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Remembering David Loos (C. C. S.)

Daily Mirror Oct 10, 2006:

David Loos, who passed away at the end of last year in Washington DC, was one of a team of public servants who once negotiated terms of the original “Mahaweli Project” in the days of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake’s National government in the late 1960’s. Although it was later to change the face of Sri Lanka’s central highlands and lay the foundation for the country’s power and agricultural self sufficiency, the project was then so visionary that Dudley’s political opponents derisively termed it the Mahaweli ‘diversion’ – inferring that it was only a stunt to divert public attention away from the many problems the seven party national government was then facing. David’s important contribution then, as the Director of External Resources in the first ever Ministry of Planning, led by the legendary Gamini Corea, evoked the comment in the satirical and widely read column in the Times of Ceylon, “Roundabout by Contact”, that ‘David Loos was selling Sri Lanka to the World Bank.’ David was the first to laugh out loud at the clever pun on his name.

David Gladwin Loos was born in 1925, the second child of a well established Burgher family, (his sister was Joan who married Gerald -later Professor Cooray) at a time when members of that community were playing a prominent part in the public life of the country. His mother to whom he was greatly attached, and literally ran the family, was a leading figure in the education field and crowned her career first as a teacher and then as the Principal of Lindsay Girl’s school in Kollupitiya for several years. David himself schooled at Wesley College Colombo, where in addition to being a School Prefect, he was invariably first in class. Friends say that like most other boys of his age he cycled to school, a habit he continued even after he entered the University of Ceylon then functioning at Thurstan Road. He showed early signs of his scholastic quality by winning the School’s Hill Silver medal at Wesley and at the University secured a First Class in Economics.

The Bachelor of Arts (First Class) was in the early 1950’s a highly rated honour and David was privileged to share this with a few other brilliant contemporaries namely Godfrey Gunatilaka (also CCS and later founder of Marga) who received a First Class for English Literature and GVS de Silva, in Economics a couple of years earlier, who chose a career in academia and shone brightly at Peradeniya, for many years influencing an entire generation of undergraduates in a distinctly socialistic vein. Like most other University men at the time who ‘got a good class’ as it was called, either a First or Upper Second, the Civil Service seemed for David the obvious choice. The Central Bank newly established under John Exter, and on the look out for up and coming economists offered him a scholarship to Oxford which would have given him a Doctorate but David turned it down to sit for the ‘civil’. This was not for the money, since even then the private sector companies such as Lever Brothers, Ceylon Tobacco and even the Commercial banks in the country, the Bank of Ceylon foremost among them, would have paid more, but for the prestige and sense of being able ‘to do something for the country’ which motivated the top level of public servants at the time. The Civil Servants then thought of themselves as belonging to a rather special breed, a tight and exclusive network, who could be quite effective in keeping the wheels of government in motion. In David’s year of selection there must have been at least three hundred University men (no women then) between the ages of 22 and 24, with ‘good classes’ who competed for the ten positions on offer. David did very well coming third, Godfrey Gunatilaka came first, in an exceptional year of recruitment which produced ten, very talented, young men who served the country for many years with distinction. Of David’s peers Godfrey and Shelton Wanasinghe remain yet very active amongst us.

I first met David Loos in 1954, when as four young CCS ‘cadets’, as we were known during the two year probation period, Shanti Kumar Phillips, myself, Chandi Chanmugam, and Lester Pereira were ushered into the austere presence of Sir Arthur Ranasinghe, then head of the public service as Secretary to the Treasury. After a very brief ‘briefing’ Sir Arthur dismissed us into the safe and comfortable hands of David Loos, who very soon had us chuckling with his stories of the men we would have to deal with in our first three months at the Treasury. In addition to the Financial Regulations to be learned, which were boring with Balasingham, then the DST (and the acronyms were flying), Shirley Amarasinghe, then the Controller of Establishments, to emulate, and always, when needed, we had David, the perfect mentor.

In addition to being complete master of his subject, that being budget and finance, David had an ease of manner and sartorial elegance which was quite unexpected in the arid corridors of the General Treasury. Not only was he always extremely well groomed but he was blessed with the good looks of a Greek god. Jeanine, his wife, would tell me later that in his days at the World Bank in Washington she had a time keeping the admiring females from getting too close to him. David became an institution at the Treasury, helpful, but a model of rectitude where financial accountability was concerned, effective, through his vast experience of precedents, always courteous on the phone or face to face and ever with a touch of humour, which was both delectable and self effacing. He made himself indispensable to a succession of Finance Ministers under whom he served, ten in all, as he often reminded us said with great pride. Here he was in charge, with him as the officer who knew the subject advising them, and not as often happens these days, in a total reversal of roles, the Minister having his way come what may.

The official language policy particularly to people like David was irksome, as they needed to make a Herculean effort to master enough Sinhalese to be able to function effectively at their level. Some like Donald Speldewinde and Eardley Mc'heyzer who excelled in land work in the dry zone stuck it out with that characteristic dogged determination that was a hallmark of the community. I recall Francis Pietersz, who served as Government Agent in Nuwara Eliya, completely flooring Dudley Senanayake, then on one of his famous food drive inspections to the outstations, by using the word ‘samalochanaya’ in introducing the review of his district’s agricultural programme. Dudley actually turned round and asked sharply “what is that”? But David who was essentially a city type and served mainly at the Treasury was not that that way inclined.

David’s forays into the countryside that he loved began after he met Jeanine who was the daughter of a family groomed in the culture of the proprietary planter. Her father was ‘Coco’ Jayatilleke the owner/manager of a 60 acre tea estate in Ratnapura, one of a breed of now extinct gentlemen farmers whose life style was reminiscent of the British ‘periya dorais’, with the Ratnapura town club occupying a prominent place in the social calendar. Spending a Sunday eating a feast of a lunch, on the Jayatilleke estate was an experience to be savoured. But David’s and Jeanine’s idyllic Sri Lankan life, with a week at work and the week-end on the estate, was soon to change

In April 1970, just before the elections, which saw Mrs. Bandaranaike and the United Front government sweep into power, David was posted to Washington to serve as our Counselor for Economic Affairs, with ministerial rank, at the Embassy. But this was very short-lived and he was recalled home soon after the new government was inaugurated. David then took advantage of the facility available to officers who had been recruited before the Official Language Act in 1956 and felt unable to continue in service, to opt for early retirement. He did not have to wait for long to begin his second career.

He was offered a job at the World Bank in Washington and began as a Loans Officer working on Iran and Afghanistan. When one met him later he was apt to make a joke of it and say that he could not have done much of a job, since as he put it, “Look at where those countries are now”. In 1973 he had a new assignment when he was promoted as Division Chief for Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong a job he found fascinating and enjoyed working there for seven years. In 1980 he was posted as Director in the East Asia region and was based in Nairobi, Kenya. I met him there on one of my visits as Secretary in the Plantations Ministry, looking at the way they had so well organized their small tea holdings, where he entertained me in his home which he claimed belonged to Mrs. Jomo Kenyatta, the widow of the famous first President of Kenya.

David’s final stint for the Bank was perhaps where he was most at home and best at. He was appointed the World Bank’s Special Representative to the United Nations, with its headquarters in New York. Here he had, in Jeanine’s words ‘six glorious years’ moving amongst royalty including Presidents and Prime Ministers from all parts of the world. He retired in 1991 and went back home to Washington DC, where he lived with his family and friends surrounded by his music and books.

David Loos was one of the most graceful, talented and decent men who ever lived.

Bradman Weerakoon