A champion of commerce who was witness to the Ceylonisation of trade
OWEN REGINALD KRELTSZHEIM
With the death of Owen Reginald Kreltszheim, aged 89, in mid-January 2011, we have lost a gentleman of a rare breed.
I had known Owen for more than three decades, but closely only for a few years. His life and times, especially the way he guided the destinies of an export house and emerging Ceylon business and plantation interests in the early 20th century, deserve mention.
The middle of the last century marked the beginning of an uncertain future for the Dutch Burgher community, a community that had been somewhat privileged under both the Dutch and the British. The official language policy after Independence made many members of the community consider an alternative homeland. The majority departed our shores.
I believe many of Owen’s relatives were among those who left the country.
But Owen chose to remain in the land of his birth.
The Burghers had left an indelible imprint in both the public and private sectors, not to mention the professions and sports of this country. The Burgher community was distributed over all parts of the island, but many lived close to the city of Colombo. Nugegoda was much favoured among the community. The Burghers interacted and mingled easily with the other communities. Nugegoda’s cosmopolitan mix since British times suited them perfectly.
Owen lived in Melder Place, named after his wife’s family. Melder Place and Raymond Road were two parts of Nugegoda that were long associated with the Burghers.
After completing his education at Wesley College, Colombo, Owen joined E. B. Creasy and Darley Butler & Co. Ltd, the leading British firm. The pre-Independence era saw the rapid rise of Ceylonese business interests. Apart from the tea, rubber and coconut industries, the three principal revenue earners, Ceylonese businesses rapidly expanded into the maritime provinces, giving rise to a new breed of planters and business leaders.
As soon as Independence was achieved, there was a strident cry from the indigenous business leaders for the Ceylonisation of trade that had long been in the control of British and Indian interests. The government introduced momentous legislation, eliminating trading by British and Indian-owned firms. This resulted in the closure of Darley Butler’s export department, where Owen was employed.
Owen had arrived at a decisive juncture in his life.
Among the main suppliers of cinnamon to Darley Butler was Darsin de Silva & Company, rubber and cinnamon planters and transporters based in Ambalangoda. Darsin and another cinnamon planter, Hector Fernando, had developed a friendship with Owen over the years. It was their influence and vision that led to the formation of Intercom Ltd, with Hector Fernando as chairman, Owen Kreltszheim as managing director, and Darsin de Silva and C. Muthukumaraswamy as directors.
When Hector died in the mid-1980s, Owen took over as chairman. Many attribute the rise of Intercom Ltd to the pinnacle of the cinnamon trade to Owen’s total dedication to work. He burnt the midnight oil to make the company a success.
It was also in the early 1980s that Owen took on the role of Honorary Secretary of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka, which had pioneered the Ceylonisation of trade. The Chamber of Commerce had a substantial membership of emerging business leaders. Significantly, many of them were originally from the Southern coastal belt. Their rise brought about vital socio-economic changes, resulting in private sector expansion, employment generation, and enhanced export earnings.
Owen also served the Church. He was Warden of SS Mary and St. John, founded more than 150 years ago. He was also an active member of the YMCA of Nugegoda. These were two life-long attachments. Owen was also a keen tennis player at one stage of his life.
As Honorary Secretary of the National Chamber of Commerce, Owen distinguished himself by his meticulous attention to the tasks assigned to him. It was during this period, in the early 1980s, that I came to know him closely. He impressed me as a calm, unruffled and principled individual. He was indeed one of the last of the Mohicans.
May the grass lie lightly over Owen Kreltszheim.
Jagath C. Savandasa
Thank you for being my Thaththi
I remember how your arms held me and gave me strength.
You were always there to listen, love, and defend me in everything.
You were my strength.
In my triumphs you were always proud and happy,
You were the shadow I wanted to stand beside and the strength I always had.
You gave me courage and all what we needed without thinking twice.
We only had to ask and next moment it became a reality,
You never questioned us, you never scolded us, perhaps it may have been a mistake,
but it showed how much you trusted us, and adored both of us.
You gave us a happy, picture-perfect childhood, with all the comforts one could get and endless love and caring.
Now that I am a mother, I can understand how happy you would have been to see us now
I’m very grateful and proud to call you my Thaththi..
If only I could turn back the time I would have never let you go.
Now that you are gone, the tears keep flowing .......................
Your hands so warm, voice so clear, sincere smile,
Your laughter, I remember like yesterday.
Just like the rain; tears fall, when I think of the good times we had, and what a cheerful, strong and smiling person you were,
Thank you Thaththi for giving me life,
and a wonderful childhood, the best phase of my life…....
Your little girl always, Shiro
Ex-Serviceman and environmentalist who strove to save the mangroves of Puttalam
My brother Robert Fernando and I both joined the Royal Ceylon Air Force on June 2, 1967. The Air Force Commander at the time was war veteran, Air Vice Marshal E. R. Amarasekera.
Robert and I were the first brothers ever to join the Air Force in the same intake. Robert first served in the Air Force Regiment, and then, in a change of trade, moved to the Force’s Air Movement Branch of the Supply and Maintenance Depot, based at Katunayake.
On completing his 10 years’ service, Robert left the Air Force to go to Saudi Arabia. where he served in the Logistics Department of the King Khalid Military City (KKMC), in Riyadh. After completing his two-year contract in Riyadh, he returned to Sri Lanka.
On his return, Robert initiated an environmental organisation, NATMARCO, together with my younger brother, Merl Fernando, an award-winning environmentalist.
NATMARCO – the Sri Lanka National Mangroves and Coastal Habitat Conservation Fund – was based in the coastal belt of Puttalam district. Robert was quick to identify environmental issues in the district. He also found that the district was highly attractive to aquaculture developers, who had ventured into shrimp farming. Shrimp farming, then a lucrative industry, was destroying the eco-system and causing great hardship to the lagoon fishing community, not to mention causing extensive damage to the district’s flora and fauna.
Through the Asia Foundation, in Colombo, Robert obtained USAID assistance in order to take corrective measures. Under the NATMARCO project, Robert and his volunteer co-workers raised more than one million mangrove saplings, in 10 plant nurseries. They planted those saplings in denuded parts skirting the lagoons in and around the coastal belt of Puttalam.
For this outstanding environment-saving endeavour, Robert was given the opportunity to visit several South-Eastern countries in order to study environmental issues. He represented non-government organisations at many international conferences, workshops and on study tours.
Robert later left for US to work on his environmental science PhD. During this time, he suddenly fell sick and had himself admitted to a Connecticut hospital, where he underwent heart surgery. One night, six months later, his son Anton received a telephone call from Robert, saying he had developed a severe chest pain.
The only thing Anton could think of doing at the moment was to contact a hospital close to Robert’s apartment. He asked for an ambulance to go and pick his father. The hospital asked Anton to contact the nearest police station for an ambulance, which Anton did. The Connecticut Police immediately dispatched an ambulance to Robert’s apartment.
Robert was fortunate to survive his second heart attack. But last November, while working in his office, he felt the familiar pain in the chest, and had himself admitted to hospital. This time he was not as lucky. He passed away in his hospital bed.
As an environmentalist, Robert worked hard – for three long decades, doing everything he could – to restore the pristine glory of the mangrove forests of Puttalam.
He was a life member of the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems (ISME), Japan, and a member of the National Council of Environment. He was also a member of the Lions’ Club.
Robert was an exceptionally generous person, and donated a number of his valuable books and publications to school libraries. His vision was to live, learn and pass on the knowledge.
Robert leaves behind his beloved wife Ranganie, son Anton Brian, and daughters Nirmalie and Erangika.
In conclusion, may I quote the Quaker, Stephen Grellet:
“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
May Robert rest in peace.
He served all with no thought of race or religion
Dr. A.C. S. Hameed
Today, April 10 marks the birth anniversary of the Late Dr: A.C.S Hameed. He had an illustrious career as a politician in this country. Dr: Hameed had his education at St. Anthony’s College Katugastota and at Vijaya College Matale.
He was the principal of Winchester College Matale before taking to politics.
He was very keen to educate rural children. In 1959 he started the Kandy Muslim Training College filling a much needed void for Muslim teachers.
He entered Parliament in 1960 and represented Harispattuwa till his demise in 1999 (probably an unbroken record during his time).
Ten years after his demise his nephew, present Member of Parliament, Mr. Haleem represents Harispattuwa. The development carried out by Dr Hameed in Harspattuwa made it stand out as a model constituency.
Throughout the 39 years of active political life Dr. Hameed represented a constituency that had a majority of Sinhala Buddhist voters. It was the Sinhalese, Muslims, Hindus and Christians who voted and sent him to Parliament as their representative.
He was fair by all communities. He not only built mosques but also helped the Buddhists in Harispattuwa to build Seema Maalakas, Baudha Mandalayas, Hindu temples as well as churches in the electorate.
In 1966 the late Dr. Hameed, when travelling to California after attending the UN general assembly sessions in New York, had come across a liquor bar, named “The Buddha Bar”. On returning to Sri Lanka he launched a campaign to ensure that the name was changed and he succeeded in doing so through the US Embassy in Colombo. In 1977 when he became Foreign Minister he did his best to bring in investment opportunities and open up manufacturing companies here. Most of them are still functioning.
Dr. Hameed as Foreign Minister played a creative and imaginative role with regard to the Non Aligned Movement when Sri Lanka held the chairmanship from 1977 to 1979.
The Late President J.R.Jayewardene when handing over the leadership of the Non Aligned movement in 1979 to Fidel Castro in Havana, specifically singled out his Foreign Minister Dr. Hameed for the excellent role he played.
He was also concerned about trying to solve the ethnic problem in this country.
He excselled as a good orator in all three languages both within and outside Parliament.
We pray he be in Jannathul Firdouse