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An appreciation: Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala

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I was saddened to learn that our friend and Sri Lanka’s prominent diplomat Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala has quietly closed the door of life and departed from us. To me, a sorrow that is deep and personal. I have known Jayantha since we were two of three finalists for the Herald Tribune essay contest for a traveling scholarship to the United States in the late 1950s; he from Trinity, and I from Richmond, and he won out. Since then, he never stopped shining on the international stage, culminating in his narrow loss in the competition for the Secretary General of the United States post.

In the meantime, he had served Sri Lanka as a foreign service member in countless capitals and as Ambassador to India, China, the United States and the United Nations, and Washington. He also served as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Disarmament, during which he led the U.N. team to investigate the nuclear sites in Iraq just before the Iraqi war and later headed the U.N. Institute of Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

I had the privilege of working closely with him on joint U.N. projects and traveling to various cities, including Ulan Bator, Mongolia, during which we nearly escaped an airline disaster over the then-Soviet Union. Whether it was in the course of official work or the relaxed evenings we spent after a full day of work, it was highly congenial to be in his company. At work, he knew the art of negotiation of being firm while being most congenial, no mean talent that took him to the summit of international diplomacy. He also served Sri Lanka as Foreign Secretary, Head of the Peace Secretariat, and finally as Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka. Few Sri Lankans have ever reached those dizzy heights.

The loss of my friend profoundly saddens me, and I join the diplomatic world that will mourn the death of a diplomat par excellence and a Gentleman to the hilt who served Mother Lanka well! Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, once commented about a man and his contribution: “It is not the years in a life that counts; it is the life in the years.” By that measure, Jayantha Dhanapala is a shining star that lived! We will miss him, and may he find peace!

Nandasiri (Nandi)Jasentuliyana
Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations & Director U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs.

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