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A gentleman goes to his well-earned rest

Mallory Evan Wijesinghe 1918-2002

"Good thoughts his only friends,
His wealth a well-spent age,
The earth is his sober inn,
And quiet pilgrimage"

(Thomas Campion)

by Geoff Wijesinghe - Daily News Sat Jan 4 2002

The death last Friday of Mallory Evan Wijesinghe has taken away from our midst a business colossus and a man of great integrity and humility. He was 84.

Mallory was a scion of a humble, yet highly respected family. Tall, well-built, fair of countenance, exuding a strong personality, the Royalist, I believe began his career as an engineer. He later entered the tea trade and became one of its leaders. His office at the Chartered Bank building in Queen Street was a hive of activity, and equally of high standard. There was no financial hanky-panky with him. A deep Christian, who rose to become the chairman of the Central YMCA, his powers of organisation and leadership were unparalleled.

In 1965, he accepted the onerous task of heading the country's first star-class hotel, the Hotel Ceylon Intercontinental. This was the time when the modern tourism industry was launched by the late J.R. Jayewardene as minister of state in charge of tourism industry, with the assistance of his effervescent permanent secretary Anandatissa de Alwis, who himself was an expert in the hospitality industry.

Mallory, who was married to Joyce, a devoted wife and a daughter of Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetileke, never ever used the position or influence of his father-in-law to further his business interests. Sir Oliver himself was a administrator who rose from the ranks and his performance as Civil Defence Commissioner during the Second World War won high praise.

This was the time when we had posters billed in public places carrying the highly effective slogans "Don't wait, cultivate" and "Dig harder, for your larder." It was also a time of acute food shortage, what with the movement of British food sips meeting stiff resistance from German and Japanese naval blockades. It was a time when even the British were on the verge of starvation, and there were long queues to buy a pat of butter of a couple of slices of bacon.

I would have been very proud to have Mallory Wijesinghe as a brother. I doubt very much, although he liked and cared for me very much, he would have wanted such a mischievous harum-scarum as a brother. But, loved him and loved him very much for what he was, especially there, more human qualities of understanding his fellow beings.

In the early 1960s, when I was cutting my teeth as a journalist in the Ceylon Daily Mirror, I used to drop in on him, particularly in the afternoons to have a chat. There were times when I was broke as a church-mouse and he would always slip his hands into his hip-pocket, did into his wallet and hand me a few one hundred rupee notes. Manna from heaven.

In those turbulent days in my career, I once fell very sick. Mallory had heard of my predicament and he visited me at my home at Waidya road, Dehiwela. He had me hospitalised and only had me released when I was fully fit and well.

There was some humour in all this, when the specialist at the Colombo South General Hospital, an old Royalist who was well-known to Mallory's son-in-law, Dr. Wijemanne, told me, "Don't worry. A Royalist will never turn away a Thomain," and he saw to it that I went through every conceivable medical test before I was allowed to leave.

Mallory's peon, somehow or the other felt that I was his bosses brother and as soon as I arrived at his office, whatever the queue waiting to see him, for he was also at the time Honorary Consul for the Netherlands, the good man would take me along with him, open the door of Mallory's room and announce "Malli avilla balanna" (your brother has come to see you).

Mallory and I became close friends. And I can well remember how disturbed he was when a rival firm of tea brokers offered better terms to his tea tasters and managers, which was later proved to be a mere camouflage to cover up their deficiencies. The truth, as always, won, and Mallory once more was a happy man.

There was also the time when a director of a well-known food firm of which Mallory was chairman, did a volte face after promising him his support at a board meeting. This put Mallory to the sleep.

Mallory Wijesinghe was one of the best chairmen that the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has had, and his wisdom, knowledge, insight and vision did much to develop the export economy of this country. He had no political ambitions. Otherwise, he would surely had been a successful Minister of Finance.

With the deep, loyal assistance of his son Eraj, whom he groomed as his successor, Bartleet and Company Ltd. has moved over the years from a rented floor at the Chartered Bank building at Colombo Fort, to an ultra-modern, multi-storeyed complex at Slave Island, which now not only deals in tea, but also several other fields including electronics.

"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequestere'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way".

(Thomas Gray)

Mallory Evan Wijesinghe:

Touched hundreds of lives for the better - DN Fri June 25 2004

Our beloved chairman who passed away on December 27 2002 would have celebrated his 86th birthday on June 25, 2004.

Mallory Evan Wijesinghe 

Mallory Evan Wijesinghe left behind his wife Joyce Wijesinghe and sons Eraj Wijesinghe-Group Managing Director-Bartleet Group, Sunil Wijesinghe Managing Director-BC Computers and daughter Dr. (Mrs) Hiranthi Wijemanne and all those who loved and cherished him, who were helped by him and those who drew inspiration from his life and last but not least those who were privileged to know and work with him and for him.

Mr. Wijesinghe belonged to a rare breed of men, to a generation that is slowly passing away, leaving an untillable void that may never be filled in our society. This is because those in that generation were products of a different era, different ethos and different milieu.

Mallory Wijesinghe was an engineer by profession. Completing his academic career at the tender age of 23 he joined the Public Works Department and finding public service too much oppressive for his tastes he took the proverbial giant step towards the private sector, a career move which had a significant effect on his and the lives of many others who came to know him.

In November 1958 when the country was known as "Ceylon", Mallory Wijesinghe was appointed the first Ceylonese Director of Bartleet and Co. Ltd., and later became chairman of the company. In the 1960's he became the company's first local Managing Director.

In 1973 Mr. Wijesinghe was appointed the Honorary Consul-General of the Netherlands to the Republic of Sri Lanka and of the Maldives and was honoured by her Majesty Queen Beatrix by being made an Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau in 1985.

He was chairman of the Colombo Stock Exchange. He was president of the Institute of Management of Sri Lanka and had also been the President of the Colombo YMCA. He was chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board.

He was chairman of the National St. John Council for Sri Lanka and in June 1978 he was made Knight of The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Sovereign Head of the Order. He was Chairman of the Incorporated Trustees of the Church of England in Ceylon and a Trustee of the Royal College Union Trust.

Mr. Wijesinghe had been Chairman of the Employers' Federation of Ceylon (1960-71), Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (1964-70) and Chairman of the Colombo Brokers' Association (1960, 1965, 1970 and 1984).

He was also Founder President of the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Sri Lanka (1970-77) and the Founder Chairman of the Ceylon Hotels Corporation (1967-70).

In 1972 Mr. Wijesinghe led a trade delegation from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh and Pakistan. In 1983 he was a member of the trade delegation to South America led by the Minister of Trade and Shipping Lalith Athulathmudali.

At international level, Mr. Wijesinghe was an Employer Delegate from Ceylon to the ILO Annual Conferences in Geneva in 1964, 1966 and 1969 and a member of the Governing Body of the ILO from 1966-74.

Mr. Wijesinghe was a delegate from Ceylon to the Duke of Edinburgh's Study Conference in Australia in 1968. He is also a member of the Commonwealth Study Conference Association (C.S.C.A) and attended the reunion of members held in Australia in May 1986.

He also attended the Asian Association of Management Organisation (AAMO) Conference in Adelaide (1980), Penang (1983 and Bangkok (1986).

He was Director-General of the first National Management Conference to be held in Sri Lanka in January 1984. The theme of the conference was "The Role of Management in National Development".

He is the author of the following publications:

"The Economy of Sri Lanka 1948-75", "Sri Lanka's Development Thrust 1977-80".

"Mr. Wijesinghe, we are proud to salute your memory. You were a unique individual who had the guts and determination to make a difference to all our lives."

- Employees of Bartleet Group of Companies