A. S. Wirasinha
It was an important day in 1914 when two brothers E.A. and E.R. de Silva left the Wesleyan Mission Boys’ High School at Ambalangoda and enrolled as pupils at Richmond College. Galle. Arthur, the older brother, proved a quiet and steady worker and later worked his way to posts of high responsibility in the postal department of Sri Lanka. It was the younger brother, Richard, who was to make a vital contribution to the school.
E.R. was an all-rounder and was soon making a mark for himself both in class and in the varied life of the College. Latin, Mathematics and English were his favourite subjects, and he became the Secretary of the Literary Association. After a short period as day scholars, the brothers joined the hostel. Here E.R. blossomed out, becoming the life and soul of Winchester House. He became a First Class Scout, Sergeant of the Junior Cadet Corps, and later a member of the platoon which won the Ceylon Shooting Cup for Senior Cadets. His greatest prowess, however, was as centre forward at Soccer. It was the team of 1917 that beat All Saints’,Mahinda and St. Aloysius College in Galle and held St. Thomas’ College which was the champion Colombo team and included the Crowthers, Saravanamuttus and Sarams, to the small advantage of one goal. Associated with E.R. in the team were such stalwarts as Sam Misso, Upali Amarasinghe. Donald Peiris, Bertie Lourensz and Guneris de Silva.
In 1918, E.R. left for his higher studies for Wesley, then under Henry Highfield, P.T. Cash and C.P. Dias – some of the finest teachers of their day. Later he joined the Staff of Trinity where A.G. Fraser was Principal. Among his colleagues were J. Mcleod Campbell, C.N. Lemuel, A.M.K. Coomaraswamy, D.A. Devendra and A.W.R. Joseph who could not have failed to influence the life of this young teacher. E.R obtained the Bachelor of Arts degree of the University of London in 1925. A few years later, saw the ‘wanderer’ back at his old school Richmond. How well equipped he must have been with the traditions of such schools as he had known to draw upon!
E.R. plunged into his new assignment with his wonted enthusiasm, devotion and skill. As a teacher of Mathematics and Latin he was clear, patient and hard working. The slowest of his pupils received the greatest attention and in the junior forms he laid for them a firm foundation for higher studies in these subjects. It was work of this sort and the influence of the Head Master E.F.C Ludowyk that produced scholars of the calibre of V.L.Wirasinha, A.E.Gogerly Moragoda, J.L.E. Fernando, P.A. Gunaratne and A.E.Panditharatne during this period.
On the playing field E.R. was soon a dynamic coach of Soccer, Cricket and Athletics. A keen student of the games himself he demanded discipline, hard training and meticulous concentration from his pupils. You had to learn to kick with both feet, to make a really good start in a sprint and develop a good stride, bat bowl and field with precision. The trier always won his praise but he was not slow to use hard words on the slacker, driving him on to greater endevour. Fine sportsmen like Bertie Warusavitarne, C.H.S Amerasekera, Geo Weerasuriya, Willie Hewavitarne, Harry Young, and Caxton Njuki who represented all Ceylon in Athletics as a student bear witness to E.R.’s excellence as a coach.
Very soon E.R. was making his mark as a keen educationist. He became president of the Southern Province Teachers’ Association and championed the rights of teachers all over Ceylon, particularly those in the vernacular schools. He was a member of the Board of Education from 1939 and President of the All Ceylon Teachers’ Union in 1941. As Secretary and later President of the Headmasters Conference, his views on all matters relating to education were much sort after. His evidence before the Kannangara Education Commission was of great value and he championed the cause of Free Education which was achieved in 1944. It was largely owing to his persuasion that the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka handed over all her schools except Methodist College and Wesley College to the State. The Government of this country recognized his services to education by the award of the O.B.E.
The appointment of E.R. de Si1va as Richmond’s first Ceylonese Principal was hailed by all who had the interests of the school at heart. To follow after men like Darrell. Small, Sneath and Dalby was no small undertaking, but E.R entered into his task with humility and confidence in the co-operation of the staff and pupils of Richmond. Under him the school experienced a new period of growth. The establishment of University Entrance and Inter Arts classes created a need for new teachers and E.R. found for his pupils the very best available, among whom were young men like Felix Dias Abeysinghe. L.F.W. Fernando and A.E. Gogerly Moragoda.
The school now needed more classrooms and wider accommodation for the extra-curricular programmes that were introduced. The Principal’s excellent relations with the Old Boys of Richmond soon helped him to give the school an extended Kindergarten, a fine new block of class rooms above the tennis court, a new Biology Laboratory and junior Common Room furnished in the fine taste, and a Staff Room. Audio Visual Room and a special room for Woodwork. All the buildings had a simple dignity of their own which harmonised with the beautiful landscape that is Richmond. Girls were admitted to the higher classes, and special recognition given in the prize list to Art, Handicraft, Drama and Progress, the last so that weaker students too could share in the honours on Prize Day. The Common Room afforded pupils facilities for quiet reading and in the evenings served for meetings like those of the Wednesday Evening Club which in later days took the place of Alec Sneath’s Sathya Visandana Samithi ya.
It was on the Prize day that E.R. De Silva shone. All arrangements were made with the greatest of care. His reports were excellently written lightened with a touch of humor and delivered with great clarity and dignity. One rarely missed a quotation from Robert Browning, his favourite poet, and words like:
“Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
The last of life for which the first was made …..”
remained in the memory when so much else had been forgotten. And of course he knew every prize winner. Though not a singer himself, how much he enjoyed the College Hymn, the Song and the new Richmond song in Sinhala that was introduced during his period as Principal!
Those of his pupils who came to know him best found in him a warm and close friend. He was always available to those who needed him, taking joy in their success and helping them in their moments of sorrow and failure. He would rarely miss the wedding of a pupil and there would be light banter and words of good advice to those who were starting a new chapter in their lives. If ever there was a death in one’s family E.R was there with his sympathy and his quiet friendliness. It was his deep humanity one remembered in the end.
In 1957 E.R. retired from his position as Head of Richmond to move to Colombo and be with his family. He was a great husband and father as his wife Hilda and children Ranjan. Chithrani and Nayeni so well know. As Secretary of Steuart Engineers Ltd. he worked with the same efficiency and devotion that he had shown as Principal of Richmond. Even now he tried his best to be present in Galle for the Big Match each year. As he approached his seventies, however, his health began to fail. Perhaps he had remained in harness too long, but retirement in the normal sense of that word was quite impossible for a man like him. News of his death on 11th November 1970 came as a shock to all. The long line of mourners at his funeral – colleagues, friends, relations and a large number of pupils past and present of Richmond bore ample testimony to the love and respect he had won as a friend, teacher and Principal.
Of E.R. De Silva of Richmond we can all well say
“His Life was gentle and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’ ”
(Richmond College Centenary Souvenir 1976)