Glimpses of an admirable Admiral
Clancy Fernando
The 10th death anniversary of Admiral Clancy Fernando, the former Commander of the Navy fell on November 16. His name is etched in the annals of history as the highest-ranking Sri Lankan military officer to make the supreme sacrifice for his motherland.

Admiral Fernando was assassinated on November 16, 1992 at 8.35 a.m. on the Galle Face Centre Road in the heart of Colombo. He was on his way to Naval Headquarters at Flagstaff Street in the Galle Buck from his official residence "Navy House" at Longden Place, Colombo 7.

It was a bright sunny Monday and I called the Admiral at his residence to indicate my inability to join him on the drive from his residence to office. By then he was getting ready for breakfast with his family and said, "Thank you, I'll be there" and replaced the receiver. It was the last telephone conversation I would have with him.

After a few minutes, I switched on the communication set to monitor his movements. Suddenly, I heard confused messages and within seconds my office telephone rang. On line was the Admiral's wife.

As I approached the scene with tears in my eyes many things crossed my mind. Then I realized that it was all over and death had snatched him from our midst.

I deem it a privilege to have known him, served under him as his Aide and Personal Secretary during his tenure of office, from August 1, 1991 to November 16, 1992 and received his wise counsel.

Wannakuwatta Waduge Erwin Clancy Fernando was born on October 10, 1938. He had his education at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa.

The usual practice was for aspirant Naval Officers to join as cadets and undergo initial training in the Royal Ceylon Navy and continue at the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, United Kingdom.

Young Fernando joined the then Royal Ceylon Navy on December 17, 1957.

Admiral Fernando once recalled those days at Dartmouth. "The cadets wore uniforms of a heavy cloth that never kept its shape and boots and starched collars were compulsory. Everything was done at the double, whether or not there was need for hurry, and the discipline was military. To toughen the boys in mind and body was a constant pre-occupation."

He demanded the highest standards from himself and from everyone else. Yet his professionalism was not cold or calculating. He got enormous pleasure out of everything he did and communicated it to all around him.

Hard work and efficiency made him a constructive and thoughtful architect for the future.

The President at that time believed that this courageous officer was being unfairly held down. That belief was to stand Fernando in good stead and he became the Acting Commander of the Navy on August 1, 1991. This consoled him and fortified him for the struggles that lay ahead. "First Day as COMNAV" was his diary entry for August 1, 1991.

A powerful, analytical mind, a superabundance of energy, great persuasive powers and endless resilience in the face of setback or disaster rendered him the most formidable of operators.

He had a dynamic personality blended with a personal charm and magnanimity but it was his leadership that was commendable.

He was a familiar sight on the frontlines. In Nagatheevanthurai, at Elephant Pass and even regularly travelling on small naval craft on the Kilali lagoon. He took enormous risks to boost the morale of his men.

He was a dedicated leader who gave his commitment to defending peace, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. He rendered logistic support to the successful joint operations that were carried out in the north.

It was the naval backing that enabled the forces to expand the forward defence line in Jaffna.

I can still remember him walking across the uncleared pathway to Elephant Pass within minutes after the siege was broken. Undeterred by the rocket fire all around, he rushed to supervise the evacuation of the injured.
I never felt afraid to go to him even after making a mistake. He would always say, "Don't worry, every problem has a solution" and explain carefully what should be done next. He was resourceful, quick in his reactions, always ready to cut his losses and start again.

Admiral Fernando was an all-round sportsman. Someone once asked him which he preferred - tennis, shooting or golf. After a moment's reflection he replied, "Well, golf after all, is a professional's game." He was in his early fifties when he embarked on golf but he enjoyed it.

The Sri Lanka Navy and the nation bade farewell to him with full naval honours and heavy hearts. The epilogue of the funeral oration still lingers in my memory: "Sir, though you have departed from us, your name and service shall be remembered by us forever as a great patriotic officer and gentleman, true son of mother Lanka who has made the supreme sacrifice in defence of our country. As you fade away beneath the waves, we will steer your cause with all guns blazing."
Captain Shemal Fernando

J.A. Gnanapragasam
An unselfish man
The death occurred in London on September 10 of James Arasaratnam Gnanapragasam. He had gone to England to attend the wedding of his grandchild. He was in the winter of his life - 93 years of age. The years sat lightly on him. He was sprightly and alert.

He was a distinguished alumni of Trinity College, Kandy. He played rugger for Trinity. As a chartered mechanical engineer, he held a number of responsible posts in the Railway. Though an engineer, he was appointed AGMR (Administration) in the Rampala era. He carried out his duties firmly but gently.

After his retirement from the Railway, he joined BCC as its Chief Engineer and Works Manager. Later when eminent engineer P Rajagopal, a former General Manager of Railways, started the private firm Railway Engineering Consultants to build carriages for the railway, he joined the company as its General Manager and Chief Engineer.

Mr. Gnanapragasam was a princely man, unselfish almost to a fault. He emanated kindness and goodness. I have known him for more than three decades and was enriched by his friendship. Always concerned about the wellbeing of my family, he inquired about my wife and daughter, whenever we met, and assured me of his prayers. Such was the man, always concerned about others.

His beloved wife Rose Jebakani predeceased him nine years ago.

He was a man of God, good Christian and active member of the community of Christ Church, Galle Face. The service of thanksgiving for his life and work was held at this church on October 12. The panegyric by his daughter-in-law Sylvia at the funeral service in London was re-read by his son Bala at the thanksgiving service. It was a touching song of praise and love for a great man. The hymn sheet carried an apt quote from the Bible:

"I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith."

Douglas Edirisinghe

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