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An eminent and visionary academic

Emeritus Prof. Dayantha Wijeyesekera

In 1970, a tall handsome young man stepped out of a brand new green Triumph 1300cc car at the University of Moratuwa (UoM) premises.  The undergraduates were curious about this new visiting lecturer, who I was informed was Eng. Dr. Dayantha Wijeyesekera, a Research Engineer attached to the State Engineering Corporation. He had just returned from the UK with a PhD specialising in Hydrology.

My first brief meeting with him was around three weeks after when he indicated his desire to have a staff students’ liaison committee where he wanted me to be the chief student coordinator.

He told me he had followed a technical programme at the Institute of Practical Technology Katubedda (IPTK), and then proceeded to the UK to do his Diploma in Engineering and then followed up with the Doctorate. It was some valuable advice on how one should be courageous and persevering. He had his secondary education at my own alma mater S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia and I also learned that his immediate younger brother Chitral (now a Professor in engineering) was two years senior to me while his youngest brother, late Kusumal, was my classmate.

He was appointed to the permanent staff in 1972, and as head of the department in Civil Engineering of the University in 1974. His knowledge on hydrology and on surface water run-off was exemplary.

Taking over as head of the Civil Engineering Department, he brought the administration to new dimensions. He could identify every student in his department, by having their photos and names displayed in his room and his relationship with staff too was at a high level. Feedback from students was monitored closely, and there were peer reviews to establish the quality of lectures and presentations. In 1977 he was appointed Professor of Civil Engineering and subsequently as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.

In 1975, I joined the Railway Department and one of the first tasks that I was assigned was to carry out permanent repairs to Tunnel No.18 at Pattipola, where temporary repairs were done way back in 1951. I did not hesitate in getting the necessary advice from the University in tackling this arduous and risky task. By this time since my father, late Eng. L.S. De Silva, Retired General Manager Technical, Railway too had joined the University as the Training Engineer, I was able to get advice in both theoretical and practical aspects.

Prof.  Wijeyesekera was very concerned to adopt the appropriate implementation procedure, subject to safety issues of the works, and even took a trip all the way to Pattipola. He proposed that grouting should be done before removal of corroded rail arches, while precast reinforced concrete panels be fixed instead of in-situ concrete lining. Taking his advice, the work was successfully completed in 1981, and up to date there have not been any issues.

He also had the ability to resolve many traffic issues in the country, working very closely with the Police. The present one-way traffic system in the Colombo Fort area was implemented through one of his recommendations.

During his term as Dean of the UoM, he encouraged the cream of the final year students to join the staff, and also sent them for post graduate qualifications. In the mid-1980s, the Civil Engineering Department had 21 PhD qualified lecturers. He was very actively involved in getting recognition from the Council of Engineering Institutions London, for the programmes conducted by UoM.

He was recognised as an active academic, who could transform new institutions to be in line with national and international expectations.  Sri Lanka commenced distance education through the Open University, in the early 1980s but the public perception was not all that great. In 1985 he was appointed by the President to head the Open University as its Vice Chancellor. He made many reforms and increased the student population from 8000 to 20,000, during his three terms as Vice Chancellor which ended in 1994.

During this time many buildings of the Open University were constructed, with changes in the administrative and academic structure more or less falling in line with that of the conventional university system. At the same time he was instrumental in opening many outstation centres of the Open University to cater to the less privileged students.

In 1984, he was selected to lead a team of experts who were involved in setting up of the Technical Training Institute at Katunayake under a UNDP/ILO project. A speciality in this programme was that students were given a practical training, much more than the theoretical background they received. All these were the thinking and strategies of this visionary.

Prof. Wijeyesekera was always keen to implement an alternate route for those who had  GCE A’Level qualifications but  had failed to gain entry to the state universities. He developed Tertiary and Vocational Education, to the extent that even those in outstations could follow these courses in Technical Colleges. He even encouraged split (multiple entry) education to facilitate students getting back to employment after following a particular level and again to return to academic studies when convenient. These colleges were administered by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) which was set up in early 1990s, where he was the founder Chairman.

In 1999,   Prof. Wijeyesekera was appointed Vice Chancellor of University of Moratuwa, where he continued for two terms. During this period he recommended the Government establish an affiliated Institute under the Moratuwa University to conduct diploma courses for technology students which was named Institute of Technology University of Moratuwa (ITUM). He expanded Engineering Studies at the University of Moratuwa by introducing new departments and faculties.  He had an unblemished record that the Universities he headed, functioned without any closure due to student unrest. He also had the distinction in the administrative sphere of being appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Technical and Vocational Education.

Prof. Wijeyesekera was appointed the President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Sri Lanka (CILT) for the session 1989/1991 and was  elected President, Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL) for 1991/1992.  He was also the Vice Patron of the Institution of Incorporated Engineers, Sri Lanka (IIESL). He was awarded the “the Top Ten Outstanding Persons” award for Sri Lankans under 40 for academic achievements and was conferred three Honorary Doctorates. He was also awarded the “Eminence of Engineering” award by the IESL. In 2005, he received the title “Vidya Jyothi” in the Presidential honours list.

During his retirement he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Vocational Technology, (UoVT) and functioned in this capacity until he was taken seriously ill in 2022.

In the latter years of his life, the selfless devotion of his loving wife Carmalene supported by Chinthana and Nayomi was admirable.

His former students are active and excelling in service. Many who have retired continue to serve the country and profession as he did.

A gentleman par excellence, we value his contribution to the profession and society where he showed the path for courage, commitment and dedication blended with the right attitude.

May his soul rest in peace.

Priyal De Silva 


 He devoted his life to promote ‘daham pasal’ education in Kotte

K. D. Wijayapala

It is always sad to bid farewell to a person whom you have been closely associated with. Mr. Wijayapala, widely known as Bonni Aiya or Bonni Mama, was a very popular personality in Kotte, a genuine gentleman who devoted the entirety of his life to promote ‘daham pasal’ education for a generation in the Kotte area.

As a young lad in his twenties he initiated a Lama Samajaya with four children inside a cadjan hut in 1955 mainly to train them to recite Jayamangala Gatha when needed. Gradually it flourished and he thought that it should be more valuable to provide a Daham education too along with the training given to them to participate in social activities. Thus the Lama Samajaya turned into a popular daham pasala formerly known as “Wijaya Lama Samajaya”.

Subsequently the daham pasala along with Lama Samajaya was widened with variety of activities such as a Bakthi Geetha group, Jayamangala reciting group, which helped the society immensely.

In 1965 he formed an oriental orchestra with the assistance of then Principal S. Hettiarachchi who rendered immense support to develop the school. With the increasing number of students, the school had to be shifted – moving to the Jayamangalarama premises and Mahindarama school amidst many obstacles.

Wijaya Daham Pasala received the ‘Swarna Thilina’ sammanaya in 1985 from the Kotte Shasanarakshaka Bala Mandalaya –  honoured as the best Daham Pasala of the year.

Mr Wijayapala was in search of a permanent premises to house the school. The Chief Incumbent of Sri Naga Vihara, the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera being a very close associate of his, very generously offered a section of the temple premises to construct the school. With that he was fortunate to realise his lifelong dream with the very generous backing from P. Lokukodikar, the proprietor of Sausiri Group who donated a beautiful two-storeyed building with all accessories needed to open a fully equipped daham pasala at the premises of Sri Naga viharaya Kotte.

Sri Naga Vihara Wijaya Daham Psala was declared open on January 4, 1998. The school developed very rapidly with the blessings of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and at the end of the year, there were 2000 students. Since it was difficult to accommodate them all on Sunday the management had to organise the primary school on Saturday and the upper school on Sunday.

Thus Bonni Aiya was able to see the fruitful results of his lifelong aspiration before his demise although he was not altogether happy with the functioning of the school after the departure of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha few years ago.

Venerable Bhikkhus of many temples from the area who were closely associated with Mr. Wijayapala throughout the years including the present Chief Incumbent of Sri Naga Viharaya, Ven. Waturavila Sri Sujatha Thera, the Chief Incumbent of Sunethradevi Pirivena Ven. Alikewila Seelarathana Thera highly appreciated the service he had rendered to society at the Pansukula ceremony.

He had requested a very simple funeral sans any flowers, “Guna Kataha” and decorations on the way to the cemetery and the body to be buried. A large number paid homage to this distinguished personality who was 93 years at the time of his passing and who had devoted his whole life for the betterment of the society, especially to nurture several generations of young Sri Lankans.

I joined the tutorial staff of Daham Pasala on his invitation with the introduction given by my friend Lalitha Botheju in 1998 and I feel happy that I was able to complete 25 years teaching when Bonny Aiya was alive. I am grateful to him for paving the path for me to promote Daham Denuma to a generation of students. “Poojacha Poojaneeyanam- Ethang Mangala Muttamam”.

May he be able to shorten his sansaric sojourn and attain the Supreme bliss of Nibbana.

Shantha Manawadu Abeysekera


A gentle, generous and good human being

Hashendranath De Lanerolle

My wife Krishni’s eldest brother Hashendranath De Lanerolle passed away suddenly on November 30 last year. I had known him since 1977 and took an immediate liking towards him as he was a soft-spoken, gentle, generous and good human being. He was the adored eldest son of Malcolm De Lanerolle and Edith De Lanerolle and much loved brother of Mohan (Loni), Rohan, Krishni, Kumudini and Nirukshi.

Aiya, as I called him worked at various offices both here and abroad where he always excelled in the responsible duties he was entrusted with. He was a good sportsman at his alma mater, St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa and was keen on going out to fish as often as possible.

Aiya was a loving and devoted husband to Philomina (Philo) and a fine Dadda to his only daughter Santhoshini. When Philo unfortunately had a fall and had to use  a walker, Aiya took upon himself the task of caring for her and attended to a lot of the household chores and the gardening as well.

He made it a point to call his siblings and inquire about their wellbeing particularly when they were not well. He often helped us out financially without any hesitation and with a lot of love.

He played the roles of parent, brother and friend admirably and was therefore a strength to all the family. He was non-judgmental with no words of ill-will against anyone.

Aiya worked at the Church of St Francis of Assissi in Mount Lavinia where he looked after the church premises and attended to the needs of any parishioners who happened to go to the church office.

He did not suffer much as a result of his ailment and passed away peacefully.

I pray his precious soul is now at eternal peace and safe in the arms of his Maker.

Before I could complete writing this tribute, Aiya’s beloved wife Philomina also passed away after a brief illness and thus joined him in heaven. We pray that her soul would also now rest in peace with the Lord.

Sunil Fernando


 

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