Epitaphs in Memory of Elmo de Alwis of Kalahe

Nihal De Alwis

Elmo was born on the 29th Of November 1935 in Galle to my loving parents FELIX DE ALWIS and ENID BERYL DE ALWIS. He was the seventh in our family of eleven He was my closest brother and friend throughout my schooling career until he left Sri Lanka with his family to Germany. But he never distanced himself from me and my family though he did not come very often to Sri Lanka having ensured that he was in Sri Lanka at least once a year especially in February. He was the most intelligent out of our family except for Fidelia our eldest sister, who had passed the senior matriculation in the early forties and my other eldest brother Chandra, who excelled as an entrepreneur being the managing Director of Lankem and Lanka wall tiles and becoming Founder Chairman of Royal Ceramics.

Elmo had acquired a wide knowledge in the field of Marketing and had his basic training experience at LEVER BROTHERS now known as UNILEVERS. He had the capacity to work with dedication and commitment. He achieved his targets at LEVERS. Some of his close colleagues were marketing maestros like NIHAL WIJETUNGE and Robin Wijesinghe. Elmo did his best winning sales prizes but at the same time he had the ability challenge the management in unfair decisions. From there he departed to the UNITED KINGDOM in the year 1962 to better himself in the field of marketing, which he achieved having obtained a Degree in Marketing.

With this in his bag he was recruited by the Managing Director of Lewis Browns, that eminent Civil Servant the late Mr Victor Wirasinghe,  Lewis Browns offered him the post of Marketing Director with an attractive remuneration – a request which he readily accepted. During his period with Lewis Browns he trained some selected staff who had excellent family background as his assistants and potential managers: for instance, Chanaka De Silva, Ranjit Fernando, John Fernando and several others. He proved his worth by turning around Lewis Browns His superiors included Mr Victor Wirasinghe , MD Chairman Mr N.S.O Mendis and his own Dty Chairman Ricky Mendis.

His presence in Sri Lanka was greatly appreciated by our Dad and Mum as wellas the other siblings. His children  with his wife mixed with us well — especially during Christmas and our family get togethers when we met in our home in Kalahe. Elmo always enjoyed his coconut arrack and sometimes of course never failed to even entertain the village folk with a little boost from this spirit. His departure to Germany [circa 1970] was certainly heartbreaking for the family as he decided sucha step was in the best interest of his family due to certain trade restrictions with the change of government. He realised that the education of the children would be affected with his income also dwindling due to the policies of a socialist government in the early seventies Perhaps his decision was correct.

Though Elmo migrated to Germany, his heart was here. He missed all his friends, family, colleagues and the typical village life and his seabaths with the pol arrack. His death was very untimely and unexpected as he spoke to me on the phone two weeks before his death saying he was undergoing a small surgery due to a fistula which was misdiagnosed by his doctor. His visits here were memorable ones, not failing to meet all his friends and close relations and of course the family. My son and daughter admired his intelligence and wide knowledge as we did make some trips together to Nuwara Eliya as he loved playing golf. It is likely that his marketing expertise was an influence on my daughter, who took to the marketing trade having qualified like her uncle.

Elmo was an avid reader who finally achieved academic excellence. His achievements as a lecturer at the Cologne University in the latter years gave him great satisfaction. He reminds me of the saying “EDUCATION IS WHEN YOU READ THE FINE PRINT. EXPERIENCE IS WHAT YOU GET IF YOU DON’T.” Elmo’s departure has certainly distanced his family from us as travel is an issue, but his wife Hildegard thankfully is in touch with us. During his stay here he never failed to attend the Methodist Church Kollupitya on Sundays.  We entrust his soul to the LORD.


  the imposing Kalahe brothers four: from right Chandra, Vere, Elmo and Nihal

Hildegaarde & Elmo 


A Mate’s Epitaph from Michael Roberts, 20 September 2020

Elmo was in my elder sister Audrey’s blistering corps of mates in and around Galle Fort in the early-mid 1950s. Audrey was four years my senior and a tomboy with a troupe of lively friends: the Conderlag girls, Vidya and Lucky Wickremasinghe of Lighthouse Street, the Roosmale-Cocqs, etc. Intially, I was taken along on her bike during their outings. Once I learned to ride I joined them on outings to Watering Point, Closenburg Beach, Unawatuna and even Koggala. Tony Obeysekere joined our outings when he arrived to live opposite the Roberts house in Middle Street, Fort.

Audrey migrated to UK after her marriage to Tony. Happily, Elmo found an abode at their house in Maley Avenue, Tulse Hill when he reached England. That house became a centre for ‘little’ Sri Lankan parties. Little maybe; but also eventful. 18 Maley Avenue: what tales it could relate. Elmo and Hildegarde may well have initiated their union there. Shona and I certainly did. ….. ansd so too did Elmo’s younger sister Nelun and my cricketing-soccering mate Carlyle Rodrigo. And there was Derek Rodrigo dropping in too and launching many an escapade.

Needless to say, Shona and I stayed in touch with Elmo and Hildegarde when we returned to Sri Lanka in 1966. Living in Peradeniya my research work and sporting interests took me to Colombo often. Though I had two sister households as pied’ a terre if I so wished, I recall staying over with Hildegarde and Elmo at their residence in the Borella area on at least one occasion.

Pix by Mike R

We kept in touch after they migrated to West Germany [yes two Germany’s then]. Then, lo and behold, I received a Humboldt Fellowship in 1975/76. My initial spell of learning German was at Goethe Institute at Boppard-am-Rhein — not far from the Koln locality where  Elmo was located.

Shona and I were located at Heidelberg University for an year during that spell; while my second Humboldt spell in 1987 involved both Heidelberg and Bielefeld Universities — four months each. Memory is fickle and time can blur different moments into one –so I cannot be more specific. But I can affim that during these sojourns in Germany we — or sometimes just myself — certainly stayed over at the Elmo de Alwis residence on a few occasions. We were always welcome: theirs was another home from home.

This ‘residential advantage extended to the extensvie and extended De Alwis family. I have enjoyed overnight stays and chit-chats at Nelun’s flat in southwest London, Sriani’s in Brisbane and, last but not least, I benefited from a lengthy spell on my own at the family walauwwa in Kalahe.

The latter spell was at some point in the late 198os or in 1990. I had a long spell of researching study leave in Sri Lanka in 1987 and  shorter spells in 1989 or 1990. I was working on the development of Colombo as a hegemonic cnetre in British times in conjunction with the place of the Burghers in the growth of the Ceylonese middle classes who challenged British domination — a project which led to the book entitled People Inbetween (Sarvodaya, Colombo 1989) that was worked up with aid from Percy Colin-Thome and Ismeth Raheem.

However, this strand of research also overlapped with work on riots and pogroms in Sri Lanka –work inspired by Neelan Tiruchelevam’s inititive in arranging an international conference in Kathmandu that focused  on ethnic violence in South Asia. That collaboration led to a book edited by Veena Das of Delhi University which is entitled Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots, Survivors in South Asia (OUP, Delhi, 1990) where my essay resides as “Noise as Cultural Struggle: Tom-Tom Beating, the British and Communal Disturbances in Sri Lanka, 1880s-1930s,”

Note, however, that anyone residing in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s and the year 1990 could not but experience another deadly struggle: that between the second wave of the JVP socialist/chauvinist movement and the state forces. This was a violent merciless insurrectionary battle with no clear geographical boundaries. I experienced its ramifications when living in Colombo. So, when I was at Kalahe [in 1990?] my investigative forays included the occasional gathering of ethnographic data [read as oral communication]  on the JVP presence/activity in that locality.


Roberts:   “Noise as Cultural Struggle: Tom-Tom Beating, the British and Communal Disturbances in Sri Lanka, 1880s-1930s,” in Veena Das (ed.), Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots, Survivors in South Asia, Delhi: O.U.P., 1990, pp. 240-85.

Roberts: “In appreciation of my Talented Sister Audrey,” 2 April 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/04/02/in-appreciation-of-my-talented-sister-audrey/



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2 responses to “Epitaphs in Memory of Elmo de Alwis of Kalahe

  1. Patrick Rodrigo

    Fond memories.

  2. EMAIL COMMENT from DR FIRAZATH HUSSEIN of Colombo, Galle and Oman, 22 September 2020: “A life well spent” .

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