Walter J. May: A Marvellous Richmondite and Ceylonese

The Richmond Sixty Club & Others

Richmond 60 Club Wishes Walter J. May Happy Birthday, 8th January 2021 

A Sixty Club Publication 

MESSAGE OF THE 6O CLUB PRESIDENT

As the President of the Richmond 60 Club, I am happy to write a few words for the special supplement issued to coincide with the 92nd birthday of Walter J. May on 08th January 2021. 

He joined Richmond in 1952 as English Teacher & continued until 1956. I was a student at the time in the lower middle school and did not have much to  interact with this outstanding personality, as much  as I would have loved to. Nevertheless, I distinctly remember this tall lanky and handsome teacher at school smartly clad with folded shirt sleeves, a regular feature in his dress code.

Walter J May was a true sporting legend who excelled in the field of athletics and gained recognition as a National Champion besides representing Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He also represented Richmond and the University of Ceylon in both Cricket & Athletics with outstanding success. I am sure the others who  were his students and contemporaries will elaborate on his success story in this supplement.

At the Richmond 60 Club we take great pride in recognizing personalities of outstanding character and ability who have significantly contributed to the success story of our beloved Alma Mater. Walter J May undoubtedly befits that category, having brought distinction to Richmond & Sri Lanka.

It is my pleasure to wish him Happy Birthday and good health during the later years in his life.

Nuski Mohamed FCA FCMA … (Hony. Life Member M.C.C. – Lords’ UK & Former Vice President, Secretary & Treasurer of Sri Lanka Cricket & the Asian Cricket Council)

*****

The Chapel at Richmond

WALTER J. MAY: A BRILLIANT ALLROUNDER OF OUR TIMES  

There are among the mere mortals those who stand apart to be admired by the rest and become an example to others. Walter J. May is one such person. He was a shining star in the field of sports and a guiding light in the classroom –A rare combination that makes him unique among the Richmondites. I remember not so much the things I learned at Richmond, but the men who left deep impressions on my young mind — impressions that have not faded with the lapse of years. Walter May was certainly one of them.

He was from Matara and was a student at Richmond in the forties and a teacher in the fifties. Walter May played cricket for Richmond in 1945 and 1946, as an allrounder in the team. Later, he played for St. Thomas‟ College Mt. Lavinia. He held the opening partnership record in the Island’s Big Match – ‘Royal Thomian’, which was not bettered for a couple of decades.

He excelled as an athlete and went on to break several records in track events. He was victorious in 200-meter hurdles and 400 meters at the Public Schools Meet in 1947, and at the Inter Faculty Meets  at the University. He was the national champion in the 400-meter hurdles thrice between 1948 to 1951 at the AAA meets. He represented the country at Inter University Championships in India. At the 9th, All-India, and Ceylon Inter University Championships, he won the 400m Hurdles Final in 58. 4 secs missing the record by 0.1 second. Next to Duncan White, who won the event at the 1948 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, Walter  May  was  the  most  celebrated  hurdler of the times.

On completing his academic career at the University  of Ceylon, he returned to Richmond and joined the  teaching staff. It was then that I got to know him well  as an outstanding personality that inspired most of  us both in the classroom and on the field of sports.  I was fortunate to have as our coach a prominent  athlete who represented the country at international  level. I was particularly lucky to have had Walter May as coach because I specialized in the shorter version of the same event. He was a very relaxed coach who knew how to impart the essential skills needed to be a winner, without worrying over every single detail. I owe much to him for my technique of hurdling. It was due to his training I was able to equal the 80-meter junior hurdles record at the Southern Group Meet and get placed at the Public Schools Meet.

He was my cricket coach as well. It was 1955, a memorable year, my first year in the team, and happened to be the 50th anniversary Golden Jubilee  Richmond- Mahinda match and Walter May was our  coach. He brought his usual commitment and low-key approach to coaching the cricket team. The players  paid close attention to whatever he said, and the team  profited by his advice and enjoyed playing under him.

Walter May is seated second fromleft (the most relaxd person in the photo-shoot) … with Richmond principal ER de silva second from left and Mr wijesooriya of Mahinda 4th from right and DH de Silva & Dougie Gunawardena betwen them

Apart from being our cricket and athletic coach, he was in consecutive years, our English, History and Civics teacher as well. His manner of teaching attracted me to learn history, and to date I remain a history buff, I am sure due to that attraction. He  had an exceptional way of teaching the subject and  there were many ideas he imparted to inspire us to be  students of history and life in general. He was a tall lanky man and you were in awe when he walks into  the class. He never sat down, kept on pacing up and down while teaching. I remember in his English class reading “Tale of Two Cities”, which he made it sound so dramatic, I looked forward to his class with great anticipation, and it remains one of my favorite novels.

Now to the lighter side of life with him. He was also our dorm Master in the Winchester dorm in the College Hostel. At the time Mr. G.W.S. De. Silva was the Boarding Master and we had three Indian teachers (Mr. Cherian, Mr. Jesudasan and Mr. John) along with Mr. Walter May a Sri Lankan Burgher.  Walter May was a very friendly person and generally did not take too seriously his functions as a dorm master, though he was a first-rate teacher and sports  coach.After his coaching functions at about six in the evening he would disappear to the Galle town and return late in the night, long after the entire hostel had gone to sleep. The general story was that in town he would visit his favorite bar at the Sydney Hotel and imbibe in the heady stuff.

On one such night, he suddenly appeared in the dorm  quite late when we were all in our dream world and  got hold of G.P.T. Karunaratne (Gippa) by his throat  and threw him to the compound outside and locked  the dorm door. It was only the next day we learned the reason for the commotion. Apparently, after returning from his usual sojourn in town, he was correcting an  assignment given to us in the civics class to write an  essay on the various communities in the country.  Gippa was never a good student and cared less to be one. In his essay quite innocently, he had written derogative stuff about the Burgher community. He had picked the information by listening to gossip, for he would never have found it in books, which he hardly read. Walter May had taken this as a personal insult thinking Gippa purposely wanted to annoy him.

Walter May was more than a celebrated sportsman, he was a teacher par excellence, and a role model. He left us and joined the Air Force and later he immigrated to Australia. There he remains a voracious reader enjoying life as a nonagenarian. I wish him good health, happiness and joy is as he bats towards his century!

Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana …..President Emeritus, International Institute of Space, …..Law & Policy, Former Deputy Director General, United  Nations, and Director, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

***************

WALTER J MAY  

Walter J May is one of my athletic heroes. He was  grace personified when he glided over the hurdles.  He was a member of the crack University 4 x 400  Relay teams which won the Club Relays at the Public  Schools Meets. As a schoolboy I used to watch them  training at the University grounds. It was one thing  that motivated me to enter the University.

He went on to excel in hurdles events and 400 meters  at the Public Schools Meet, Inter Faculty Meets at the  University and at the AAA meets. He represented the  country at Inter University Championships in India. He played cricket for Richmond and STC Mount Lavinia.

Having graduated with a Second-Class Honors Degree,  he joined the staff of his Alma Mata Richmond College  and served their as cricket coach and Athletics coach  before joining the Air Force. I was delighted to join the  Richmond College staff and succeed him as the Athletics  coach.

I got to know Wally closely when I was in Perth on a Commonwealth   Scholarship   following   a   course   in Physical education.

In 2000 my wife and I went to Sydney to watch the Olympic Games. On our way back we stopped over in  Perth. Prof Luksiri Jayasuriya, who was a father figure  to most of the Sri Lankan students who studied at West  Australian Universities invited us for a lunch, and he  wanted to know whether there was any one whom I  would like to meet. I readily named Wally May.  We spoke about the good old days at Richmond and the  University and continue to communicate to date.

Some of the officers in the Air Force whom I knew always had a good word for him. Wally is a perfect gentleman with a sense of humour and humility. I am proud to be associated with him and it is my great pleasure to write a few words to felicitate him.

K.L.F. Wijedasa .. .. [who  was a member of the teaching staff and athletic coach at RCG. He was the national sprint champion and represented Ceylon in 100- and 200-meter events. He was also Ananda College coach and National Coach ]

RICHMOND COLLEGE TEAM 1946

RICHMOND COLLEGE TEAM 1946   Standing Center: Walter May 

TRIBUTE TO A TEACHER:  AN ARTICULATE MAN WITH  EXTRA-ORDINARY QUALITIES 

Mr. WALTER J MAY GREW UP IN MATARA. He  was born on the 08th of January 1929and had been  at Richmond College from 1938 until 1945 when Rev  SNEATH was the principal. Later he had joined St  Thomas‟s College Mt Lavinia to continue his University  entrance. Whilst at Richmond he had represented the  school in Cricket and Athletics & soccer. His Captain  of cricket was Christy Karunaratna (who represented  Ceylon against West Indies In a cricket match In  Galle) WJM entered Colombo University in 1948 and  completed in 1952 with a class two honors degree in  History. WJM returned to RICHMOND as a teacher in 1953 Besides being a teacher he was entrusted with the task of coaching the school cricket and Athletics teams by the Principal Late Mr. E.R. De Silva(who was the first Sri Lankan to succeed the Methodist  Missionaries as Principal) The Captain of cricket at  the time was Douglas Gunawardana who happened to  open the innings with a J.N.A. Gunawardana making  them the most successful opening pair in the schools  at the time.

Whilst he was coaching the students, he was training  for the AAA meet in Colombo as pet event was 400yds  hurdles and he did train R.L.de Silva, Nandasiri de  Silva (NANADASIRI JASANTHU LIYANA), Walter  Gurusinghe too in this event. We were told that he  used to equal Duncan White‟s record in Sri Lanka /  Ceylon at that time, but unfortunately, he failed at the  AAA meet in Colombo, though he had equalled it in  his practice sessions in Colombo.

Mr WJM was one of those few teachers who never  followed the normal systems of teaching but adopted  a n” OUT OF THE BOX” way of conducting classes  He  was  certainly  a  person  with  extra  ordinary  qualities,  who  was  very  articulate.  Perhaps  his  family background, the experience he gained at the  UNIVERSITY during that particular era may have  contributed to his peculiar style of teaching. I would say it was certainly an un-orthodox system adopted by him. He wanted all students to participate in his lecture, to discuss and comment on the knowledge he imparted to the students, and not that rigid way of “LECTURING & LISTENING” as adopted in the  routine way of teaching. He was inclined to make the  subject more interesting, whilst his presentations  were peculiar to him along with his own Vocabulary  in using some terms to suit his message! I recall  how he spoke about the arrival of the Portuguese  to Srilanka and How they captured the maritime  region by saying “YOU KNOW THE PORTUGESE  CAME TO SRILANKA IN 1505 and THEY MET KING  BUVENEKA AND NEEDED TO SIGN A TREATY  SO  THEY  MET  KING  BUWANEKA  &  SAID  HI  BUWENEKA HOW ABOUT SIGNING A TREATY!  & THEY SUCCEEDED ENSURING THEY HAD THE  MARITIME PROVINCES !”

His was always smartly attired but he had his sleeves  in the shirt rolled. He was one of the most handsome  teachers we had and always willing to mix around and  was relaxed and considerate towards the students  accessible to students at any time with a good sense of  humor. His delivery was excellent as his pronunciation  was very clear and perfect.

WJM was very free with the students and some, misunderstood him. There was an incident when he required us to write about the PORTUGESE & DUTCH period and the impact it had on SRILANKA. But our friend GPT Karunarathna (Generally Mischievous) thinking he can have a dig at WJM in fun (being a  burgher) made some caustic comments which were  unwarranted and uncouth! WJM next day called GPT  and got him to stand on a chair “WE CALL IT” “ON  THE FORM” That gave the message to GPT and he  tendered an apology to WJM after the class was over  and the gentleman he is,(WJM) he, said “FORGET  ABOUT IT” that is fine !

During Mr WJM „s period at Richmond he lived in  the Hostel. He had many Police friends in the police  and I clearly remember him associating with HILARY  ABEYGUNEASEKERA an Inspector of Police whom  I knew when I Joined the police. Probably that I  believe influenced him to attempt to join the Police  as PROBATIONARY A.S.P. but since he had applied  to join the ROYAL CEYLON AIRFORCE, he preferred  to join the RCYAF in 1956 as a Flt Lt and worked at  DIYATALAWA till 1962 in the administration section  & played cricket and Captain the Airforce team in  cricket It was whilst here that he married Anne. His  wife died several years ago and now he lives with his  son his very caring son David. When he migrated to  Australia in 1962, he had served in the Department of  CIVIL  AVIATION  till1989  (AS  THE  HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGER). He still keeps well and is good health, with God‟s grace and gardening etc I was fortunate to meet him in 2018 in his house and I presented him of one our 6o Club souvenirs / VINTAGE and a compiled diary of all names and  addresses of our members. To me he looks the same  OLD WJM with a good memory and set ways with  a lot of reading he does in his spare time. He told  me he watches SRILANKAN MATCHES but since  the twenty came into the scene he lost interest as  he prefers a game of TEST cricket & now, he mostly  watches rugby. WJM is still in touch with me which  is GREAT! He says in his message to me; “REGARDS  COLLEAGUES  AND  CONTEMPORARIES  I  CAN

NOT TRUTHFULLY THINK OF ANY SURVIVORS  GIVEN  MY  VENERABLE  AGEOF  91  PLUS”!  I  took  some  pictures  which  I  did  provide  for  the  vintage news but if any more copies are required, I  may provide Mr WJM in his Conduct as a teacher  taught us “CONFIDENCE IS NOT OPTIMISM, &  IT IS NOT A CHARACTER ATTRIBUTE.IT IS THE  EXPECTATION OF POSITIVE OUTCOME”

MAY GOD BE WITH HIM ALWAYS

Nihal De Alwis, Former Intelligence Officer, Sri Lanka Police & Founder, Chairman of Security Services

*****

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCES OF  WALTER J MAY  

Public Schools 

1947         440 yds 1st W. J. May – time 54.1sec

220 yds Hurdles 1st W.J. May – time 26.2sec*

Ceylon AAA Nationals 

1948         400m Hurdles 2nd W. J. May U of Ceylon

400m Hurdles 1st W. J. May 59.0s U of Ceylon

400m Hurdles 1st W. J. May 59.5s U of Ceylon

University of Ceylon  Inter – Hostel Meet 16th August – 21st August 1948

440 yds 1st W.J. May Time:61.3 secs

Final 2nd W. J. May

440yds Hurdles Final

1st. W.J. May, Brodie 64.9secs

Hail Mile

1st W. J. May, Brodie 2:18.2secs

Inter-Faculty Athletic Meet 15th November 

9th All India & Ceylon Inter University Championships. It is 400m Hurdles Final W.J. May. 1st time 58.4 secs

(misses the record by.1 of a second)

FLIGHT LIEUTENANT  WALTER J MAY: EARLY DAYS IN  THE ROYAL CEYLON AIR FORCE  

Walter May, referred to as Wally by his superiors and  contemporaries was a Commissioned Officer in the  rank of Flying Officer in the R Cy A F and stationed  at the Ground Combat Training establishment at  Diyatalawa.  I  was  commissioned  as  a “Student  Officer” in mid 1958 and along with my colleague  Indra Virasinghe were posted to this station for what  is referred to as “square bashing”.

It was a small station whose Commanding Officer was  a Royal Air Force Officer Sqn. Ldr. Bentley. The Chief  Instructor was Fg. Off Gerry Weeraratne, the senior  Administration Officer was Flt Lt Bandu Weeratne, Nissanka Ediriweera the Adjutant and the Officer handling Transport, and logistics was Wally. He was married to a very pretty young lady Anne Reith. As there was inadequate accommodation for married Officers Wally and Anne lived with her mother Mrs  Reith in a beautiful cottage with a landscaped garden.  The premises was a little beyond the Survey camp on  the road to Bandarawela. The house was named St. Ives.

Wally who was a very spritely, tall athletic figure.  He virtually marched up to the camp daily in the  mornings and returned in the evenings. Even though  he was in charge of the transport section he opted not  to use an official vehicle. Wally had a characteristic  sense of humor whereby he coined a string of phrases  to describe men and matters. Some of these which I  recollect are “K L” [ King Liability] or “Q L” [Queen  liability] for useless persons. “R S “for Wrong Speech  by a brick dropper. “Nitty” for Not to Worry. We had  informal get togethers in the Officers Mess sometimes  with the ladies. Wallys lingo was only known to the  male Officers. The ladies and other male visitors were  flabbergasted by the peculiar terminology.

If I am permitted to hark back to the days when Wally,  Eddie and Gerry were bachelors they related some  hilarious incidents pertaining to Wally. Apparently  Wally had set his eyes on the pretty damsel Anne and was contemplating on the traditional genuflection seeking her hand. Unfortunately, the boss of all these Officers Sqn. Ldr Bentley who was a bachelor with the distinguished “greying at the temples” sign of maturity quite ignorant of the romantic aspirations of his Junior  Officer had decided on a very suave move to attempt  to woo the young lady. Wally had no alternative but  to cry into his beer and get soaked in spite of the  attempts of sobering him up by his colleagues. They  described how Wally was so inebriated that he sat in  the front seat of the taxi with his posterior facing the  direction of travel. When the baffled driver began his  journey he had yelled at him “mokada yako, passen  passata yanne”. Gerry and Eddie had consoled the  driver and held Wally firm until they arrived at the  Air Force camp. Within a couple of months Wally had  prevailed and had tied the knot. Please note that this  entire paragraph is hearsay in that I had not been  Commissioned to the Air Force.

After the square bashing my batch mate and I were  sent off to the UK for training. On return to the then  Ceylon I was posted to Diyatalawa as the Weapon  Training officer. Wally was still there doing the same  tasks. In the course of time he was promoted to the  rank of Flight Lieutenant. He was thereafter posted  out to R Cy A F Katunayake. A couple of months later the Air Force Officers of Katunayake arranged their Annual Dance. They extended an invitation to their contemporaries of the other stations. Being a young Flying Officer as per tradition “wild oats had to be sowed”. I invited a young lady who was resident in  Colombo. She accepted my invitation and I arrived  at her residence. Low and behold she was being  chaperoned  by  her  mother.  I  got  to  Katunayake  and  had  no  friends  in  particular  but  only  some  acquaintances. Thankfully, Wally arrived at the scene  and quietly inquired from me about the presence of the  middle aged lady. I explained my predicament. Wally  said “Nitty Bren” and within a few minutes invited the  young ladies chaperone on to the floor. It was open  sesame for me when he dropped a characteristic wink!  That was Wally the gentleman – a man for all seasons.

With the passage of time I decided to get married to  a girl from my home town Negombo. I realized that  there were no Officers Married Quarters available. It  was again Wally to the rescue. He induced his Mother-in-Law Mrs Reith to rent out a part of her house to us.  She readily agreed. She was a very gracious lady who  was the ideal support to a new bride. We resided at  the beautiful “St. Ives” cottage and moved into Official  Married Quarters when one fell vacant.

I heard that Wally and Anne had decided to migrate to Australia. I met him casually in Colombo when he told me it was their ambition to ensure that their son be educated in either Oxford or Cambridge. I was told that the Officers at Katunayaka had given Wally and Anne a rousing and boisterous send off and carried  him up the gangway of the aircraft.

I have not met Wally since those halcyon days. It gave me great pleasure to write this statement of facts and perhaps some fiction.

A Brendan Sosa, Air Vice Marshal, retired

*************

Walter May passed away in Perth this year shortly after this APPRECIATION was in the public realm: a life worthy and fulfiilling. …. while this item was made possible by the computer adjustments undertaken by the Aloysian John de Silva of Melbourne — ina typical Gallilean gestuee of amity.

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2 responses to “Walter J. May: A Marvellous Richmondite and Ceylonese

  1. Dhilanthi Fernando

    My father Dunstan Fernando, is in the 1946 Cricket team photo – seated far left, in glasses. I think he was the assistant cricket coach. This would have been his first or 2nd year teaching at Richmond (he was 24 years old in 1946)

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