Vale: Dr Nalini Kumari Kappagoda, 21 January 1936-23 July 2021

Hugh Karunanayake

It is with much sadness that I record the demise of Dr Nalini Kappagoda, lately of Bundanoon and Killara. Dr Nalini Kappagoda, a long-time resident, of West Pymble, Killara, and Bundanoon, in New South Wales, passed away at the age of 85 on 23 July. She was one of the most brilliant products of the Ceylon Medical College, from where she passed out as a doctor with First Class Honours in 1960. She was most likely the only student in the history of the Medical College to collect a bag of 4 gold medals during a studentship. In 1958 she was awarded the Hazarai Gold Medal for the best student at the Third MBBS examination. In 1958 she was also awarded the Loos Gold medal for pathology. In the same year she was also awarded the Mathew Gold Medal for Forensic Medicine. In her final year in 1960 she was awarded the Dadabhoy Gold Medal for Medicine. She subsequently obtained her PhD in Pathology from the University of London and was a Fellow of the Royal Australian Society of Pathologists.

With such a stunning record as a medical student, Nalini could have elected to specialise in any branch of medicine that she would care to choose. Gentle, and soft spoken by nature, she was modest and totally unassuming almost to the point of self-effacement. It was not surprising that she chose instead to be a microbiologist in which field she shone both in Sri Lanka, and in Australia, where she worked at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney for many decades until retirement.

Born in 1936 in Kandy to a family of eight, her father GDA Abeyratne was a renowned teacher at Dharmarajah College, where his prowess as an educationist was amply demonstrated when he was appointed the founding Principal of Vidyartha College, Kandy, a school since widely recognised as one of the best government schools in the Central Province. Her sisters Chitra, Hema, Rani, and Karmini were to follow the career path of their father, all taking to the teaching profession. Her sisters Hema and Chitra rose to be Principals of Visakha Vidyalaya, Bambalapitiya, and of Anula Vidyalaya, Nugegoda, and Musaeus College, Colombo, a unique and remarkable feat both in sororal achievement, as well as in the field of education management in Sri Lanka. Nalini had three brothers Ananda, Asoka, and Chandra, men of great eminence in their chosen careers, all of whom have predeceased her.

It was in the Medical College that she met the love of her life, Medduma B Kappagoda, who chose to specialise in ophthalmology, a field in which he distinguished himself in Sydney where they migrated to in the 1970s after a brief spell of work in the UK. Affectionately known as “Kapper”, Medduma Kappagoda sadly passed away in 2004 after a brief but devastating attack of throat cancer. Kapper and Nalini were the proud parents of Chamari, and Astika, who followed in their parent’s footsteps and entered the medical profession in Australia. Sadly Charmari, a paediatrician, who was married to Dr Craig Winter, then Director of Emergency Medicine at the North Melbourne Hospital, passed away following complications arising after the birth of their fourth child Blake.  It was a few months after Chamari’s death that Kapper was diagnosed with cancer, leaving Nalini to handle both personal losses, which she managed to do in her own quiet way, most stoically.

Sometime in the early 1990s both Kapper and Nalini, contemplating retirement, decided to build a holiday home in the very salubrious Southern Highlands of Sydney, called Bundanoon. They moved to their delightful architect designed home after retirement, and both engrossed themselves in the pursuit of water colour painting. Nalini soon specialised as a botanical artist and was a prominent member of the Botanical Art Society of Australia with whom she exhibited on a regular basis. Her artistry was simply stunning, and me and my children are the proud and happy recipients of the many products of her artistry.

Within a few months after our own migration to Australia, in 1984, we were the delighted hosts to a visit from the Kappagodas who since then continued to be very close friends with us. They had migrated almost 10 years previously. I had known Kapper from my school days where he was a form senior to me, but with whom I associated closely. Nalini and my wife Tulsi became very close friends and our two families including the children remained part of a close and binding family friendship. When our son Harsha married in Sri Lanka in 2001, the Kappagodas made a special trip to share the joy and happiness associated with the wedding. In fact they had booked tickets to fly to England where our second son Sumal married in 2004, but were unable to make it, as tragedy struck with the passing of their beloved daughter Chamari a few weeks prior to the wedding.

   Picture 2: Flowering Gum. Watercolour by Nalini Kappagoda. (1999).

The Ceylon Society of Australia was first mooted in 1997 at an informal meeting held at my home in Wahroonga at which a few invitees were present to discuss a possible course of action. Kapper and Nalini were among those present, and they hosted a subsequent informal luncheon meeting at their home in Bundanoon to further progress the formation of the Society. When the Society was formally established later, Dr M.B Kappagoda was one of its seven Foundation Members. Nalini was a source of great support during the early years of the Society often making the three hour trip from Bundanoon with Kapper. She was also one of a small band of ladies who saw to the catering arrangements for guests after each meeting. The first issue of the Society’s journal carried a recipe from Nalini for the dessert Champagne with Summer Berries, which in fact she served after the luncheon at the informal meeting in Bundanoon in 1997.

Picture 1: White Waratah. Watercolour by Nalini Kappagoda (2004).

To me personally, first the demise of Kapper, and now of Nalini, has made our world smaller, and less enjoyable. Memories of many holidays spent together by our two families keep crowding in at this sad hour. A most sincere friend has gone to her eternal rest. Nalini Kappagoda  was a source of strength to all who knew her, especially those who  had the privilege of enjoying a close friendship with her. She was very gentle in her ways and treated everyone with an abundance of affection and concern. Her worldly wisdom will be lost to all her family and close friends. Nalini is survived by her son Astika, daughter in law Victoria, granddaughter Maitriya, son in law Dr Craig Winter, grandchildren Daniel, Serena, Lara, and Blake. Her only surviving siblings Chitra and Kamani live in Sri Lanka.  May Nalini be blessed with the attainment of the supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

Hugh Karunanayake

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One response to “Vale: Dr Nalini Kumari Kappagoda, 21 January 1936-23 July 2021

  1. Michael Kreltszheim

    Remembered with great affection and respect as a teacher. She was a lecturer in Virology when I was a student at the Medical college in Colombo.

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