Dr. Riley Fernando Appreciation: Sunday Observer July 6 2003
I shall pass this way but once
any good that I can do
any kindness that I can show,
to any being or living creature,
let me do it now
let me not defer it or neglect it -
for I shall not pass this way again.
This was what was left on the consultation table of Dr. Riley Fernando, Family Physician, poet and satirist who passed away on 14th June following a brief illness a few months after his 75th birthday.
Dr. Riley was the son of a Postmaster and his wife who had eight illustrious children, among whom were a University professor, a Bishop and three Medical Doctors. He studied in Trinity College Kandy where he won the Prince of Wales scholarship. He entered the University of Ceylon just reaching 18 and graduated with MBBS at 23 years of age, in 1951.
After two years of service in the Department of Health at Badulla and other outstations, he assumed duties as MOIC of the Co-operative Hospital Kurunegala. In 1955 he started his own practice and established the first private maternity home in the North Western Province. He was a founder member of the College of General Practitioners in Sri Lanka and the President of the Kurunegala Clinical Society 1970/1971. He authored a very instructive and useful book titled 'Motherhood and Baby care'.
He was very religious and served for several years as a warden of Cathedral of Christ the King, Kurunegala. He also served in many other religious and social organisations in Kurunegala to name a few are, standing committee of the Diocese, Lawn Tennis Club, Motor Sports Club, and Local chapter of the Junior Chamber International. After 22 years in Kurunegala he moved to Dehiwela, where he started a medical practice. He inserted the famous obituary in Ceylon Daily News in April 1974 when the press was gagged by the then regime.
"O" CRACY, beloved husband of T. Ruth loving father of L.I. Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justitia. Interred on Saturday 20th inst., - Araliya Medura, Panagiyawatte, Anduruwella." There were references to this in the Readers Digest and the international press.
He wrote regularly to the newspaper both in prose and verse and took part in the newspaper captions and crossword puzzles competitions. Amitha Abeysekara in his column. "This is my Island" once described him as a 'wit, literary innovator, versifier and satirist.' He published an anthology of his poems titled 'Rhymes Of Our Times.'
His other interests were contract bridge, music and ballroom dancing. He was a live wire in the Trinity College over Sixty Club. I met Dr. Riley at the Medical Centre of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, where he served his final stint as a Doctor until he passed away. He was an ideal Doctor, he was up to date in his knowledge, meticulous in his work, compassionate and firm. There was no limit to the length he went to assist his patients. Being his junior for 30 years was no barrier to the friendly relationship we had.
He had been a guru, mentor and a friend to many at the Medical Centre. He was always with company. The smile he always had remained even after his death. He served the purpose fully for which he was born for.
He leaves behind his wife Manel who also shared his sense of humour and two sons Rohan and Malin.
The epilogue in the book of poems he published read as follows:
"And when the final trumpet calls
to beckon me hereafter
may I depart with a happy heart
and a face lit up with laughter."
May he rest in peace!
- Dr. Rohana Welikumbura