Life and times of Sam Wijesinghe
He is calm and alert, sensitive
and in good health, with a remarkable memory for an octogenarian, soft
spoken, and very straight forward in his comments.
in a light grey casual shirt and sarong to match, I met him at his
large airy residence, nestled in the heart of the city. He was watching
a cricket match on television and was in a relaxed mood.
He is none other than Sam
Wijesinghe - a man of all seasons, a former Secretary General of
Parliament, who later served as an ombudsmen and afterwards became
chairman of the Human Task Force and last but not least the Chancellor
of the Open University of Sri Lanka.
Wijesinghe a simple and an
unassuming man of medium build unfolded some facts of his University
life that have not been revealed so far on print, in a leisurely manner
while shifting his eyes from time to time on to the cricket match.
He hailed from Gatamanne -
village located in the southern tip of Sri Lanka close to the
Being the youngest and the pet of
the family his father - D. A. S. Wijesinghe-a landed proprietor and his
mother Sophia had second thoughts in sending him to a school far away
from home - hence he started his education at the village school
located within walking distance from his home.
At the age of nine his carefree
days with the village lads ended , when he was admitted to a school of
better standard - Rahula College at Matara.
After a year he was sent to
Ananda College Colombo and then to St. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia.
The new school brought him better surroundings. He was appointed a
prefect by the management and he also edited the school magazine, he
excelled in sports as a superb marksman and completed a successful
His university life began in the
year 1941 at Brodie hostel in Horton Place (where now stands the Asha
Central hospital). While reading for a degree in Arts, he became a
sub-warden at the residence hall, where he remained till the year 1948.
Recalling his university days he
mentioned some of his remarkable friends with much sentiment. They
included L. W. Madugalle (father of Ranjan Madugalle), Andrew Joseph
who later joined the United Nations from The Ceylon Civil Service,
Barnes Ratwatte - later a supreme court judge, James de Lenerolle a
former Civil servant, M. Jameel - A retired supreme court judge, C.
Mylvaganam - a former Civil Servant (The man who nationalized the Port
Meeting pretty Mukta
Wickramasingha marked another milestone in his life. "she was just
sweet sixteen. She was still schooling at the time at C.M.S. Ladies
College." He met her at the Royal Thomian match quite accidentally in
1941 when her brother Tissa played for the team.
Tissa and Sam were close friends.
Mukta's father was the first Ceylonese civil servant who was appointed
a government agent-a prestigious position at the time. Very soon Sam
became a frequent visitor to Mukta's home, and was well accepted.
The spacious wall s of his
residence are adorned with pictures of Mukta, her family, and brothers
Desmond, Tissa and Lakshman, and of his children Sanjeeva, Rajiva and
Anila, in their childhood.
Recalling his university career
once again he said I read for a degree including English Economics, and
History as subjects but had to give up with the creation of the new
university and the introduction of a new syllabus by Dr. Ivor Jennings.
He joined the Ceylon Law
College,and while at law college, Sam did his London degree and also
sat for the C. C. S. in 1945. On the second day of the paper the exam
was cancelled on the grounds that a question paper had leaked out. "A
repeat examination in 1946 January was held but I did not sit for it
and even got a refund of my examination fee of Rs. 200", he chuckled.
Talking about his career he
started again "on completion of my course at Law College and being
admitted to the Bar, my first appointment was, in 1948 as a Crown
Counsel along with Neville Samarakoon, who later became a Chief
His career brought many
associations with reputed men in the legal profession. They included T.
A. de Silva Wijesundera, who later became a supreme court judge, A.
Mahendrarajah who retired prematurely after the birth of his eighth
child, saying that his salary of rupees 1,500/ per month was not enough
to maintain his family.
"The three of us were at the
attorney general's department till I joined Parliament as an assistant
to Ralph Deraniyagala - who was then the clerk to the house of
Parliament under the Soulbury Constitution. I succeeded him in 1964
after his retirement".
"In 1972 under the new
constitution I was appointed secretary to the National State Assembly,
and thereafter I was appointed Secretary General of Parliament. Though
there was a change in my designation my salary remained the same "- he
added with much humour.
"I retired in the year 1981 and
just six weeks later, was appointed as the first Parliamentary
Commissioner (Ombudsmen). I served in this capacity for ten years and
retired for the second time in the year 1991 at the age of 70 years."
As a happy and contented
octogenarian he said I am a self-made man, I am totally against
violence of any sort and capital punishment. He is currently appointed
as the chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka.
His spare time is spent on
reading biographies of remarkable people such as Roosvelt John F.
Kennedy Jimmy Carter the two Bushes, Reagan and Bill Clinton to name a
few. In conclusion, "if you observe the five precepts which are basic
to all religions you are bound to reap what you sow - he commented.
Times June 3 2011
‘Austen and Bachchan few of my
|Just turned 90, the grand old man of
Parliament Sam Wijesinha reveals a little known side of him to Chandani
one hears the name Sam Wijesinha, what usually comes to mind is his
long and illustrious career as Secretary General of Parliament or his
services as Ombudsman. But not many know that it’s in the world of Jane
Austen, Amitabh Bachchan and Richard Clayderman that he has found some
of his greatest pleasure.
Far removed from the hurlyburly world
of politics and politicians and away from public service, Wijesinha who
turned 90 last week continues to engage in his love for reading coupled
with his love for music and cinema, with Bollywood movies being among
|Surrounded by memories and family
photographs, Sam Wijesinha looks back at a life lived to the full. Pic
by Sanka Vidanagama
Pride and Prejudice occupies a special place in his heart, a book he
first read for his matriculation examination way back in 1939. Since
then he’s read it many times and along with it developed a fascination
for the author.
“I have a collection of all her books, as well as
books written about her, movie versions of the books and audio books
which I have kept to listen to, the day I find it difficult to read,”
he says. Wijesinha’s fascination with Austen’s writing is her
depictions of the transformation of English society, particularly the
shift of power from the landed aristocracy to the mercantile classes.
One of his prized possessions is the book written by fellow compatriot
Prof. Yasmine Gooneratne on Jane Austen which she presented to him on
his 89th birthday. He feels this book, in which she analyses all of
Austen’s five novels, is the best book written on the author.
been a long journey for Wijesinha from the village of his birth
Gatamanne in the Hambantota District. Having schooled finally at S.
Thomas’s College, Mount Lavinia, Wijesinha began his higher education
at the University College in 1941 and left the newly formed University
of Ceylon with an honours degree in History for the Ceylon Law College
where he passed out as an advocate. His love for history continues to
this day with a large part of the library he has built up over the
years comprising largely biographies.
“History is best learnt through biographies because the lives
of people make history,” he says.
Law College, he served as a Crown Counsel (State Counsel) along with
Neville Samarakoon (who later became Chief Justice), T. A. de Silva
Wijesundera and A. Mahendrarajah. In 1962, he was invited to join
Parliament as an Assistant to the Clerk of the House who was Ralph
Deraniyagala. He succeeded as Clerk of the House in 1964 and along with
the Constitutional changes that followed, his position changed to that
of Secretary of the National State Assembly in 1972 and Secretary
General of Parliament in 1977, till his retirement in 1981.
likes to look back at his time in Parliament positively. “I saw some
good in all the Members of Parliament who served during the time I was
there.” Early on in his Parliamentary career, he had won the confidence
of members on both sides of the House with Bernard Soysa quipping one
day, “Sam, when you first came here your hair was parted to the side.
Since then your impartiality is evidenced in the middle parting of your
hair,” Wijesinha recalled.
Asked about what he thinks of the poor
calibre of persons who get elected to Parliament these days, Wijesinha
puts the ball right back in the court of the people. “They are the
elected representatives of the people, so it is the people who are
responsible for electing them. We criticize them all the time but in
life you must try to look for some good in everybody, not find fault
all the time.” He also says that standards of politicians have declined
worldwide and it is not solely a Sri Lankan phenomenon.
aspect he feels particularly contented about when looking back at his
time as an officer of Parliament was his ability to attend to the
welfare of the members of the staff of that institution. “When I took
office in Parliament I observed a large quantity of printed material
for parliamentarians left behind. I collected these and developed a
fund to finance the education of the children of staff members. Many of
these children are now in the medical, legal and accounting fields.”
|A photograph from the family album
also assisted the staff members to secure low interest housing loans.
“When I left after 18 years of service, not a single member of the
staff was without either ownership of a house or at least a plot of
land to build on.”
I turn to one of his favourite lines from
Pride and Prejudice to bring up some personal aspects of his life. “It
is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of
a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” It’s the first line in the
first chapter of the book which he keeps neatly underlined as he does
with all interesting lines he comes across in the books he reads.
wasn’t in need of a wife when he first saw Mukta Wickremesinghe at the
Royal-Thomian match in 1941 but their introduction that day led to a
friendship that culminated with their marriage in 1948. “I never claim
any romantic things such as love at first sight and all that,” he says
as he shows me a photograph which he took of her using a box camera in
their courting days, an enlarged copy of which occupies pride of place
in their home. Mukta passed away in 1997.
Even at the age of 90,
Wijesinha keeps himself occupied serving as Chancellor of the Open
University, Chairman of the Dispute Resolution Council of the Press
Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka and President of the Prisoners'
Wijesinha says he looks back on his life
with contentment. Time has not diminished his memories of memorable
events of the past and now surrounded by books, Bollywood movies and
music, he indulges in his favourite things as only a man who has lived
a full and contented life can do.