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Commemorating 116th birth anniversary of Prof. EOE Pereira

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Dr. Eng. H.H.J. Keerthisena

Vidya Jyothi Eng. Prof E.O.E. Pereira (13.9.1907 – 22 .5.1988) the father of Engineering education in Sri Lanka, eminent scholar and visionary is remembered with gratitude on his 116th birth anniversary.The Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka organized the annual Memorial Oration last Wednesday (Sept. 13).

I first met Prof. Eustace Pereira popularly known as Prof. EOE when I faced the interview for Engineering entrance to University in 1962 as the first student from Rahula College, Matara.I was very nervous as it was my first time in a white suit with no one to guide me on the interview.

Prof. EOE was chairing the panel and immediately put me at ease asking me about Rahula College and the Matara bridge under construction. I was amazed by his intimate knowledge of the South when he asked me why a good school like Rahula couldn’t send boys to Engineering Faculty.

I answered that many Rahula students entered EFac from good schools in Colombo and Galle.

Later I came to know that Prof. EOE’s father, George Eustace Pereira, studied at St. Thomas’ Matara and his grandfather, Edwin C Pereira, graduated in 1872 with first batch of Ceylon Medical College.

EOE Pereira excelled in academic work and sports at Royal College, Colombo, narrowly missing colours in cricket. He won most of the science prizes and entered the University of Ceylon in 1928.

He graduated with First Class Hons, winning the Engineering Scholarship to Cambridge University. EOE Pereira completed the three year Engineering degree at Cambridge in two years, with First Class Hons and returned to serve Public Works Department as a professional Civil Engineer for 15 years.

EOE Pereira married Mavis and their sons Lorenz, Bryan and Allen played cricket for Royal College. Lorenz the eldest, and the only surviving son, also played cricket for Cambridge and was a City Planner with the Victorian Government, living in Australia. I am indebted to Lorenz for feeding me with many family details and photographs and appreciating my effort to commemorate Prof. EOE.

Ceylon Technical College (CTC) at Maradana was the only Institution recognized by the University of London to train Engineering graduates in Sri Lanka until it faced a breakdown in 1949.

EOE Pereira well known as a brilliant academic, and a passionate teacher at CTC was appointed a Professor and entrusted with the setting up of the Engineering Faculty of the University in 1950.

Prof. EOE as the founding Dean rendered yeoman service to Engineering education in Sri Lanka planning a broad-based curriculum and excellent academic facilities despite meagre resources.

The faculty inaugurated in 1950 soon got into its strides with excellent performance records in the External degree examination in Engineering of London University in 1952 with 25 passes including three first classes and 13 second classes. Shortly afterwards the University of Ceylon Engineering degree was recognized by the Institutions of Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineers London and the degree was accepted as a qualification for professional employment in most countries abroad.

The shift to Peradeniya in 1964 marked an epoch in the history of the faculty spreading its wings and Peradeniya Engineering Faculty, set trends for other faculties to follow with success.

Prof EOE treated the students and staff of the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty (PeraEFac) he painstakingly established, as his own family and addressed them affectionately as “my boys.”

During the period of the setting up of the PeraEFac, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew visited the University of Peradeniya and was so impressed with the efforts of Prof. EOE, he invited Prof. EOE to come over to Singapore and do the same on a generous salary, and other perks. Prof. EOE turned down the offer politely saying that he still had “unfinished business” at home.

Prof. EOE as Dean never compromised academic standards and his supreme love for Pera E Fac.This is clear from the way he struggled to get funds for construction of his dream Pera E Fac.

Prof. EOE’s original proposal for Pera EFac was a modest Rs.15 million for functional buildings with very little architectural splendour, laboratory equipment, staff housing and Akbar foot bridge across the Mahaveli river. Since the money available was limited Prof. EOE was requested to prune down and he agreed to Rs.11 million. But the Vice Chancellor insisted on a drastic cut to Rs 5.6 million which Prof. EOE refused and submitted his resignation from Deanship in protest.

A committee of experts appointed to resolve the dispute approved Prof. EOE’s request.

The construction of buildings and the bridge was given to large contracting firms.

To clear many myths about Akbar bridge I like to mention that the design of 160 m long 2.7m wide pre-stressed concrete foot bridge costing Rs six million was by Messrs Husband and Co. of England.

The construction was completed by a local engineering firm for use when we moved in 1964.

Prof. EOE was responsible for moving the Faculty of Engineering from its cramped space in Colombo to a more spacious and salubrious place within the Peradeniya Campus in 1964.

Prof. EOE was courteous and fair minded and was always mindful of the needy students. He paid special attention to the needs of the few Sinhala medium students in my batch.

I came to know his wonderful human qualities when I started working under him at EFac in 1968. Prof. EOE was an undisputed leader and a visionary to serve as the Dean Engineering for 18 years until he was elevated as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya in 1969.

He understood the needs of the rural students better than any other academic in the University.

A blind undergraduate at Ramanathan Hall had the misfortune to become pregnant before she could complete the degree and marry her blind fiancée. The warden of the hall took a tough stand to expel her from the hall instantly. The Vice-Chancellor Prof. EOE came to know her plight and invited the girl to stay with Prof and Mrs. EOE in the VC’s lodge until the stigma was wiped out. Thus, she was able to return to the Hall, and complete her studies. The problem was resolved in the most humane way converting a social disgrace and a possible suicide to a happy marriage.

There are many instances of Prof EOE’s acts of compassion, humility, and investment in people.

This view is supported by Prof. EOE’s son Lorenz : “My father remained a poor man financially all his life but was blessed with an unparalleled richness of precious human qualities.” He vehemently believed in investment in people not in material assets. He drove around in an ancient motor car all his life, a car that was “put together by pieces of string and bucket loads of goodwill.”

The commemorative stamp on 60 years of excellence in Engineering Education in Sri Lanka issued in 2010 highlights Prof E.O.E. Pereira’s invaluable service to the nation and Engineering profession.

I am proud to have followed Prof. EOE’s steps in serving Pera EFac for 42 years, delivering my best to uplift engineering education, planning the Engineering Faculty of Ruhuna at Galle on his footsteps.

Peradeniya Engineering Faculty, from 1950-1973 was the only local source of graduate engineers. The output of Engineering graduates increased from 1974 with the entry of Moratuwa, Ruhuna, Kilinochchi, Oluvil, Jayawardenapura Engineering Faculties modelled on Prof. EOE’s concepts.

Many graduates secure positions for higher studies abroad and to serve in academia and industry. It is my fervent hope that to honour this gentleman par excellence, scholar, visionary and the Father of Engineering in Sri Lanka. Peradeniya Engineerring Faculty grows from strength to strength and maintains highest ethical, intellectual, traditions envisaged by Prof. E.O.E.Pereira.

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