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That magnificent class of '49 - Feb 28, 1999 Sunday Times

On the matrimonial front, the record of the Class of 1949 is rather interesting. One eloped at the age of nineteen and became a grandfather before forty, one lived simultaneously with his wife and his mother-in-law, one was trapped l.b.w. when he bowled over a maiden, one produced eight children in blissful wedlock, one who was a Muslim eloped with a Sinhalese, one who was not a Muslim had four wives legally, taking them on one at a time. He died not of' exhaustion but of kidney failure...

By T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka

In 1949 one hundred and seven boys aged approxi-mately eleven years were admitted to Royal College. In 1999 on the week-end before the Royal - Thomian Cricket match, they will get together at a leading beach resort in Wadduwa to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their enrollment, in what they consider to be the best school of them all.

Of those one- hundred -and- seven, sixteen are now no more. Of the survivors more than half and their ladies will participate in this joyous re - union, with many of them gravitating to Colombo from different points on the face of the earth.

The Class of 1949 was indeed very ordinary when they joined Royal College. Of them only four were extraordinary while at the Royal Primary School. They were Chelvanayakam Vaseeheran, who had averaged over ninety per cent in all examinations, Nihal Weeratunge who had broken every record in the long jump, Ranjit De Silva and Brendon Gooneratne who were superb cricketers.

Principal J.C.A. Corea had a poor opinion of the academic prowess of the Class of 1949. He systematically extolled the virtues of the Class of 1948, (Lalith Athulathmudali was amongst them,) and claimed that the Class of 1950 was even more brilliant. They produced eight Firsts at the University of Ceylon including one by the internationally renowned astronomer N.C. Wickremasinghe.) When Principal Corea resigned, his successor Principal Dudley K.G.De Silva endorsed that opinion.

As the years rolled by Chelvanayakam Vaseeheran continued to be brilliant and came first in the island in the G.C.E. (Ordinary Level) Examination. Nihal Weeratunge continued to break every long jump record including the public schools record. To the surprise of everybody a member of the Class of 1949 who was not known to be an athlete in his younger years, broke a public schools record while still a fresher in the Royal College Athletics team. He went on to captain the Ceylon athletics team, eventually.

Both Ranjit De Silva and Brendon Gooneratne continued to shine in cricket. The former captained the Royal College cricket team and was deservedly appointed Head Prefect. The latter was easily the best all-rounder in the Royal College team and in the combined schools team. Besides he was an all - rounder in every sense of the word. For example while studying science subjects he won prizes for history and religious knowledge.

The Class of 1949 excelled in rugby and produced two captains of' the Royal College team, namely Lionel Almeida and Ratna Sivaratnam, and six other coloursmen. Of them two, Lionel Almeida and Tyrrel Muttiah, went on to play for Ceylon. Alavi Mohammed had the unique distinction of being the first captain of rowing at Royal College. He went on to row for Ceylon.

Achievers all: Uplai wijewardeneTowards the end of their years at Royal College, the Class of 1949 blossomed out academically. Sixty one of the one hundred and seven passed the stiff competitive examination to enter the University of Ceylon. Upali Wijewardene entered Cambridge University and W.V. De Thabrew won a scholarship awarded by the University of London to study Pali and Sanskrit. Five who could not gain admission to the University of' Ceylon did so to universities in India and in the UK. In retrospect the admission of two thirds of the Class of 1949 to various universities marked their meteoric rise. They had already eclipsed the Class of 1948 and the Class of 1950. So admitted Principal Corea and Principal De Silva.

What the Class of 1949 achieved in life is too good to be true. Upali Wijewardene who was born a millionaire died a billionaire when his executive jet exploded in mid-air. At the time of his death not he but Lal Jayasundera, the Chairman of Hayleys, enjoyed the reputation of being the best Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the private sector in Sri Lanka. Ratna Sivaratnam is the current CEO of Aitken Spence. V. Manikavasgar is a director of a multinational company in Colombo and Beverly Vandergert, who migrated to the land of his ancestors, is a Director of a multinational company in The Netherlands. Twenty one, nearly one-fifth on the Class of 1949, became medical practitioners.

Dr. J.B. Peiris (Neurology)Of them Dr. J.B. Peiris (Neurology), Dr. Henry Rajaratnam (Medicine), Dr. Ranjit De Silva (Surgery), Dr. Gamini Jayakuru (Venereology) Dr.Ranjit Ratnapala (Obstetrics and Gynaecology) Dr. C.L. Mendis (Entomology), Dr. R.S.B. Wickremasinghe (Microbiology) and Dr. Tissa Cooray (Public Health) were amongst the best in Sri Lanka. Besides Dr. G. P. Goonetileke (Surgery), Dr. Leslie Muthukuda (Anaesthetics) Dr. P.L. Samarasinghe (Surgery and later Venereology), Dr.A. S. Rubasingham (Surgery), Dr. G.R.L.Vanden Driesen (Surgery), Dr. D. Subasinghe (Paediatrics), Dr. Rudra Hoole (Medicine), Dr. D.M.H. De Kretser (Pathology), Dr. Yasa Rajapakse (Community Health) and Dr. N.T. De Silva (Family Health) have well established reputations in their domiciles abroad. Dr. Brendon Gooneratne, who is a medical practitioner, has represented Australia in the highest international fora on the environment.

Daham Wimalasena the General Secretary of the UNPThe eminent lawyers, Chula De Silva, Jayantha Gunasekera and S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya were elevated to President's Counsel. Justice S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya serves on the Supreme Court and Justice Punyadasa Edussuriya on the Court of Appeal. Harsha Wickremasinghe became Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Commerce, Austin Perera Secretary to the Ministry of Industries and Daham Wimalasena the General Secretary of the UNP, at the height of its power. Channa Amerasinghe was the CEO of the Electricity Board, Dr. Lochi Gunaratna became a renowned architect and the bohemian Lucky Senanayake a renowned painter. C.L.V. Jayatilleke who took a double First in Engineering became a young Professor and later a Vice Chancellor. W.V.De Thabrew who took a First became a professor at the London School of Oriental Studies. B.S. Wijeweera who took a First, Harsha Wickremasinghe who narrowly missed a First, and Gamini Seneviratne, who won every conceivable prize in English at Royal College, joined the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service. One somehow became a young ambassador.

Dr. Brendon Gooneratne. Dr. P.S.C. Goonetileke and another, who never wrote anything while at Royal College, became well-known authors in the fields of ancient Ceylon, sociology and political science, respectively. Dr. J.B. Peiris was President of the Sri Lanka College of Physicians and more recently the President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, Dr. H.N. Rajaratnam the President of the Sri Lanka College of Physicians, Dr. Ranjit Ratnapala, the President of the Independent Medical Practitioners Association, Jayantha Gunasekera was the Secretary of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and Ratna Sivaratnam has just been appointed to the prestigious World 'Travel and Tourism Council based in London.

On the matrimonial front, the record of the Class of 1949 is rather interesting. One eloped at the age of nineteen and became a grandfather before forty, one lived simultaneously with his wife and his mother-in-law, one was trapped l.b.w. when he bowled- over a maiden, one produced eight children in blissful wedlock, one who was a Muslim eloped with a Sinhalese, one who was not a Muslim had four wives legally, taking them on one at a time. He died not of' exhaustion but of kidney failure. The one who entered the Buddhist priesthood ended up as the husband of a European beauty and the avowed bachelor who entered a lunatic asylum eventually turned out to be a devoted husband to a village damsel .

The camaraderie in the Class of 1949 is indeed great. They meet at least twice a year, on the second night of the Royal Thomian cricket match and on the night of the Colombo leg of the Bradby Shield. Many have helped in organising those happy re-unions.

They include J.G.P.Perera, L.J.A.D. Perera, Harsha Wickremasinghe, Channa Amarasinghe, Upatissa Attygalle, Dr. J.B. Peiris, Ratna Sivaratnam and in the recent past M.N.B. Pieris. In 1983 at the height of the racial riots, Lieutenant-Colonel Kingsley Jayawardena of the Armoured Corps, patrolled the streets of Colombo with a squadron of armoured cars. He had instructions to shoot to kill, if necessary. Despite such responsibility, on his own initiative he detoured to ensure that nobody killed Dr. Chelvanayakan Vaseeheran or G.G. Ponnambalam Jnr. both members of the Class of 1949. In 1996 when Ratna Sivaratnam was appointed the C.E.O. of Aitken Spence, he invited the entire Class of 1949 and their families for an all-expense paid week-end at the Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla, the pride and joy of his company. His hospitality was unlimited. In 1998 one of the three authors of the Class of 1949 celebrated his twenty fifth anniversary as a writer. He wrote his ninth book and dedicated it to;

"The Class of 1949 at Royal College, the dearest of my friends".

The launching of the book was from the home of Dr. C. L. Mendis who is now bed-ridden after suffering a massive stroke. Despite impediment to his speech, somehow he can still sing. When he received the first autographed copy, with tears in his eyes he led the singing of the Royal College anthem "The School of our Fathers".

The Class of 1949 is indeed very united. The only disunity in recent times was when a decision had to be taken on whom to invite for the fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Some wanted to restrict it to the Class of 1949, many more wanted their wives invited, others wanted their mistresses invited, still others wanted both their wives and mistresses invited. Those meetings were both stormy and bawdy. The final compromise was that the happy re-union will be confined to The Class of 1949 and their ladies.

In adversity The Class of 1949 has stood together magnificently. Those who fell by the wayside were supported financially by those who were affluent, with all such contributions made anonymously. The powerless, when in trouble, were shielded by the powerful. When death took its inevitable toll, the Class of 1949 has almost always carried the coffin at the funeral, with many wiping tears from their eyes.

Indeed the Class of 1949 is one of the very best Royal College has ever produced. Now the shadows have begun to lengthen on the lives of the surviving members. Accordingly many have informed their next of kin that when they eventually die they must be dressed complete with the Royal College tie. That is their final tribute to their beloved Alma Mater, which they loudly proclaim can never be thanked enough.