A pioneer of one-day elections, he was a polls chief respected by all

Deshamanya Edwin Felix Dias-Abeyesinghe, former Commissioner of Elections, Secretary PPC, and High Commissioner to Australia, passed away in the early hours of May 14, this year. The funeral took place on his 88th birthday on May 16, in Australia.

Edwin Felix Dias-Abeyesinghe

He had a bright career at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, and obtained his B.A. (London) from the Ceylon University College. He was on the tutorial staff of Methodist Boys’ School (now Aluthgama Vidyalaya), Richmond College, Galle, S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia and Trinity College, Kandy. He had a short spell as an Asst. Accountant at the Bank of Ceylon and thereafter joined the Department of Local Government in 1944 as an Office Assistant and rose to the position of Commissioner of Local Govt.

He acted as Commissioner of Elections in 1957 and in the latter part of 1959 he was the first to be appointed as Commissioner of Elections after this post was made independent similar to the post of Auditor General. He was the first to take on the burden of conducting the 1960 General Election in March, islandwide in a single day and the counting of the ballots that very night, unlike the previous general elections which went on for days. This one-day system of holding a general election islandwide was greatly appreciated after the 1977 July election, by the then Prime Minister, J.R. Jayewardene (later Executive President), whose letter of appreciation is reproduced here (see box).

A copy of this letter is included as Appendix ‘L’ in the book Keerawelle Menikkadawara Bandarawallya by James Dias-Abeyesinghe, a relative of Felix Dias-Abeyesinghe.
As the Elections Chief he never cast his vote for 18 years until he retired from service.
The honorific ‘Deshamanya’ for ‘distinguished services of a highly meritorious order’ was awarded to him in 1987 by the President of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Dias-Abeyesinghe held a record in conducting five general elections and 40 by-elections during his tenure as Commissioner of Elections, in an impartial and efficient manner, so much so, it became a source of study to other countries. In addition, he was also an authority on the National Identity Card system.

He was respected by all political parties for his honesty and integrity which is expected of a Public Servant, especially when bestowed with an onerous post as Commissioner of Elections.

In his final report as Commissioner of Elections he had suggested that the marking of a finger with indelible ink should be stopped forthwith as it was a slur on the country. If I am to quote his very own words, “a blot on our national character.”

Mr. Abeyesinghe was a humble and God-fearing person. Though he possessed a wealth of experience and academic qualifications, when appointed as High Commissioner to Australia he is supposed to have said, “I am nervous about my appointment since I don’t know much about the art of diplomacy. I am hoping to learn my job.” However during his period as High Commissioner he promoted trade, investments and aid to Sri Lanka.

“The Lord Giveth, The Lord Taketh,
Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord.”
(Job 1 : 21)

Rajah Dias-Abeyesinghe

Letter from then Prime Minister

Prime Minister’s Office Sri Lanka
Dear Mr. Dias Abeyesinghe,

I wish to convey to you and through you to all the officers of your Department, the appreciation of the Government and my own appreciation of the exemplary manner in which the General Election held on 21st July 1977 was successfully organized and conducted.

The increasing involvement of the public over the years in the elective process, the keen competitive element that has been a feature of recent elections, and the enormity of the tasks involved in conducting a General Election on one day has enhanced the responsibility of the Department and made the task of organization and execution more complex. It is with pleasure that I convey to you and request you to convey to all the officers of whatever level who contributed to this achievement, the appreciation of the Government and my own warm appreciation of their devotion to duty, their high level of efficiency, often in very difficult circumstances, and much personal sacrifice.

I think it would be appropriate on this occasion to make a reference to your own personal sacrifice. Since your appointment as Commissioner of Elections in 1958 you have had the arduous and very responsible duty of organizing and successfully concluding five General Elections.

During this period I have never heard a word said against your own personal conduct, your sense of impartiality and your devotion to duty though Governments have changed five times.

On the other hand I have heard nothing but praise. This is a singular achievement for a public servant and I am happy to say that you have throughout this period maintained the highest standard and traditions that the countrymen expect of a public servant.

Yours sincerely
(Signed) J.R. Jayewardene,
Prime Minister

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A source of inspiration, solace and comfort

'Prof. Kingsley De Silva'

He was born to a God-fearing Catholic family at Kandana in 1932. His father, the late Donald De Silva, a reputed teacher in mathematics and chemistry, was much respected by his students for his dedication and discipline. Some of them entered priestly/religious life or held important positions in their vocations.

After a successful university education, Prof. Kingsley qualified in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He then proceeded to the UK to obtain further qualifications in that speciality. He worked as a Senior Lecturer in the University of Colombo for about 12 years.

Thereafter he was appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Peradeniya in 1976, which post he held for 14 years. Since 1984 he served as the Consultant in Gyn., Obs. at Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital. He was proud of his students advancing in their respective careers and they, in turn, were proud to have been trained by him. After his marriage to Eranee, a daughter of the late Dr. Richard Caldera, an eminent gynaecologist who was in charge of De Soysa Maternity Hospital, Prof. Kingsley came to reside in the Borella parish. He was greatly influenced by the spirituality of his father-in-law. A faithful follower of Jesus Christ, the Great Healer, he delivered the blessings of healing to numerous patients under his care. His faithfulness to his patients and the loving care flowing from him have become life-time memories. Many a time, he went out of his way to save the lives of those in his care. Even during the time of his last and terminal illness, he cared less about his own ailment, and more about his patients, enquiring continuously about the progress of their recovery, even giving appropriate instructions to his assistants.

He suffered courageously, always with a smile on his face, telling us that now he is waiting for a call from Heaven! It was during this period of time that we realized that he was a much more noble human being, on a mission with higher ideals.

He lived by his conscience, dealing with issues squarely, tempered with the essence of fairplay. He trusted those who served under him and they in turn trusted him, but he was never happy with the lazy, cowardly or the dishonest. Among his noble qualities, such as fidelity to his family, relatives and friends, his loving care for the needy, was the most impressive.

His associates will miss him very much, but will carry with them, loving and unforgettable memories of his thoughtfulness and kindness. He was a source of inspiration, comfort and solace.

Although his mortal remains were buried, his multi-faceted services to humanity will remain immortal.

“Good night sweet Prince! May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Andrew Samaratunge

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An unsung hero, he achieved much

'Summa Amarasinghe'

Summa Amarasinghe is no more. He passed away quietly after a haemorrhage in the wee hours of last Sunday morning comforted by his caring wife Kanthi, at the Durdans Hospital's Coronary Care Unit. If I had missed the opportunity to beg forgiveness from this former boss of mine prior to his departure, that would be for not letting him see or hear what I was to write about him. To me Summa was more a friend, than a boss. He changed my life after a chance meeting we had at the Jefferson Room of the East West Centre in Hawaii in 1975. He topsy-turvyed my plan of becoming an agricultural economist and made me a proud pioneer with him, in setting up the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) and authoring the much talked about Coast Conservation Act No 57 of 1981 for Sri Lanka.

I learnt most of my early management lessons from him. He was a brilliant coastal engineer and strategic thinker cum manager who would insist that we crossed our 't' s and dotted our 'i' s right. He was a perfectionist as a professional. He was a guru who cared for each of us and held up the ladders for success, without holding anything back.

His passion for coastal zone management was electrifying. During the 1980s, he would convince the CCD team, local people, politicians and ministers of government with equal ease on the need to ban coral and sand mining to protect our coasts. He would support and protect his team of officials from those who opposed the Coast Conservation Department's moves in these early days, with determination and grit. He stood firm with a sense of diplomacy but never gave into the politicians. Had they listened to him and heeded his advice then, we would have prevented a few thousand deaths and immense loss of property when the tsunami struck in Akurala / Seenigama areas. It is unfortunate, that the cause for which Summa dedicated most of his life was wasted away later, by those who turned their eyes and minds away from scientific realities, for political gain and material favours.

Among the several firsts he contributed to mother Lanka were the setting up of the Coast Conservation Department (CCD), the CC law and the coastal zone management planning process, setting up of the Lanka Hydraulics Institute (LHI) and the setting up of the international forum and office for the Coastal Zone Management Conference for Less Developed Countries. Summa sourced work for the LHI from Brunei, Indonesia, India, the Maldives and the Middle East. He was also the catalyst for setting up a Coastal Engineering cadre within the engineering profession in Sri Lanka. Armed with a civil engineering degree from the University of Ceylon, Summa joined the then Colombo Port Commission in 1959.

In 1964, he entered the field of coastal engineering after obtaining a one year study diploma from Delft University in Holland on a Dutch Government scholarship. Four years later he moved to Britain's Hydraulic Research Station and obtained a postgraduate qualification in coastal engineering on a Nuffield Research Foundation Scholarship.

Summa also loved to travel abroad and would plan his several visits a year to various parts of the world with his usual attention to detail. He once had an audience with the Queen of England and was so proud of this opportunity. Summa simply was incorrigible, but those who knew him closely knew how lovable he was. He was difficult and sometimes troubled those who loved him for he would not listen to them always, for he had his own mind.

When the elder of his two sons Chulaka won the Royal-Thomian encounter for Royal, the proud father was there to cheer him. As Mahesh Rodrigo, Summa's school-time friend and Chulaka's mentor recently told me "Summa was then the winning captain's father, now he is the father of the winning team's coach".

He was referring to the Royal College cricket team's victory at the last big match where his son Chulaka was the team’s coach. It was the same with Romesh the younger. He cheered him on, in the Rugby field and when he achieved success in academic pursuits, he talked about that with equal pride.

Summa was an unsung hero who achieved a lot in his lifetime, which may perhaps go unnoticed to many.

Renton de Alwis

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My quiet friend who was always there in the background

'Ellerine Wijetunga – Dissanaike'

As yet I find it difficult to accept that my friend of many years, Ellerine Wijetunge Dissanaike is no more. Our friendship began in school and continued into our late lives.

Ellerine was a quiet friend, always there in the background when I needed her. She refused to join our gang called the Secret Seven who talked about love-affairs, boy-friends and sex. For even at that exploring age she had only one man in her life, Dr. Stanley Dissanaike.

She was one of my bridesmaids, when I married Ananda Wijenaike in 1952. Ananda and Stanley took to each other straight away and, prior to marriage, we escorted each other, making a foursome going on picnics and journeys. I still have a snap of the four of us bathing in the Ambalangoda natural sea water pool. Ellerine and Stanley married a year later in 1953. As the years passed we kept up our friendship because we found we had a lot in common. We were not socialites going from party to party. No, we had our children and homes and gardens where we loved to meet and talk. Finally there were the grandchildren but unfortunately my husband died before he could see them at the age of 52 of a lung illness. I was left a widow at the age of 42, with three unmarried girls on my hands. Ellerine and Stanley continued befriending me in my loneliness. But of late Ellerine withdrew into herself, often refusing to talk to me on the telephone. Now I understand that she was too ill to talk.

I would like to end with a quotation from a poem sent by Stanley after her death.

When, I am gone, release, let me go-
I gave you my love
You gave me happiness.
Though you cannot see me or touch me anymore
I am near.
And then, when one day, you must come this way alone-
I’ll be there for you, once again, with a smile to say-
‘Welcome home’.

Punyakante Wijenaike




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