In memory of Professor Freddie Bartholomeusz and Peradeniya

Ranjan Abayasekara

Prof EFBEarlier this year an email was circulated which especially touched the hearts of Peradeniya Alumni in all corners of the world. It was titled “The world’s most beautiful university is in full bloom again”. The pictures of the flowering trees and scenic surroundings took us back in mind and spirit to the place we were fortunate to call home during an important part of our lives.

Pera2Those who gave of their time, energy and wealth to create ‘the worlds most beautiful university’, certainly had vision when they landscaped it. Generations of University students and staff would carry imprinted images of the flora of the University with them, wherever in the world they roamed. The University at Peradeniya was created by generous endowments of Ceylonese – who wished to create an institution for the ages – their gift to their Motherland.

Pera1Another email which circulated during the past year, mainly among Peradeniya’s Engineering Faculty alumni, was the news of the death, in Arizona USA on 22nd October 2011, of former Professor of Engineering Mathematics E F Bartholomeusz (affectionately known as ‘Bartho’ by all) at the age of 91. He was a Sri lankan, born in Maturata in December 1920 to an eminent Ceylonese Dutch Burgher family, who was naturally endowed with a love and understanding of mathematics. Furthermore, he also had the skill and ability to impart this knowledge to his students. Many generations benefitted by this gift. It was his endowment to his homeland.

On 13th October 2012, a special ceremony was held at the Engineering faculty Peradeniya, where former Dean, Professor Emeritus M P Ranaweera – himself admired by many thousands of Peradeniya’s Engineering graduates – made the keynote speech. The ceremony was to present the first round of awards – four studentships and four prizes – to Engineering students, as an outcome of the endowment fund established in Professor Barthlomeusz’s memory.

Professor Bartholomeusz’s lectures were excellently compiled and presented, and he did his utmost to see that future engineers grasped the subject of mathematics, so essential to their profession. However, it is not this alone that has caused him to be firmly implanted in the hearts of those who passed through Peradeniya, from 1950-1974, the period of his service there.

Some of us were in our Final year at the Faculty of Engineering in 1974, when word of his imminent departure to Zambia filtered through. It sent a shock wave through the Faculty more so within the student body. A special felicitation was arranged in May 1974 at the Engineering Faculty Auditorium, where student representatives of each batch paid their tributes in heartfelt terms. It was clear that one man had certainly made a difference to the lives of many. He went to the University of Zambia as Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics, where he served until 1990. Known there as ‘Professor Barth’ he continued in the same manner to make a difference to the many lives he encountered.

After his death, an obituary page was set up on the Internet and an online guest book where a message of remembrance or condolences to Bartho’s family could be written. There are 76 messages and they are a good cross section, portraying an image of the man & capturing the essence of his well lived life.

As Professor Ranaweera explained in his speech outlining the many facets of Bartho, it was his human qualities that shone through, creating a bond between him & his students. He was a gentleman in the fullest sense of the word. Although he’d been educated in St Joseph’s College Colombo, with a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, and hailed from a family with means, he was aware that many undergraduates in Peradeniya were under financial pressures and also of the stress that exams imposed on them. This showed in the way he prepared students for exams and acted in his interactions with them.

The messages in the Online guest book come from all parts of the world – from Colombo & Kandy to Calgary, Yokohama, Missouri, Sydney, Suva, Texas, Perth, Newport, Watford, Boston, Oxford, Johannesburg etc. His ‘small’ deeds such as stopping his car to give a ride to a student, or his courtesy and kindness in dealings with students are mentioned. His ‘bigger’ deeds, as illustrated in his actions in guiding the setting up of the Engineering Faculty Canteen to be an outlet for essential items such as drawing instruments, slide rule, stationery needed by students at affordable prices, were visionary.

The messages also illustrate a significant fact about the Professor’s human touch. They are composed by a cross section of all ethnic groups – Burgher, Sinhalese, Malay, Tamil, – in all likelihood they also represent the many religions within SriLanka. An amazing reality about him was that he spoke only ‘the Queen’s English’, yet was able to communicate effectively with many students who spoke very little English. The empathy he possessed was able to fill any gap that may have existed in their verbal exchanges.

Professor Bartholomeusz was compelled to leave the land of his birth with his wife Edith and three sons due to language policies which would have made it difficult for their future prospects. The sons Brian, Geoffrey & Michael have all obtained doctorates and make their contributions to the wider world. He owed no tribal allegiances and we would do well to dwell on his contributions to SriLanka and the way he treated all people.

If Bartho had been asked what race he belonged to, we can be certain his answer would have been ‘the human race’. If our University education is to mean more than the book knowledge we gained, it surely is this realisation of the universality of all human kind. We can keep his spirit alive by contributing to the Endowment Fund set up in his name, which will in perpetuity benefit needy students at Peradeniya and keep alive excellence in the field of Engineering Mathematics.

Then, like the flowers, the endowment that Professor Everard Frederick Bartholomeusz made by his contributions at ‘the world’s most beautiful university’, can bloom anew each year by the endowments we all make in our own small way.

Ranjan Abayasekara:Whyalla, South Australia 18 November 2012

A thing of beauty is a joy forever – John Keats


SEE for an Obituary Notice about Bartho …. “After a lifetime spent in the unselfish devotion to the interests of
others Prof. Frederick Bartholomeusz peacefully went to his rest today,
October 22nd 2011 surrounded by his family and friends who deeply loved
him. Prof. Bartholomeusz was someone who valued himself by the success
and  achievements of his family, friends, colleagues and most of all,
his precious students. By that measure, and by  his own estimation, he
was an immeasurably wealthy man! He was born in Maturata on December
30th, 1920 and was educated at St. Joseph’s College Colombo, The
University of Ceylon, and Cambridge University where he obtained a PhD
in Mathematics. He was one of the founding staff members of the faculty
of Engineering at the University of Ceylon in Colombo and subsequently
at Peradeniya where he taught for many years. He then taught at the
University of Zambia before retiring to join his sons Brian, Geoffrey
and Michael and their families in the United States. He is survived by
his loving wife of 56 years, Edith, and his brothers Mark, Warwick and
Dennis. His sister Edith and brother Ainsley predeceased him. He
profoundly touched the life of everyone he encountered and his
friendship, wisdom, and guidance will be deeply missed.”

Bartho as young boy


Filed under life stories, sri lankan society, unusual people

3 responses to “In memory of Professor Freddie Bartholomeusz and Peradeniya

  1. Konara Wanigasekara

    Batho never asked Kulta from where he came. I trust. But I am sure he helped the latter in learning the ‘Queens English’. I am sure Kulta can tell a book about Batho. May he attain eternal salvation.

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