Kamala Gunawardena, courtesy of the Daily News
Prof. Kusuma Gunawardena’s career was devoted to teaching It is now five years since Prof. Kusuma Gunawardena left us quite suddenly. It is still not out of place by means of an appreciation to rekindle memories of a devoted teacher lest “the good that men do is interred with their bones.” Kusuma Gunawardena had her early education, firstly at the village school, at St. Thomas’ Girls, Matara and her secondary eduction at Hillwood College Kandy – the inter-provincial leap occasioned by her father acceding to a request by her teacher who was going on transfer to Hillwood College as Principal, that her promising pupil should continue in her charge. From Hillwood she entered the Peradeniya University where she specialized in geography. Her entire career was devoted to teaching – first at Maliyadeva Girls’ School in Kurunegala, then in the University set up, starting from Peradeniya and continuing in Colombo after post-graduate studies which she was privileged to pursue at Cambridge.
She worked in the field of locational studies in human geography. It is this background which perhaps accounts for her interest in GIS – a discipline which she pioneered in introducing to her students with great benefit to the work which was then being undertaken in regional development. In fact she worked closely with the IRDP of the Hambantota District undertaking long bus rides in spite of the arthritis condition that was beginning to take its toil. She made another direct contribution to planning and development by co-ordinating a project in this field which was entrusted to the geography department. Another of her contributions, in addition to routine teaching was the guiding and supervision of post-graduate students. She won the lasting gratitude of students by her great industry and complete devotion, often working long into the night to meet deadlines.
In spite of the constraining effects of her illness, retirement also saw her continually engaged in several fields of activity. The Geography Department introduced far reaching changes in the teaching program. Her services were made available for a long period of time to attend to the heavy work load that this entailed. She made a valuable input into the Tripitaka computerization process disregarding the tedium and discomfort of long hours with the computer. One of her last charitable undertakings was devoting time for the welfare of the blind by reading for their benefit. All these labours were engaged in at a time she was sandwiched between ill health and financial pressures to which persons who were compelled to depend on returns on savings were subjected to with falling returns. These difficulties only hardened her resolve for selfless services, a feature which characterized her whole life. From the time of her employment, she was determined to support her family, relieving her teacher parents of the burden they had borne. She generously supported and guided her younger brothers and sisters, a practice she continued even with her nieces and nephews much to their benefit and to her joy, as she saw them in acclaimed professional positions.
Her long career in the somewhat rare academic atmosphere never stood between her and her two schools and early associates. Her complete devotion to her parents and teachers serve as a good example to others at a time when some of these values are conspicuously on the decline. Her loyalty to her old schools was manifested in the active roles she continued to play in the Old Girls’ Associations till the end. So too was her attachment to the temples she patronized along with her parents. Her very last trip to Matara was exclusively for the purpose of attending to the needs of one of these temples. Kusuma Gunawardena will continue to be remembered with respect and gratitude as a great teacher and a selfless person in her relationships with her family, with her students and with her friends. May she attain Nibbhana!