With the passing away of Chris Panabokke it would not be an exaggeration to say this marks the end of an array of near immortal names in local Agriculture. While apologising for any unintentional omissions, one may justifiably identify as contemporary giants, – MF Chandraratne, AWR Joachim, Ernest Abeyratne, JWL Pieris CS Weeraratna, and Chris Panabokke , all of whose contributions to Agricultural Sciences are an indelible record. They all belong to a genre of outstanding intellects, whose combined efforts constitute what we may consider as the indelible story of Sri Lanka’s contemporary Agricultural Sciences.

If one were to seek a common binding of these impressive intellects, it was their ability to place agriculture as a humane understanding of some factor in the overall picture. They cover the fields of Genetics (principally in the stupendous mileposts in Rice Research), Dry Zone farming, Plant Protection, Breeding and Research Management. Ernest Abeyaratna and Chris Panabokke were the two pioneers in what is today’s Dry Zone Agriculture Station, Maha Illuppallama.

Panabokke (Chris to his friends) was as large in mental stature, as he was small in the physical sense!. During his service as a Member of the CRI Board, a small wooden platform was installed in the Gent’s and soil pits were dug for examining soil layers. We would tell him that the wooden platform and the steps on the sides of soil pits were entirely for his convenience, and “hands on” experience. The pun was not lost on him.

Even in his later years, with the inexorable dimming of the five senses, his mental characteristics endured. Somewhere in his telephone conversations, he interjected the query “And what is the current status of Sri Lankan Science?” His penetrative summaries were a clear index of a sense of despair, nostalgia and disappointment. He could “see the bigger picture”. This was a trait that ran through all his copious scientific contributions.

His contributions towards Soil Science and Irrigation Technology were set against a deep understanding of the traditional and historical achievements of our forebears, in irrigated cropping. He once lamented “We have a number of engineers who know much about how to move water from A to B, but not one who would qualify for a title of “Irrigation Engineer ”. He once described a well known and respected Engineer as “… Is a fairly good baas unnehe”.

He was also the source of acute observation, spiced with good humour and an unforgettable shy giggle. Once, while commenting on a rapid turnover of Secretaries of Agriculture (or Scientific Affairs?), he lamented thus, “The first fellow did not read anything, the second read, but did not understand. The third b … read and misunderstood!”

He had two daughters. His wife predeceased him three years ago as did his elder daughter.

The past few years has witnessed the deaths of several notable dominant personalities of the local scientific community. One recalls several large names  A few that spring to mind are :- Gamini Corea and ADV De S Indraratne (Economists),  Swarna Jayaweera (Educationist) Tommy and Eugine Wikramanayake, Valentine Basnayake, PriyanI de Soysa, CG Uragoda, Carlo Fonseka, (Medicine), JNO  Fernando, Dougie Nethsinghe, ROB Wijesekara (Chemistry), Ravie Perera, Rohan Wickramasinghe (Environment) MD Dasanayake, MHV. (Bola) Cooray, (Botany), WRH Perera , K Sri Barathi (Forestry), are those who come to mind.

Dr  Upatissa  Pethiyagoda


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