Dr CG Uragoda: A Man for All Seasons

Dr B. J. C. Perera, “Tribute to A Superlative Human Being,” Island, 26 April 2020

I am greatly honoured, and indeed tremendously privileged, to present this homage of remembrance to a great son of Mother Lanka who left this worldly life on the 28th of March 2020.

Deshabandu Doctor C. G. Uragoda MBBS(Ceylon), MD(Ceylon), Honorary D.Sc (Colombo), FRCP (Edinburgh) and FRCP (Glasgow), is portrayed on the Internet as a Physician, an acclaimed expert on occupational respiratory disorders, a renowned author, an unmatched folklorist, a celebrated historian and a dedicated ecologist. That is a superlative description; one that has reached the pinnacle of excellence.

My association with Dr Uragoda goes right back to 1984. At that time, I was due to make an academic research presentation at the Annual Congress of the Sri Lanka Paediatric Association. I needed some scientific information for this purpose. I was based in Badulla and being the only Consultant Paediatrician for a radius of at least 50 kilometres, it was not feasible for me to come to Colombo and spend several days in libraries to get the information that I needed.

What did I do? It was way before the advent of e-mail. I just wrote a snail-mail letter, asking for help, to one Dr C. G. Uragoda in Colombo. I did not know him from Adam and had never met him. I had only heard about the man. In just a few days, virtually by return of post, I had the information with photocopies of the literature as well. That was my very first contact with Dr Uragoda, by courtesy of the Sri Lankan Postal Service.

Then we go fast forward 6 years, to late 1990. I was preparing a competitive submission for my very first oration. It was well before the internet was opened to the public. The title was “Changing frontiers in childhood asthma”. I proposed to trace the advances in childhood asthma from ancient times, right up to the nineties, blended with details from my own research ventures. I needed a lot of literature from very early times of human life for my manuscript. By then, I was working in Colombo, and what did I do? I just took the easiest way out. I went and met Dr Uragoda. The result? I had all the necessary literature within just a couple of days. The manuscript was accepted and the oration was presented on the 22nd of February 1991 in Colombo.

Ten years later, in the year 2000, the Adult Chest Physicians and all others who were interested in respiratory diseases got together and formed the Respiratory Disease Study Group of Sri Lanka. I was most fortunate to be the Founder President of that organisation. Dr Chris Uragoda was our Patron, Godfather and our Guiding Light, all rolled into one. His academic brilliance, consummate humility, classical caring qualities and legendary willingness to help others, were fantastic guiding lights for all of us to follow.

That person, by the name of Christopher Gunapala Uragoda was no mere mortal. A genius in his own chosen field, with a dazzling array of achievements, he was an extremely special and priceless gift to mankind. It has been said…., and I am ever so pleased to say it again.., that one has to be enormously blessed to be loved by all. There is only a very small band of men and women who would belong to such an elite group. Dr Uragoda is undoubtedly one of them, a Prince in that very select ensemble. His life, his work, and his triumphs, would surpass the corridors of time and be etched in golden letters in the annals of history. It would indeed be preserved for posterity and for the enlightenment, as well as the edification, of generations to come.

Doctor Chris Uragoda was a much-celebrated colossus in the medical scenario of Sri Lanka. His knowledge was incredibly encyclopaedic. He always had an answer to any question that one would ask. He was the monumental Rolex of them all. Still for all that, the much-revered shroud of fame sat ever so lightly on his unpretentious humble self. It has been said that it takes just one person to change a few, a few to change many, and many to change the world. It all starts with one. As far as Sri Lankan Adult Chest Medicine goes, that one person is a gentleman by the name of Dr C. G. Uragoda.

The man was an indefatigable writer and a historian with a proven track record of no mean repute. These two traits have combined to produce many erudite works, some of which have become the gold standards of the History of Medicine in Sri Lanka. In recognition of his prowess in, and contributions to, medical history, the Sri Lanka Medical Association was pleased to designate the History of Medicine Lecture, delivered each year on the 26th of February, the birthday of the said organisation, as the Dr C. G. Uragoda History of Medicine Oration, in honour of a man who was one of its very distinguished Past Presidents. I was most fortunate to be selected to deliver that lecture this year on “Progression of Paediatrics: From ancient times, to the modern era”. My only regret is that failing health prevented the said maestro from being physically present for the lecture. That has now become the last such lecture, delivered while the virtuoso was still alive. However, it will be continued each year, from now on, as an accolade of remembrance to a medical giant of this era.

I am tremendously humbled, yet flattered beyond belief, to acknowledge that he and I do share the same commitment to Diseases of the Respiratory Tract. History records that in his time he has been responsible for the fabulous progress of Adult Pulmonology and its transformation into a glorious discipline. I have also been a humble witness to the fantastic developments in Paediatric Respirology. Both of us have had our protégés carrying the torch that we lit, to reach higher and higher levels in propagating Respiratory Medicine in Sri Lanka.

I am delighted now to reiterate, how greatly fortunate I feel, to have written this encomium dedicated to that incomparable and unrivalled leading light of Respiratory Medicine in Sri Lanka, Dr Chris Uragoda. This effort on my part is a reverential accolade to a man, who defies comparison to anyone else in this mortal world. It is a personal salute to such a person; a personality par excellence, whose life is a breath-taking canvas of achievements and unassuming simplicity. All of us would look back on his life as one of a fabulous role model which was a splendid guiding light, for all of us to follow.

When his time came at the age of 91 years, he went the very same way he lived, unpretentiously, sans any fuss and without troubling anyone. A man like no other, one of the finest that Mother Lanka ever produced, is no more.

Though tremendously saddened, it was for me a real privilege and an indulgence of honour, to be able to accompany him on his last journey, even braving a curfew, on the 29th of March 2020. Even wild horses would not have been able to keep me away.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.

Dr B. J. C. Perera, Specialist Consultant Paediatrician


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2 responses to “Dr CG Uragoda: A Man for All Seasons

  1. Pingback: Remembering the Medical Luminary Chris Uragoda | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Soma Hewa

    I was very pleased to read this tribute to my dear friend and colleague CG Uragoda, whom I first met in 1991 when I was doing research for my book on Colonialism, Tropical Disease and Imperial Medicine: Rockefeller Philanthropy in Sri Lanka. He was an invaluable source of information for several aspects of my research on the history of medicine and public health in SL. He represented one of my international conferences on philanthropy and health at the Rockefeller Archive Center, NY in 1994. An indefatigable scholar, humanist and a friend of rare qualities that I always admire.

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