Evelyn Geddes died in Australia on June 25 at the age of 95, leaving behind Ripple, Rodney, Russell, Ryan and Rhona, whom she called her 5Rs, and her grandchildren Rohan and Kyra, Nerelle and Karl, Senene, Shantelle and Mark, Jessica, David, Luke, Karine and Tahla. Great grandchildren -Brayden, Nyah, Kyan, Lawrence, Justin, Flynn and Lana- complete her beloved and blessed progeny. Her husband Harry predeceased her.
Our nostalgic reminiscences of GTC Maharagama, where we spent two of the best years of our life, are surely incomplete without summoning up remembrance of Mrs Evelyn Hester Grace Geddes (nee Labrooy), who was our English lecturer par excellence. Educated at Methodist College, she obtained a First Class Honours degree in English from the University College of that time. She was the first woman to secure that rare distinction in those early days of university education. She went on to win the coveted university scholarship and proceeded to Oxford, where she excelled in the pursuit of further English literary studies. She taught briefly at University College when she returned, and then joined GTC.
That was testimony, if testimony were needed, of the calibre of the staff and the resulting quality of the English curriculum of the premier English teacher training college of the time. The English Department of GTC was second only to, if not on par with, the English Department of the University of Ceylon. Now there are many teachers’ colleges, some of them called Colleges of Education, but neither their faculty nor their pedagogical delivery is in any way comparable to the GTC of the late forties and early fifties. English lecturers like Evelyn Geddes, Douglas Walatara and Augustine Tambimuttu, and principals like S. F.de Silva, E. H. de Alwis and D. G. Sugathadasa (to name just a few of that galaxy, those shining stars of yesteryear) cannot be replaced. They are a dead or dying breed -both metaphorically and literally.
Evelyn Geddes retired after twenty five years of service and migrated to Australia as many of her community were and are wont to do. English teacher-trainees suffered an irreparable loss with her departure. “She was no ordinary Sri Lankan migrant Down Under but a learned and accomplished educationist,” said Sugathadasa, who was principal at the time she retired, in his tribute to her in a special edition of Changing Times, a journal published by the English Department of GTC. “Those that instruct many into justice shall shine like stars for all eternity,” he added.
His predecessor E. H. de Alwis in his tribute asked poignantly, “Why has she decided to desert her beloved college where she laboured with such devotion?” And, this is the answer he proffered:
“I may be wrong and maybe unwittingly doing an injustice to her, but I have a shrewd suspicion that nurtured as she has been on the lofty ‘Miltonic harmonies and the mighty lines of Shakespeare, she finds little attraction in the teaching of English as a second language. Structure and pattern, phoneme and phonics are the jargon of the new generation of English teachers. Fries, Gurrey and West are the names they now conjure with. Mrs. Geddes must occasionally have felt that she was sinning against the light that is in her. Her métier is Literature. I can imagine her looking back with nostalgic yearning to the day when she would declaim some noble passage from a Lord of language and sense the response in the appreciative silence of an understanding audience. Such moments were her recompense in the past. Can the new generation be led, through the dry bones of structure and pattern, phoneme and phonics, to perceive ‘The light that never was on Sea or Land, The Consecration and the poet’s dream’?
That said it all about Evelyn Geddes, our English lecturer, who found in us a captive audience in those days that are no more. Adieu, Mrs. Geddes!