Randolph Ranjith Alwis of Sri Lanka & Adelaide: Epitaphs in Depth

ONE: from Victor Rebikoff OAM, and Former FECCA Chair 1992-96

I am deeply honored to have been asked by the Alwis family to provide this personal eulogy on my close friend Randolph Alwis AM whom I have known for over 35 years since we became the Presidents of our respective State and Territory Multicultural Communities Councils in the early 1980’s and as a consequence Deputy Chairs of Australia’s peak community body FECCA – viz, -the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia. At that time both of us were the ‘young guns’ at the forefront of Australia’s multicultural movement and became closely involved in working with Commonwealth, State and Territory governments in the initial introduction of culturally and linguistically appropriate services for migrants and refugees Australia wide.

This involved being part of regular delegations to meet with Prime Ministers, Ministers, as well as State/Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers to convince them to provide sufficient funding in their respective budgets (which they subsequently did) to ensure that English language tuition was offered to both migrants and refugees currently living in Australia and those having recently arrived. That was only the first step and there were other policies strenuously pursued to benefit multicultural communities and finally supported by the former Fraser and Hawke governments followed soon after by the appointment of Federal, State and Territory Ministers for Multicultural Affairs.

By the end of the 80’s Randolph and I believed the organisation needed changing due to FECCA becoming somewhat stagnant and having the Chair at that time only elected from NSW. We decided it was time to change this practice and the Federation’s direction thru the introduction of some important reforms and by adopting proactive policies in addition to enhancing FECCA’s media profile aimed at projecting its national position on culturally diverse policies with governments and the Australian community at large. To ensure this came about Randolph and I lobbied State, Territory and Regional Councils to have a non-NSW candidate lead FECCA which resulted in myself being the first person from the ACT elected in 1992 (not from NSW) with Randolph from SA then succeeding me in 1996.

In being elected as FECCA Chair Randolph also succeeded me on thePrime Minister’s National Multicultural Advisory Council. With both our terms completed by 2000 it was during these past 8 years that FECCA undertook the most dramatic changes since it was formed in 1979 beginning with its move from its temporary home in Sydney to a permanent building in Canberra with its official opening taking place in October 1994 by Prime Minister Paul Keating and the then ACT Chief Minister. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of FECCA’s national office the current FECCA Chair Mary Patetsos agreed to celebrate this significant anniversary in December 2019 with the current Prime Minister’s representative doing the honors which included the unveiling all the photos of past FECCA Chairs   in the boardroom-much to Randolph’s delight.

After Randolph’s term concluded in 2000, we continued to play a part in FECCA’s development by being instrumental in candidates from other states being elected as Chair and particularly in electing a woman — the first being Voula Messimeri, AM from Victoria and now Mary Patetsos from SA. Having by now given the game away we continued to keep in contact on a regular basis sharing the many good times we spent at FECCA conferences held in each of the State and Territory capitals. One of Randolph’s most profound statements that he made as FECCA Chair which one still recalls was that “CULTURAL DIVERSITY IS HERE TO STAY WITH OR WITHOUT GOVERNMENT SUPPORT. IT IS A FACT OF AUSTRALIAN LIFE.”

Two years later I had no hesitation in strongly supporting Randolph’s nomination for an award in the Order of Australia honors announced in 2003. In the following year in November 2004, I was particularly pleased when Randolph and the love of his life Laki were able to attend my 60th birthday celebration in Canberra. It therefore came as a huge shock to me and my wife Margaret when I heard of Randolph’s unexpected passing earlier this month as we were intending to get together again if COVID became manageable with the rollout this year of the vaccine.

Besides serving with distinction as FECCA Chair Randolph was  also a member of a number of notable organisations such as the Ausflag Board, the Overseas Qualification Board and the Defence Reserves Support (SA Branch) in addition to being a long serving member of the Rotary Club of Adelaide West becoming President of the Club from 2010-11 and then recognised three times as a Paul Harris Fellow for his distinguished services to Rotary.  For his  many accomplishments in Australian Multiculturalism and Indigenous Reconciliation at the national level, and in South Australia as well as his tireless service to the Australian community Randolph Alwis was deservedly awarded an AM in the Australian Honors List in 2003 with the citation reading:


Randolph was highly respected revered by Australia’s multicultural communities and especially his beloved Sri Lankan community; but he was loved most of all by his devoted wife Laki and his dedicated daughters Suranie and Ragita telling me over many years that his love for them was eternal and any success in his life could not have been achieved without their unreserved support.

This month on 13 February 2021 I lost not only a close friend but a person I always thought of as a brother that I never had. As I recall the words of a famous person we both admired -Randolph should be “remembered as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw injustice and tried to remedy it. Everyone who loved him and take him to his rest today will hold many cherished memories of Randolph as he will always remain in our hearts-we will never forget him as will Laki, Suranie, Ragita and the rest of his family in Australia and within Sri Lanka.

I will miss Randolph (especially our regular chats on the phone) and acknowledge his inspirational community leadership and a person who never shirked the various responsibilities he had as a father, a husband, a community leader and a businessman. I also greatly valued the friendship we shared for over 35 years and thank him for being such a good and loyal friend to me. I have lost a good friend in Randolph Alwis AM, but Australia has lost a true champion against racial inequality and injustice. Rest in Peace my brother Randolph as you have earned your rest and, in time, I hope we can meet again.

****  ****

TWO: from Deepika Weerakoon in Australia

On an average day, the topic of death is not a subject we yearn to talk about. However, at one point or another, death and dying must be reflected upon. If able bodies that once performed great deeds now lie bereft of movement, then one wonders what the purpose of life truly is. However, if we choose not to see death as an isolated incident, but rather as an inevitable conclusion to our time here, then death can become a key that unlocks the value of life. It is only by acknowledging it in this way that we can come to terms with the purpose of life.

Such reflections have the capacity to bind us together in friendship as we travel through life alongside one another.

Speaking of friendships, the Alwis family were one of the first families I got to know soon after I migrated to Australia in the mid-eighties. During my fifteen years in Adelaide, their household was like a second home to me. Ranjit became a trusted senior friend. I am sure he fulfilled this role not just for me but for many newcomers to Adelaide.

Even after I moved to Sydney almost twenty years ago, if someone asked for a reliable contact in Adelaide, Ranjit Alwis was always the first name I mentioned. Ranjit provided invaluable counsel and guidance. He was my number one go to guru for anything to do with charity and social work, accounting, finance and political opinions. This wisdom was just one of his admirable qualities – there are many more I can recall.

Ranjith did not suffer fools. He wouldn’t alter or water down his ideas to please his audience. If he believed something was worth standing up for that is exactly what he did. It takes confidence and a conviction to do this. But hiding behind Ranjith’s assertive personality was a kind-hearted individual who did not look away when someone was in need of help.

Ranjith made significant contributions to the community. He was well ahead of his time in building valuable cross-cultural links In the eighties the Sri Lankan community was just emerging in South Australia. The number of Sri Lankan households were few and far between. After the black July riots in 1983, the civil war was just beginning in Sri Lanka.

Ranjith believed the Sri Lankan community living in this blessed country had a responsibility to support Sri Lanka in her hour of need. He was instrumental in setting up a community group dedicated to promote peace in Sri Lanka. This was way before 9/11, when the West did know much about terrorism, Ranjith believed terrorism is not a behaviour to reason with or to negotiate with.

In the mid-nineties, when the social media was not around Ranjith helped the Sri Lankan community to establish our own community radio; he said being able to listen to and speak in Sinhala will make the distance between Sri Lanka and Australia shorter for the Sri Lankans.

In 1998, Ranjith helped the Sri Lankan community to successfully apply to a community grant to promote the Sri Lankan history and the culture. As a result, a photographic exhibition named Sarabhumi was held in the city of Adelaide during the month of February to celebrate 50 years of independence to Sri Lanka.

When the Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara started in Adelaide, the committee made a wise decision to buy a property and stop renting. At that time, it looked impossible. Ranith was not even in the committee, but I approached him about this. Without batting an eyelid he asked me to arrange meeting with the committee and a senior credit manager from my then employer. He said in this country relationships and integrity means everything; he said if you win their confidence, the bank will approve a loan even though the temple is a new entity without regular income. That is exactly how it worked in this case. The temple was successful.

Come to think of it, these are massive achievements for any community.

With the passage of time, his contributions may have faded from memory without due appreciation from the wider community. However, the long-lasting benefits of his farsighted leadership will not fade away.

After the Asian Tsunami Ranjith helped us to facilitate a collaboration with the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council otherwise known as FECCA to adopt fifty children who lost their families in Sri Lanka. Ranjit also provided assistance when we were formalizing the legal structure of SuttaCentral.net, an open-source website which hosts Buddhist scriptures. He voluntarily prepared the trust deed and duly arranged the registration of the trust.

RanjIth did not seem to be fazed by any stumbling blocks along the way. Challenges seemed to motivate him to work harder to achieve what he had set out to do.

I guess being an early bird helped him maintain this productivity. The best way to contact him was to call his home phone around 5.30am, but even then sometimes Lakshmi would answer and inform me that he had already left for his morning walk. He was early to bed too – I still find it funny when I remember Ranjit power napping at a gala dinner table, his face almost in his soup bowl.

These are just some of my reflections on Ranjith and his memorable attributes.

Thank you, dear friend, for the great memories and friendship. We will miss your presence during our time here. Travel well and find lasting peace from your aspired destination.

**** ****

THREE: from his Daughter RAJITA

I am so incredibly grateful and happy that I can stand here today and tell you that I have had all this and much, much more with my dad.  I feel so lucky to have been part of your life and been present in a lot of what everyone has talked about so far.

You were not only a Dad, but a mentor to me.  I remember being 10 and watching you build the practice from our house at Inverness Avenue to offices on Glen Osmond Road and then finally Greenhill Road in Eastwood.  You had a dream that Akka (Suranie) and I would work with you after our practice.  Uni holidays was working with you at the office.  You were the boss – you had your ways of doing things and Akka and I just had to suck it up.  Akka and I collectively spent a good 6 years in total working with you as early teens before going out on our own career journeys. You went onto running your practice for 20 years, not showing any signs of immediate retirement but giving subtle hints to Akka and I how good it is to have your own practice.  In 2014 without any planning and just through changes in circumstances I joined the practice in 2014. Akka came back from London in 2017 joined then.   This was all unplanned however you finally got your dream of us working together.  You had your difficulties with stepping back and making changes, because this time there were three bosses, but I can see that in the last 2 years you have seen the practice evolve and that you are  quite proud of what the practice has rebranded and become.

The practice was one of your happy places.  You enjoyed the relationships with your clients-a large number you worked with for over 30 years.  During the last 2 weeks we have received so many messages with some excerpts I would like to share:

“Randolph was a person who just wasn’t doing a job but would want to help you with any problems you told him about, that’s how the working relationship became a friendly relationship. It was never we are going to see our accountant rather we are off to see Randolph today he will sort us out.  It has been a long relationship way back when I would see Laki before our appointment have a chat and ask how are the girls and compare notes about our children, then Randolph would break it all up because it was time for business.”

Another message: “I am so sad to hear of Randolph’s passing – I started with Randolph when I was a young man on Glen Osmond road – he guided me into the world of private practice and the accounting set ups I would need. Both myself and my wife had such a high opinion of Randolph as an accountant/business adviser but also his gentle and kind persona – he really did care and know about my family, my kids and every year I would leave his office thinking

how does he remember what is happening in my family and he cares whats happening in my family. An amazing man – he was my favourite professional I’ve seen over the years by a long streak !!

The practice was your happy place and you never let it go.  You could relate to people from all walks of life.  You were an  empathetic  man  and  valued character over pedigree. You looked for the good in each person – and usually found it.   You worked in the practice up never cut ties. You still dropped in here and there and sat in meetings with clients and had your chats.”

The  last  3 years  havebeen  a special time  for our  family.   The  arrival of my daughter  Sonali  brought up the soft and gentle person  you  were.   It was a shining moment for our family and brought us so much closer You adored Sonali so much and wanted to be with her all the time.  You loved seeing her everyday and didn’t  want  to  miss  any  of  her  milestones.  When  I  starting coming to work you wanted Sonali there as well and said you would look after her.  That involved napping with her in the office, particularly in the afternoon when you would nap as well.  Mum started looking after Sonali and that made took you away from the office as you wanted to be home with Sonali and Mum. You took her on walks and sat outside with her with water time.  She knew that you were the only person that would give in and when she wanted something she would go straight for you. You spoilt her so much, she would always say “Seeya, come on, come here and secretly whisper to you want she wanted.  You would come and help bath her, cut pears for her to eat after dinner and when we would leave at night you would carry her to the car.  She would look up at the sky with you and spot the moon.

You loved mum’s food and enjoyed the special occasions with people coming over for parties and drinks.  You had your spot at the head of the table.  For special occasions like birthdays and new year celebrations we would always have kiribath (milk rice).   The last meal you had at home was for Sonali’s 3rd birthday just over 3 weeks ago.  You ate your favourites kiribath and lunu miris for lunch and dinner that day.

I feel so grateful that over the last 9 years I have spent so much time closely with you.  Working in the practice and then with Sonali in our lives.   I have spent almost everyday with you for the last 9 years and am grateful I have had that time with you.  Sadly 13 days ago you left us with all of us around. The office has a feeling of emptiness without you around.  The dining table has an empty spot at the head of the table.

Dad, the day has finally come that you must travel separately.  Thank you for all you have given us, the hard work you have done and all the opportunities you gave our family, the laughter you gave us, end even the tears, will bring us warmth and strength.

Good by Dad we love you.

****  ****

FOUR:  From his daughter, SURANIE

In Gampaha, a town north of Colombo Sri Lanka, on 22 July 1942, Don Solomon De Alwis and his wife Trissa welcomed their first child. So overjoyed was Don Solomon with his first born that he did not notice that the birth certificate had the last name for his precious son written down incorrectly.

And so, Randolph Ranjit, my father, was bestowed a last name of only Alwis, which was missing the prefix – D. E. (De) and this distinguished him forever different from the rest of the family.

I am assuming that because he was the first born, it was decided to send him to Boarding school in Colombo and in 1954, at the tender age of five, Dad joined Wesley College Colombo as a boarder. I cannot imagine how he felt during this momentous change in his life, but I believe it was during this time that his determination to succeed and overcome any weakness of will became entrenched into his psyche.

According to Dr Nihal Amerasekara, a fellow boarderand classmate, Dad was hard working and knew exactly what he needed to do to pass his exams. He loved and excelled at Mathematics and would always help those who struggled to comprehend the subject. I remember Dad saying to Rajita and I, while we were in primary school, that Mathematics is so important and if you can do Maths, you can do and understand anything in life. His prowess in Mathematics won him the P H Nonis Mathematics prize for University Entrance Students at Wesley College.

Dr Amerasekara also recalls that Dad had a tall, arresting presence and a keen sense of right and wrong. He fought for what he felt was right and just and maintained a dignity, authority and modesty which won him a large measure of affection. After the kind words of condolences from all of you these past two weeks it is evident that he never lost these traits of character.

These characteristics, together with his studious nature, won him the Lydia Seneratne Memorial Prize for the best all-rounder at the boarding house Wesley College.

After Wesley, Dad went to Peradiniya University, near Kandy in Sri Lanka where he studied for a degree in Physical Science. It was here, in the cool lush grounds of the Peradiniya campus sheltering from rain under the Science faculty porch, that he met a young Lakshmie Wijesuriya. And that’s all I can tell you about that, because trying to get any information about the romantic lives of my parents is like trying to get blood from stone. I can hear Dad now, “Laki, this is not something to share with the children” and it is something he would say now, despite his children being over forty! I had heard a story about Dad trying to sneak to the women’s Halls of Residence to try and speak to Mum after curfew, but this may be just a scurrilous rumour.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science, Dad taught Physics and Mathematics briefly at Trinity College before undertaking his articles to become a Chartered Management Accountant.

Dad’s pursuit of Mum continued after university, however, my maternal grandfather did not initially give his consent to the love marriage. Mum decided to leave Sri Lanka and stay with her sister in Perth and Dad followed. Consent was finally given and they married in Cottosloe, Perth in September, 1973.

Dad struggled to find employment in Perth due to un-enlightened attitudes about a migrant’s ability to do work and he eventually was given an opportunity to work as management accountant at Clark Shoes in Adelaide. It was here that Dad met a young Ian Hunter and so began a lifelong friendship and the eternal entwining of the Alwis and Hunter clans. You will hear more about that later.

After Rajita and I were born, Dad left Clark Shoes and worked in state government, first in the Treasury department and then at the Department of Housing and Construction. Here, he became frustrated with the lack of progress in his career and this cemented his desire to change attitudes to better the migrant experience of building life in Australia. It was also when he decided to supplement his own skills and start his own accounting practice. One of my earliest memories is of Dad sitting in the lounge at night with a large piece of chipboard perched on two arms of his chair, writing on workpapers, while smoking a pipe.

And this is where my eulogy stops for you will hear more from others. Dad may have felt something missing in his life without the De attached to Alwis, but in my heart I know that it doesn’t matter because my Dad is:

Randolph Ranjit Alwis – “De” maestro of Mathematics;

He is Randolph Ranjit Alwis – “De” champion of justice and all that is right;

He is Randolph Ranjit Alwis – “De” university sweetheart of Laki;

He is Randolph Ranjit Alwis – “De” hard wording advocate for all migrants in Australia;

But most importantly, me is Randolph Ranjit Alwis – My father, who I love and will miss so much.

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, architects & architecture, charitable outreach, communal relations, cultural transmission, democratic measures, education, ethnicity, governance, heritage, language policies, life stories, performance, politIcal discourse, reconciliation, self-reflexivity, social justice, sri lankan society, tolerance, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, world events & processes

Leave a Reply