- By O. M. Weerasooriya
When the family magazine ‘Sooriya Katha’ was published last year there was no mention about my father – late Mr Peter Lionel Weerasooriya (affectionately addressed by many as Peter uncle). Some close friends including a few family members queried and asked me the reason for this omission. I believe, I am partly responsible for this as I failed to provide the necessary information about my family in time when requested by members who were editing the magazine. Some even raised doubt as to whether we actually belong to the ‘Dodanduwa Weerasooriya family’
I must confess that I do not know very much about my father’s early years as I spent most of my early years as a boarder at St. Aloysius’ College, Galle till I entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in 1957. The only thing I was aware is that he was very happy to see me entering the university which I assume was one his silent wishes. Unfortunately he died in 1958 after a hernia operation from which he never recovered fully, partly due to lack of proper aftercare combined with stress and worries created as a result of financial problems existed at that particular period.
I did manage to gather some information about my father’s past from my mother, but unfortunately, she also died in 2000 just as I was about to retire from Government service as the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue.
My father was born in 1896 and belonged to a fairly wealthy family. He joined St. Aloysius College,Galle on 19-9-1903 for his early education as the 463rd student after his pre-school education at Sacred Heart Convent, Galle. During his school days, he has been a very active member of various extracurricular activities.
He became the Secretary of the General Literary Association in 1916 and was a member the School’s Cadet Corps. He even played soccer for the school team and was very proud to see me play soccer for the same school in 1956, almost 40 years later.
He left College in 1917 and had a brief spell as a teacher at St. Servatius’ College, Matara. He continued his studies and passed the Cambridge Senior and ‘First in Law’, in keeping up with his family tradition in legal profession as his father Theodore Weerasooriya was a Proctor. My father managed to trace the ‘Weerasooriya Family Tree’ up to 1938 and produced a manuscript detailing the ancestry of his family. I am very glad to mention that I still have this manuscript detailing the of his family history including the highly cherished ‘parker pen’ my father used for his beautiful hand writing. According to this document my father is the great great son of Magiris de Silva Weerasooriya Patabandy and grandson of Don Haramanis Weerasooriya and the youngest son of above named Theodore Weerasooriya.
Regretfully, my father did not pursue his Law studies due to some strange and selfish belief that the lawyers always had to be economical with the truth and rather not entirely honest when they defend clients in legal work.
My father was a scholar in Latin, Mathematics, French and English, and was fluent specially in French and always made communications with reverend fathers in French. I can well remember that my father never missed a single weekend to see me at St Aloysius College hostel and gave me tuition in all above subjects. He would always be willing to help and assist anybody who needs help in learning those above subjects. Some of my father’s notable tuition pupils in Mathematics include my uncle, late Mr Sam de Silva- Chartered Accountant , ( father of Aravinda de Silva who needs no introduction in ’cricketing world’) and Dr David Weerasooriya (son of Mr Harry Weerasooriya) who is at present living in Australia. He was also a clever bridge player and had regular playing sessions with friends.
In early years after his marriage, he devoted his spare time writing a book ’Latin for Beginners’ . Even though my father completed the full version of the book, he was unable to publish it as Latin became a superfluous and a dead language as it was not included in school syllabuses .
Even after leaving , he kept close contact with the college establishment and kept a keen interest in its general progress. According to the magazine he made generous contributions and regularly donated several prizes to St Aloysius College prize giving. It has been recorded that in 1936, he even contributed to the general School Playground fund. According to the ’Aloysian’- the annual magazine published by the St Aloysius College, Galle, my father was enrolled as the 1st life member of the St Aloysius Old Boys Association immediately after it was formed in 1924. When Rev Fr Delaney made and urgent appeal and requested every old boy at that time to enrol as ’life members’, it appears that it was only my father who responded immediately. Rev Fr Delaney was so appreciative of my father’s response and wrote in the magazine praising my father’s devoted in faith in College as follows:-
“………….. As far as I am told the applications for membership has been very poor. There is only one life member from ‘California Estate’ in the name of Mr. P L Weerasooriya. How he wished that he were an American millionaire from California itself ; He could then pay for every Old Boy and make all of them life members. However we thank him for his good example he has set and hope all that tea, rubber and plumbago kings will come out of their seclusion and emulate this young old boy’s example ………”
According to the Magazine in1917, my father became the Manager of the now famous Piyaratana Maha Vidyalaya in Dodanduwa . As explained in the last edition of “ Sooriyakatha “ this local school is recorded as the first Sinhala Buddhist School in Sri Lanka established and founded in 1896, pioneered by Ven Dodanduwe Piyaratana Thero. As we all know, Ven Piyaratana is the younger brother of Mr. David Weerasooriya who are all illustrious and well known members of the “ Weerasooriya Clan “. As I understand, when the school had no funds available to pay teachers salaries at times , my father has very generously paid them from his own money including free school books for the children. As a mark of respect to his unselfish commitment to this local educational establishment, the school closed for a few hours on the day of his funeral.
My father was very eccentric in certain ways and habits and was a teetotaller and never smoked. He used to buy his soap bars for washing (sunlight) and keep them for months for ‘conditioning’ as he believed that ‘hard’ soap would last longer. He would never bother a ‘bus conductor ‘ or any ‘ ticket collector’ during his travels as he always had the exact fare in hand. At home, my two sister were strictly disciplined not to leave any needles or pins on tables or would never let them sew at night. One of the noblest deeds he carried out during his life was to look after his beloved mother and his niece ( his sister’s daughter ) Kusuma Akka who was a toddler at the time. Kusuma Akka later married Mr Wilson Silva - the parents of Chitta ,late Sunil and Dr Demantha. My father was so unselfishly devoted to his mother that he never contemplated marriage until the death of his mother. In 1940, after the death of his mother my father married my mother Jayawathie who was only 19 years old at the time. It has been rumoured in family circles that my father has made a promise to marry the first lady who sits on his bed and this still remain a mystery to all of us whether this had any relevance or significance to his ultimate marriage.
At the time of his marriage, my father had a fair amount of money at his disposal and property including California Estate at Dodanduwa and also the proud owner of a car driven by a chauffeur. My father continued living his comfortable life at Patuwatha, Dodanduwa after his marriage even though the house was owned by Mr Harry Weerasooriya. (always addressed him as Harry uncle ).Mr Harry Weerasooriya was the father of David ,Monica, Annette, and Frank. During his tenure at this house ,it is believed that the house was offered for purchase by the above owner but why he refused this offer still remains a mystery to all of us. At present this house at Patuwatha is occupied by one of Frank Weerasooriya’s sons.
During late 1940, he gradually found that everyday life was getting a little bit difficult due to his dwindling resources and had no alternative but to sell his main asset ‘California Estate’ to boost his finances . His partnership in plumbago business with his father-in law Mr P U de Silva also appeared to have been a dismal failure.
In around 1946/47 ,with very little money left my father moved to Colombo with his young family to start a new business venture with one Mr Panaluwa. As far as I can remember we lived in Campbell Place and I attended Wesley College for a short period. As the house was owned by Mr Panaluwa my father paid rent but for some strange reason he let the owner live in the same house as a guest. I am still not sure what the business partnership involved but this venture also failed miserably.
With no money left and self esteem shaken, my father had no alternative but to bring the family back home to Tiranagama and occupy a house given as a gift by his father-in-law. Even at this vulnerable and helpless situation my father was so adamant and stubborn not to accept the house as his dowry. Eventually with no hesitation or regret he changed the deeds and transferred the ownership to his brother-in-law, Mr Lynton de Silva.
With no income to depend on, day to day living for my father became a nightmare. My father started worrying and became rather concerned about the welfare of the family and had no choice but to seek financial help from a few selected friends and trusted relatives. One of the worst humiliation he had to endure during his entire life must have been the let down by some friends and relative who ignored his desperate call for help . Regretfully, they were the very people who received and accepted favours from my father during his better days. When people of similar age were retiring and drawing up their pensions , my father started applying for jobs. He managed to find a temporary clerical job at Galle Municipal Council and later worked as an accountant’s assistant at Indian Walker Estate, Udugama. While he was there, the owner Mr Gunasekara, who appreciated his hard work seemed to have helped my father immensely. Even though penniless, my father managed to keep his dignity and lead a honest and disciplined life. When he sold his California Estate at Dodanduwa , the new owner has requested my father to remove any produce that was ready to be harvested. He has flatly refused to accept anything saying that any crop belong to the new owner immediately after the sale. One of his close associates named ‘ Edwin Aiya’ from the adjoining village Pinkanda told me, that on one occasion my father very angrily refused to take back some money loaned to him because he failed to repay the money on the agreed day.
In fact ,after his death I found that he has kept most of the relevant letters and documents connected with his past business and financial affairs and expected them to published at a later date when he once again become wealthy. I expected some of these documents to be very controversial and critical of some people who obviously had business and financial affairs including those who ignored him in his time of need. I took the liberty to destroy these documents without any hesitation to avoid further embarrassment and resentment among those involved.
In a funny way , he always lived in a dream world hoping that he would one day, once again become rich and revert back to his past comfortable life. My father always made sure that he bought a Gymkhana Sweep ticket for Rs 2/ and used to fill the ‘ nom de plume’ column with words ‘sure to win’. He believed in ’Wigi-board’ and ‘tumbler talking’ game and rather foolishly expected the ’mysterious spirits’ to forecast his dream future.
During these difficult times, my father’s long established connection and association with St Aloysius College helped my school career immensely. He wrote to Reverend fathers Chiriatti and Perniola explaining his financial hardships relating to my school education. With no hesitation what so ever, they promised help and admitted me immediately to the college hostel offering me a scholarship funded by the Old Boys Association even though I was a Buddhist studying in a catholic school. I am ever so grateful to Reverend Jesuit Fathers and Father Morell for giving me all the asistance and moral support during my stay at school, including my first new pair of football boots when I was a under 17 soccer player. When I entered the University the school very kindly generously awarded me the Rajapakse Scholarship for 4 full years so that I could continue my university studies without worrying about financial problems.
In a rather strange way, my two sisters Pearl and Queenie who were attending the Hikkaduwa Central School at the time, boosted our family budget immensely by receiving Rs 40/ and Rs 20/ monthly, after winning government scholarships. During our hard times my father depended heavily on a very understanding and sympathetic village shop keeper called ’Ralahami’ who allowed us to buy everything available on unlimited credit for years trusting that someday my father will settle the account. Unfortunately my father did not survive that long to keep his promise but we did settle the full amount due, as soon as we could even though a few years late.
Even though my father, sadly did not live long enough to see our progress, my mother Jayawathie, through her sheer courage and determination kept the family going through the most difficult period of our lives. At least she lived long enough see all her children doing rather well and establish themselves in society .
I retired as the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue after serving the department for 37 years. My eldest son Nishan , ( a Chartered Institute of Management accountant and a Computer Engineer) is a very proud father of triplets and is employed by DFCC. Other son Thushan , ( Chartered Accountant) is married and have two daughters and is the Group Accountant at Pership.
My sister Pearl graduated in Economics at the University of Ceylon, Peradenia and began working as a teacher for a short period in Sri Lanka. After marrying Mr Justin Pinnaduwa - ( a Chartered Civil and Municipal engineer ),they emigrated to U K and continued her career as a teacher for another 36 years. Her elder daughter Priyanthi read a Mathematic degree at Oxford University and obtained a MA in Personal Management and is at present working as the Manager-Human Resources at a pharmaceutical firm in Cambridge. Her son ,after obtaining a science degree in Computer Technology from University of Manchester is employed by Exon-Mobile as the ’Human Resources Manager -Europe’. My younger sister entered the Vidyodaya University but decided not to continue her university studies and went back to her job at Telecom. She later married Mr Harris Jayasuriya who was a police inspector at the time. My brother Donald has a Diploma in mechanical engineering from Katubadda Technical College and is presently working at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Germany. He married Hildegrad from Germany and have two sons Sascha and Nico. Sascha, after getting a degree in Mechanical Engineering is continuing his studies for a Masters in International Engineering and Nico is continuing his studies to obtain a Diploma in Electrical Engineering.