001. He has served over 25 years in the SLAAS Council and takes pride that its Headquarters Building (Vidya Mandiraya) came up in 1976 while he was General Secretary with Architect Justin Samarasekera as General President.

That grounding at the SLAAS laid the foundation for what Oleap considers as his crowning service of value in his own professional body, the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon. Oleap's services to this Institute are without parallel and have enabled him to make an outstanding contribution to Chemistry, the Chemical sciences and professional organisations in a big way. Oleap has served the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon in various capacities and in various ways and has been responsible for a number of new initiatives, which are too many to list. However, the unprecedented manner in which he has been able to organise a Graduateship Programme in Chemistry for the past 30 years in a very unconventional and unique manner outside the regimented, bureaucratic and highly politicised state system is regarded by him as his most outstanding and unparalleled contribution to human resource development in the field of chemistry in Sri Lanka. 519 Graduate Chemists have so far been produced through this marvellous activity through 25 batches which have passed out. Oleap also considers the recognition that he received from his professional peers in the Institute of Chemistry over the past three decades as the most satisfying result of his entire life in a professional sense. Amongst the series of recognitions he got, he identifies two as crowning glories: Firstly, his election as President of the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon at the young age of 40 years was indeed extremely satisfying since he was still a senior Lecturer at the time of his election and became a Professor only a few months later while he was holding the said Presidency. Secondly, the decision made by the Institute to name a lecture hall in the new headquarters of the Institute in 2005 as J N O Fernando Hall in recognition of his immense, unique and outstanding contribution has given him such satisfaction and joy which no amount of money could ever have given him. It was in such a context that he has voluntarily given his services free of charge more or less on a full time basis as Honorary Dean of the College of Chemical sciences during the entirety of his two-year sabbatical leave from 2006 to 2008. The amount of service and financial gain he has been able to provide the Institute of Chemistry during that period gives him much more satisfaction than he would ever have got working elsewhere for personal monetary gain.

Oleap's services to the University system for over 40 years at the Universities of Colombo and the Open University of Sri Lanka(OUSL) has also been considerable particularly since remuneration and other working conditions had not been attractive for many years. He has been Head of the Department of Chemistry for several years and Dean/Science at OUSL for 6 years. Very recently in March 2008 he has once again been honoured for the services rendered by the Chemistry Department there and its Buckyball Society by collection of funds to launch the J N O Fernando Prize Fund for the best performance in Chemistry at the OUSL B.Sc. examination.

When he retires at the age of 65 in September 2009 he would have served the University system in Sri Lanka for 43 years and been a Professor for 25 years!

Oleap has also been actively involved in the international scene and attended numerous conferences in the areas of Science & Chemical Education, Chemistry, Distance Education, & Professionalism in Science in many countries. In particular, he has been the Institute of Chemistry representative on the Federation of Chemical Societies for nearly 15 years and served as Director of its Asian Chemical Education Network for 4 years. He has also used his sabbatical leave entitlements to serve as a Leverhulme Commonwealth Fellow at UMIST, Manchester in 1977/78, as Visiting Professor of Chemistry in the University of Papua New Guinea in 1987 and as Visiting Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Colombo in 1992.

While he has carried out numerous ad-hoc national assignments pertaining to science policy, educational publications, Advanced Level Examinations etc and has been Controlling Chief in Chemistry at the GCE(A/L) examination for 4 years his non-involvement in partisan politics has presumably prevented him from been even considered for appointment by Ministers to serve on the Management bodies of any state institution; it is however interesting to note that there have been two occasions on which he has served at a national level but that has been a direct result of non-political recommendations: firstly, when he was the SLAAS nominee for 4 years on the Board of Management of the National Science Foundation; secondly, he was recommended by the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon to the first Constitutional Council in 2002 as a suitable appointee for the first-ever independent Commissions. Accordingly, the non-political Constitutional Council appointed Oleap to the Public Service Commission for 3 years; the very nature & structure of this appointment is valued very highly by Oleap! It would be far too numerous to list all the other appointments which Oleap has held in various spheres; suffice it to mention in conclusion, a few in the Church scenario: Oleap became a Church Warden at Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa at the age of 29 years; he represented his Church at the Diocesan Council for about 20 years during which time he also served on the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Colombo. He represented the Church of Ceylon at the seventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, Canada in 1983. He was a nominee of the Bishop of Colombo on the Board of Governors of St.Thomas' College for almost two decades and was the Board Treasurer as well as Board Secretary. He was also the Manager of St. Thomas’ College, Bandarawela for almost a decade.

Finally, may I conclude that I have had the great pleasure of having Oleap as my husband for nearly 35 years and I greatly value his consistent remark that he would not have been able to do what he has done or achieve what he has during his professional, life if not for my help, assistance and toleration!

2 comments:

  1. It is by sheer fluke I came across this interesting article while browsing through some of the Facebook pages. I just typed in Oleap's name - it having suddenly crossed my mind. His was one name I always remembered from time to time. How could one forget a name like Oleap - let alone him for his brilliance as a schoolboy when I knew him some 50+ years ago. Having found the link to the website and navigating down the pages I stumbled upon the article. Oleap was my classmate at STC where we knew him as 'JNO'. However, I remember him telling me that his 'O' stood for Oleap on account of being born on the 29th of February. I remember JNO - sorry Oleap - was a brilliant student in every subject, always coming first in the class to the envy of all his peers. I am glad I stumbled upon the article - of all days today the 29th of February. Isn't this a strange coincidence? It was great reading about Oleap's distinguished and very illustrious career which I would never have doubted for a second had been anything less. I don't know if Oleap will remember me. I was known as 'KD' at College. I too am now retired and reside in London with my Sri Lankan wife, Beatrice, having emigrated to the UK in 1967. I wish Oleap happy retirement and my very best for the future. With warmest regards to Oleap and his family. Kirt Day De Silva (KD)
    Email: kirtdesilva@talktalk.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is by sheer fluke I came across this interesting article while browsing through some of the Facebook pages. I just typed in Oleap's name - it having suddenly crossed my mind. His was one name I always remembered from time to time. How could one forget a name like Oleap - let alone him for his brilliance as a schoolboy when I knew him some 50+ years ago. Having found the link to the website and navigating down the pages I stumbled upon the article. Oleap was my classmate at STC where we knew him as 'JNO'. However, I remember him telling me that his 'O' stood for Oleap on account of being born on the 29th of February. I remember JNO - sorry Oleap - was a brilliant student in every subject, always coming first in the class to the envy of all his peers. I am glad I stumbled upon the article - of all days today the 29th of February. Isn't this a strange coincidence? It was great reading about Oleap's distinguished and very illustrious career which I would never have doubted for a second had been anything less. I don't know if Oleap will remember me. I was known as 'KD' at College. I too am now retired and reside in London with my Sri Lankan wife, Beatrice, having emigrated to the UK in 1967. I wish Oleap happy retirement and my very best for the future. With warmest regards to Oleap and his family. Kirt Day De Silva (KD)
    Email: kirtdesilva@talktalk.co.uk

    ReplyDelete