Stanley Jayaweera as Sturdy Administrator & Diplomat – A Vale from a Son

Rajeewa Jayaweera, in Sunday Island, 2 February 2020, where the title runs – A bygone era diplomat of perspicacity. A third-year remembrance of my father”

‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch’ – Rudyard Kipling

My father, Stanley Robert Jayaweera (SJ), passed away on February 4, 2017, four months short of his 90th birthday. Over the last couple of years, I have penned several articles of his work, besides one in May 2017, of the different phases in our father-son relationship. This article would be the last. As memories begin to fade, they too need to be reposed.

Having completed Matriculation at St. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia and University Entrance from Ananda College, he graduated from Colombo University College in 1949, majoring in Philosophy. He taught at Christian College – Kotte, Dharmapala Vidyalaya – Pannipitiya and Dharmaraja College -Kandy before entering the Ceylon Overseas Service (later Sri Lanka Foreign Service) in 1954.

SJ hailed from a lower-middle-class family. Orphaned as a child, his father, Robert Francis, joined the Postal Service after passing JSC (grade 8) and worked as a Postmaster. He instilled in his sons a sense of discipline, dedication to hard work, and unbridled loyalty of service to the nation. The other son was Neville Jayaweera of Ceylon Civil Service fame.

The Japanese bombed Colombo on Easter Sunday, in 1942. After the all-clear siren, my grandfather had got dressed to visit the GPO, his workplace, to ascertain if it was destroyed. My grandmother had wept at his feet wailing what would happen to her and their four children, the eldest, SJ being 15 years old, should the bombers return, and something were to happen to him. He had told her, “hamome oheme kiyuwoth, me ratatayana kala mokadda.” (if everybody takes that attitude, what would be the fate of this country) and had marched off. Such was his dedication to duty and country. My uncle narrated this story to me decades later.

With a few selected anecdotes, I shall endeavor to outline the character of a man who, despite his humble beginnings, was smart enough to recognize and exploit opportunities as they arose. In most instances, it enabled him to develop close friendly relations with leaders in countries he was posted.

SJ spent a significant part of his cadetship working as Personal Assistant to the eminent civil servant Gunasena de Zoysa, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defense and External Affairs. Presumably, he ironed out his young PA’s rough edges. He brought him up to speed in attributes considered necessary in a diplomat. I also suspect, having identified SJ’s strengths and weaknesses, he assigned SJ first to Singapore and then to Madras. They were stations with no resident Heads of Mission. With his superiors based in Kuala Lumpur and Delhi, it enabled SJ to function with a considerable degree of autonomy.

Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew (LKY

Appointed Deputy Commissioner, SJ set sail to Singapore in 1958. He befriended a British judge on transfer from Ceylon as Chief Justice of Singapore. Both of them and their wives had been guests at the Captain’s dinner table each night during the entire voyage. Many years his senior, the Judge had advised him, “Young man, follow Lee Kuan Yew. He is the future of Singapore.”


Shortly after SJ’s arrival, LKY, by then Secretary-General of PAP and agitating for self-government, had been placed in detention by British authorities. Overcoming initial objections from the authorities, he called on LKY with two packets of Ceylon Tea. The Singaporean leader sincerely appreciated the gesture and went out of his way to show his appreciation on several occasions once named Prime Minister in 1959. He made an exception by waiving his policy of attending only the Queen’s Birthday, US Independence Day, and French National Day Receptions. He turned up with his wife and five cabinet ministers on February 4, 1960, for Ceylon’s Independence Day Reception at the Sinhalese Sports Club. A few days earlier, LKY had announced his intention of making Malay the national language. SJ proposed the toast to the Queen in Malay, which had pleased LKY no end. The Press was full of superlatives the next morning. His diplomatic entrepreneurship to seize the hour was complete.

Madras and Chief Minister Kumaraswami Kamaraj (KK)

From Singapore, SJ moved to Madras as Deputy High Commissioner. The former DHC being a bachelor had lived on the first floor of the office building. My parents had no choice but to follow suit initially. Meanwhile, there was considerable public anger in Madras due to the discontinuation of the All Asia Tamil Service by Radio Ceylon, more popular than All India Radio. Several demonstrations had taken place, and SJ considered repatriating family members of home-based staff to Colombo. One morning, the Police informed the mission of a demonstration scheduled at the DHC’s office that afternoon. They advised mission staff to remain indoors with all doors, windows, and gates shut.

Former freedom fighter and Chief Minister Kamaraj telephoned SJ. He assured, “not one stone will be allowed to be thrown.” He sent his Chief Secretary, another former freedom fighter named Diraviam, and the Tamil Nadu DIG to supervise security arrangements personally. Having got wind of my father’s plans, he guaranteed the safety of all and appealed, not to send family members home. Madras had only five foreign missions in 1960, those of Ceylon, Britain, the US, France, and the Soviet Union. It would be a black mark for Tamil Nadu. SJ readily agreed to his request. By lunchtime, a crowd of a few thousand converged outside the DHC. They shouted slogans, raised placards and black flags condemning Ceylon. We remained huddled inside the building, but as promised by KK, not one stone was thrown. We were given Police escorts for a few days. Yours truly was particularly chuffed, having a Policeman in an immaculately starched uniform with a gleaming bayonet affixed to a rifle standing outside my classroom at the Good Shepherd Convent. After a few weeks, the situation calmed down. KK was most appreciative of SJ agreeing to his request. After some time, he informed SJ to drop by any time without a prior appointment when required. SJ ensured never to abuse the privilege and always kept Diraviam informed before visiting the CM’s office.

Meanwhile, a close friendship developed between Chief Secretary Diraviam and SJ, eventually involving both families. Rarely did a week pass by without Diraviam with his wife and two daughters visiting our home or us visiting theirs.

Many states at that time in India, including Tamil Nadu, experienced massive floods in 1961. SJ managed to have several hundred kilos of tea air freighted from Colombo as flood relief and made a token presentation to KK, who ensured appropriate publicity. He appreciated Ceylon’s gesture ahead of the British, Americans, French, and Soviets, the other countries with resident representatives in Tamil Nadu.

In the Soviet Union

The next posting was to Moscow as Deputy Chief of Mission. With the commencement of the JVP insurrection in April 1971, all communications ceased with Colombo. We learned of the expulsion of the entire North Korean Embassy in Colombo over the BBC. The reception was generally poor due to jamming by the Soviets. The newly appointed Ambassador, a political appointee, was happy to be guided by SJ.

One morning, six North Korean diplomatic passports, together with a ‘Note Verbale’, were delivered to the Embassy. It was a request for visas for a delegation traveling to Colombo in the weekly Aeroflot flight. Having detected the Profession in one of the passports as ‘Explosives Expert,’ SJ stamped all passports with the endorsement, ‘Visa Refused with Extreme Prejudice’, meaning the holder was not a bona fide diplomat. The North Korean Embassy was informed accordingly and requested to collect the passports. The Ambassador and his Deputy stormed into the Ceylon Embassy without an appointment and demanded an explanation. Speaking on behalf of his Ambassador, SJ handed the incriminating passport with the comment, ‘Your Excellency, this is not the time for an Explosives Expert to visit Ceylon. We will let you know when we need his services.’ It was a clerical error with grave consequences. The North Koreans departed, crestfallen. With no possibility of contacting the Foreign Office for instructions, SJ used his discretion in Ceylon’s best interests.

Pakistan and Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB)

Transferred to Pakistan shortly after the 1971 Indo-Pak war, SJ began cultivating local officials and built an impressive network of contacts in the bureaucracy, especially the Pakistan Foreign Office. The Foreign Secretary being our neighbor was a plus. Ceylon’s High Commissioner, a political appointee and ten years SJ’s junior, was supportive and never interfered.

ZAB had an affinity to Ceylon and Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike (SB) due to the assistance given during the Indo-Pak war. A coded telegram received one evening around dinner time stated, rice stocks in Colombo was critical. It was an urgent personal appeal to ZAB for help, to be immediately hand delivered. SJ, as acting Head of Mission, briefed the Pakistan Chief of Protocol around 10 PM and requested an urgent appointment with ZAB for the next morning to hand-deliver SB’s personal message. Within half an hour, the CoP informed SJ to present himself at the Prime Minister’s residence at 1 AM. Receiving SJ in his silk pajamas and dressing gown, ZAB had poured him a cognac. Upon reading the telegram, the Prime Minister had instructed the diversion of four of six shiploads of rice sold to a Latin American country by tender and already at high seas. The consignment which arrived in Colombo a few days later saving her government was to SB’s credit. Obtaining the appointment within three hours was SJ’s contribution.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited Pakistan on a state visit. The High Commissioner had left on transfer, and his replacement was yet to be nominated, SJ was the sole diplomatic officer in Islamabad. ZAB readily endorsed SJ’s discreet suggestion to accord PM Bandaranaike the honor of addressing a joint session of the National Assembly, a privilege previously granted only to the Shah of Iran and Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, both heavy underwriters of the Pakistan economy. SB was pleased with the successful state visit. SJ received a transfer to West Germany shortly afterward. However, I strongly suspect he would have preferred to remain in Pakistan.

West Germany and President Richard von Weizsäcker

SJ did two tours of duty in West Germany, first as Minister (first eight months as Charge d’ Affairs) and subsequently as Ambassador. During his first assignment, he cultivated contacts with a wide range of politicians from the three leading political parties, namely the ruling SPD, coalition partner FDP and Opposition CDU/CSU. He regularly entertained at home, serving Sri Lankan food exclusively. On one occasion, I overheard my mother complaining; they were often exceeding his entertainment allowance. She reminded him, he had to provide for five children. He gently chided her, stating, entertaining and networking were seminal to his duties, and his duties did not end with the exhaustion of his entertainment allowance.

Many of the contacts he cultivated during his first posting proved invaluable during his second tour of duty as Head of Mission. Jürgen Warnke, a CSU parliamentarian, went on to become Minister of Economic Cooperation. On many occasions, SJ overcame bureaucratic red tape by directly accessing Minister Warnke over the phone or personally during the finalization of German-funded Rantembe Hydro Project. CDU Parliamentarian and unsuccessful Presidential candidate in 1974, Richard von Weizsäcker was another of his close contacts. He was President of the Federal Republic when SJ arrived the second time, and the old friendship was re-kindled.

In the aftermath of Indian aggression and the violation of Sri Lankan airspace in 1987, Foreign Minister ACS Hameed instructed his Ambassadors in key European cities to immediately meet their respective foreign ministers and seek the condemnation of India’s act of aggression. I recollect, all Foreign Ministers, including the German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher became uncontactable. Von Weizsäcker eventually obtained the appointment through back channels but warned privately; the Germans will not agree. During the meeting, which took place ten days after the airdrop, Minister Genscher intimated, it was not in Germany’s interest to condemn India outright. The German statement after the meeting advised both countries to resolve their differences amicably. However, the moment had passed, Sri Lanka had capitulated, and President Jayewardene had commenced negotiations with Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi.

All these anecdotes and body language in visuals presented herewith tell a story – personal relationships is the hallmark of successful diplomacy. SJ mastered it with considerable aplomb.

An upright public servant

On the eve of our departure from Singapore, my sister and I received gifts of wristwatches from the head of a prominent Sri Lankan jeweler’s branch in Singapore as departing gifts. SJ promptly returned them. He explained, public servants and their families receiving gifts from the business community contravened government regulations.

When Dudley Senanayake passed away in 1973, SJ opened a book of condolences at the High Commission in Islamabad. Some clerical officers covertly petitioned Colombo on this action. PM Bandaranaike, through her Secretary MDD (Dharmasiri) Peiris, SJ’s back channel to the Prime Minister’s office, called for an explanation for his action sans instructions. He responded stating, the death of a five times Prime Minister demanded it and chided Colombo for the absence of explicit instructions if their thinking was to the contrary. A subsequent note informed him to consider the original letter as withdrawn.

Paradoxically, Dudley Senanayake’s government had kept SJ under interdicted from July 1965 till October 1969 when the Public Service Commission acquitted him of all charges with full back pay.

Returning from Germany in mid-1988, President Jayewardene and Minister Hameed re-employed SJ on contract as an Advisor. He was tasked with setting a research section on Indian Affairs in the Foreign Ministry – a subject that was his heartfelt desire, and his suitability was beyond reproach.

The new Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, impressed by SJ’s work, retained his services. Further, he arranged a monthly briefing for President Premadasa. The arrangement continued until SJ advised the Head of State to refrain from making public demands for the withdrawal of the IPKF. He urged the President to make his case in a private one to one meeting. The Head of State had demanded, “is that the advice of my Advisor on Indian Affairs?” SJ had responded, stating it was his duty to evaluate facts and give advice to the President to enable him to serve the best interests of the country. The briefing was terminated shortly after that. Minister Wijeratne had assured SJ, the annual renewal of his contract falling due in two weeks requiring cabinet approval was a formality However, on the last day, the Foreign Minister had apologetically informed, the Head of State had rejected the renewal. SJ cleared his desk, declined the ministry vehicle available to him, and came home by bus as he had traveled on the first day, he had reported for work in 1954.

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