ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 16

A great teacher and concerned human being

In the backdrop of the teachers strike, we publish a tribute from a student to a teacher

The very mention of the name will surely warm the hearts of the many who know him. Come September 17, 2007, Mr.Viji Weerasinghe affectionately known as “Duckie” to all of us of an earlier generation, will be reaching a memorable milestone of four score years.

During a career and an inalienable association with his Alma Mater Royal, that spanned well-nigh sixty years, he has been a teacher, benevolent administrator, confidante, an invaluable friend, adviser and above all a very concerned human being.

He joined Royal College in 1939 in the first form after having spent a formative six years at what was then known as the Royal Preparatory School, (run as a part of the Government Training College) , under the care of that renowned educationalist H.S. Perera.

Viji Weerasinghe

At College he belonged to the Bradby era, though he spent the last two years (1946-1947) as a student at that ‘Noble Pile’ under another great principal J.C.A. Corea. From January 1950 onwards it has been virtually an unbroken partnership with Royal, barring a few months of study leave in 1956. Between 1948 and 1949 he gained valuable experience honing his skills as a teacher at St John’s College Nugegoda, while preparing for examinations.

In 1950, Mr. Corea, who always had an eye for picking potential, requested him, to stand in for V.O. de Alwis Gunawardena, who was a teacher at Royal during his time. What began as a temporary teaching assignment at Royal turned into a long and joyful journey!

We were, extremely fortunate that he joined the staff at Royal. It is an undisputed fact that he was a teacher par excellence. Those of us who were taught by him remember him with great affection, particularly those Latin and English Literature classes he taught with such characteristic élan.

He had the remarkable ability to bring a certain infectious vivacity to the subjects he taught which made us eagerly await his lessons. Invariably, these lessons were interspersed with exciting anecdotes that facilitated the ready assimilation of what he taught. He gave us a solid foundation in these subjects for us to build on. I recall with gratitude the early lessons in Latin which persuaded me to continue to read western classics.

Having spent a long time as a teacher, and being a man of men and matters, he was able to hold the seats of Section Head and then as Deputy Principal with ease and acceptance. One of his greatest attributes was his ability to easily relate not only to his young charges but also to the many others with whom he interacted.

He had a deep understanding of human nature sufficient to reach out to people with a genuine concern for them. Being a Latin scholar he believed in the adage – Homo sum; humani a me nihil alienum puto. – “I am human. Therefore, I think nothing human alien to me”. It was this same understanding that helped him to serve a succession of Principals at Royal with equanimity, equal acceptance and to provide them with solid advice, especially at times of impending crisis. Whenever, he smelt impending disaster to the hallowed well-being of his school such as tinkering with her time-tested traditions he put his institutional memory and persuasive powers to good use to steer them and the ship to clear and cleaner waters. He continues to hold this place of confidence to this date.

His remarkable memory also served to endear himself to many. There wasn’t a single student, who went through him, whose name he couldn’t remember. On one such occasion he was met by a past student down Railway Avenue, Nugegoda , who politely asked his respected teacher whether he could remember him. The teacher’s immediate response was to address the pupil by name. This after an elapse of more than twenty years.

The result was an endearing, somewhat embarrassing, embrace by the pupil on the centre of the road. One of the secrets of remembering people is to care and Viji Weerasinghe really cared for his pupils, each and every one of them with concern oozing from every pore. This same ability to associate the name with the face also helped him at least on one occasion to detect an ‘imposter’ who tried to make friends with him in order establish a false identity with the school.

Viji Weerasinghe was a man of great humour, who could diffuse a situation with a pithy remark or humorous turn of phrase. In fact, he preferred to use these as an instrument of discipline rather than resort to corporal chastisement. He used to tell us in class that if we did not do our home work dire consequences would follow. It is not a threat; he used to insist, but a promise. These dire consequences never followed because we saw to it that we did the needful in time.

Once a pupil came whistling into class soon after the lunch interval only to be asked whether he had had bird seed for lunch! The remark was far more effective than six of the best with the cane.

Giving well-nigh sixty years of his life to an instititution with a remarkable dedication and commitment has been a rewarding experience for him. Once he told me in no uncertain terms that he would not have bartered that experience for anything. What is more rewarding than this, he asked me, with a satiated glint in his eye. He had simply refused to leave the staff of Royal in the face of many other, perhaps more lucrative opportunities offered to him - once as the secretary to the Arts Council, for which he was eminently suited for he was not only a man of literature but also of music and the arts as well, then as a DRO and as an Assistant Commissioner of Marketing .Had he taken up any of these positions surely he would have carved for himself a profitable career and shone in one and all of them. Even a more lucrative teaching assignments abroad could not lure him from the call of dedicating himself to his Alma Mater. Nor could an offer of a local position in management on ‘you name your price’ terms.

He simply brushed all these opportunities aside to heed the call of his Alma Mater, jealously guarding the bridge, as it were, to repay the debt he owed and to keep the name of his dear old school inviolate: the school that nurtured him ,and indeed all of us, to Man’s Estate. Over the years he had grown like a massive oak tree whose endearing branches had given, and still continue to give, that essential shade and comfort to many a Royalist, young and old, a certain vibrancy and fragrance of rectitude, dignity and integrity- values he endevoured to instill in all of us.

For the relentless and dedicated service he has rendered with such loving care to his Alma Mater, he will remain not only one of the more distinguished old boys, but also one of her noblest sons. Generations of Royalists, will bow their heads in deep respect and gratitude for all what he has done for them and for his school.

A Right Royal salute to you, Sir, Magister Carissimus, on your 80th birthday! May you be blessed with good health and contentment in the years to come.

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