Agnes, the youngest daughter of the late Mudliyar A. F. Gunaratna and Rosina Gunaratna, passed away recently, aged 92, having lived a full and fruitful life.
She was an icon at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo. Proud to be a former student, she taught at the school for nearly two decades. She was an active member of the Old Girls’ Association and served as its secretary for a while. She lived most of her life in close proximity to the school, in order to be closely associated with the school at all times.
She taught two generations of Visakhians. English Literature was her great love. She reached out to her students with exuberance. She brought to vivid life many a character of Dickens and the Brontë sisters, as well as the imaginative poetry of Wordsworth and Longfellow. Her eyes sparkled as she read Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”, her petite, well-groomed figure swaying with the dancing daffodils.
She had a passion for poetry. She would give her nieces copies of poems and ask us to illustrate them, and thus bring out our individual responses to literary work.
It was the same with her story-telling. During the holidays, we would huddle round her in semi-darkness, in her big four-poster bed in our ancestral home in Kegalle, to listen to her recreate, in hushed tones, the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, with that creepy passage about a snake slithering down the wall to poison the many victims in the story.
She got married late in life. She and her equally affable husband shared a close companionship for nearly 50 years.
The couple had no children of their own, but her nieces and nephews, and their children and grandchildren, became her family.
She kept in touch with all of them, even those who went overseas, remembering their birthdays and the births of their little ones. They, in turn, reciprocated in full measure, visiting her and bringing her gifts.
It was the same with her students at Visakha. Many visited her regularly, sent greetings, and brought gifts. She in turn enjoyed going down memory lane with them. Even though her death was not announced in the newspapers, hundreds of past students came to her funeral to pay their last respects.
In her last years, Agnes Abeysekera took to the Dhamma in a big way. She renounced her household duties and moved into a home for elderly women. She practised dhaana in full measure, giving away all her possessions, including her jewellery and sarees, to her companions at the home. She had a way of giving away any gift she received.
Most Poya days she observed Ata Sil. Many Visakhians remember her at last year’s Visakha Poson Sil Programe.
She also attended bhavana (meditation) classes. Even when dementia overtook her in her last days, she kept referring to the bhavana retreats. When she saw herself becoming frail and feeble, she observed Annicca in its purest form. Her last coherent words to me were, “Nothing lasts, everything passes.”
She was disciplined and punctilious to a fault.
Not wishing to trouble others, she paid in advance for her funeral, offered her Paansakula during her lifetime, and set aside her clothes for her last journey. She even wrote instructions on what care should and should not be dispensed in her last illness.
“I will bear all pain and discomfort with calmness and non-attachment, with maitri to all,” she wrote. She even penned a thank-you note to be read out at her funeral, addressed to all who had enriched her life.
We, her family, know she is moving forward, steadily and surely, in her journey in Samsara towards the goal of Nirvana.
A fond niece
Salute to a respected English teacher, cadet master and disciplinarian
Lt. Colonel W. Senaratne
It is with deep sorrow that we learnt of the death of Lt. Colonel Withanachchi Senaratne, who passed away on December 30, 2010. His remains were cremated at the Balagolla Public Cemetery, Kundasale, amidst a large gathering of relatives, friends and colleagues.
Hailing from the flourishing village of Dambarawa, close to Kandy, Withanachchi Senaratne had his education at Beravatte’s College, in Ampitiya. He became an English teacher in 1948, and taught at Beravatte’s College, Ampitiya, Zahira College, Gampola, and St. Sylvester’s College, Kandy.
In recognition of his capabilities, he was appointed, in addition to his usual teaching duties, commanding officer (formerly known as cadet master) of the School Cadet Corps. In this capacity, he proved his skills and ability. He was later made a Lt. Colonel of the Cadet Corps, which rank he held with honour and distinction.
Whilst at St. Sylvester’s, he was appointed Discipline Master. Here too he made his mark and was recognised as a strict disciplinarian who brooked no nonsense.
Between 1984 and 1989, Withanachchi Senaratne served as commanding officer at the Akuramboda Military Training Centre, and from 1989 to 1991 at the Viyani Camp, in Mahiyangana. He carried out his duties with his usual dedication and efficiency.
He also held the rank of Reserve Senior Superintendent of Police.
Astrology was his second love. He became an exponent on the subject and his reputation as a knowledgeable and reliable astrologer spread far and wide. His services were sought by all and sundry.
His wife predeceased him. They had four children, three boys and a girl. One of the boys joined the Sri Lanka Army and was a Lieutenant in the 6th Artillery Regiment. He died in 1988 while in active service. The youngest son is an attorney-at-law, practising in Kandy.
Lt. Colonel W. Senaratne was held in the highest esteem by all who knew him and worked with him. He was a devout Buddhist and followed his religion with faith and devotion.
Lt. Colonel W. Senaratne was 82 years at the time he departed this world. May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.
A song, a memory and there’s always you
Sometime back, it was cold in Colombo, really cold.
It brought back memories, memories of standing next to your piano Ru, in Kandy, learning to sing, as the crisp winds from the Hantane hills whistled through the openings in the wall under the staircase.
We criss-crossed the spectrum of music, dabbling with classical, jazz, pop, blues and so much more. It was an exciting beginning for me as a student and for your career as a singing teacher.
Our first concert was at the British Council, when it was on Trincomalee Steet. Solos, duets and a few group numbers were sung that night. It was, for some of us, a debut performance. We found the songs challenging yet so enjoyable.
The programme, if I remember right, was a modest A4 size sheet of paper, folded down the middle. The proceeds went towards a charitable cause--the first of many shows that would contribute towards charitable causes.
Then, it wasn’t Voices in Harmony, it was just Ruwani’s choir. On another occasion, a bunch of us squeezed into your father’s metallic green Honda Civic and warmed up, running through scales, as you veered (rather scarily!) around the winding Anniewatte road.
That concert was at our alma mater, Girls’ High School. But that was way before you established yourself as a pioneering vocal teacher in Colombo, where you, in a way revolutionised, how music and singing could be expressed…
Since you left us, some of the girls and boys who sang in your choir, are now accomplished young women and men, singing both here and overseas. They are carrying on in their own ways, the wonderful contribution you made to singing.
You gave a great deal towards nurturing the vocal talents of many, many students. You never held back; you were true to yourself as much as you were true to your students. That, is a trait hard to find and hard to forget.
So very often, you come to mind. For there are too many songs, too many memories, that recall your vibrant and passionate self.
Izhara Huzair Zubair