Honouring and Grieving Sam Samarasinghe: Academics in USA



JOHN HOLT, 24 November 2021

Very sorry to hear of Sam’s demise.   haven’t seen him much in the past several years, but Sam and Vidya were very key to my education about Sri Lanka and, in addition to inputs from C.R. and Kingsley, to the early success of the ISLE Program. We managed to bring Sam and Vidya to Swarthmore College for a year circa 1990 or so, and from then and there they creatively parlayed their experience to move permanently to the US, though Sam stayed with ICES periodically for many years and encouraged our cooperative presence with that venerable institution.

I have one particularly poignant memory of them visiting my family in Maine during the Halloween holiday, and how their sons so enjoyed and were intrigued by that “ritual Americana occasion,” as Sam referred to it at the time.  Sam taught me a great deal about economic history in Sri Lanka that has stayed with me, and Vidya was a key to opening up vistas of understanding rooted in Women’s Studies in the Lankan context.  I have memories of lively conversations with them both about politics, particularly when they still lived on campus up Hantana way. It was the era of the 2nd JVP uprising and we grazed over so much ground that I learned so much in a nuanced fashion about Rohana Wijeweera, Lalith Atulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Premadasa, Mrs. B., the IPKF, Prabakharan, etc. Such lively, intelligent and ultimately compassionate people!  May Sam rest in peace, and may his memory continue to be a blessing for us.


CR DE SILVA, 24 November 2021

Dear Michael, ……………….I heard of the recent passing away of Sam (Dr. S. W. R. de A.) Samarasinghe with sadness. As you know, Sam and I were colleagues in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sri Lanka, Peradeniya in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember him as a good researcher and a committed teacher, but above all, as an individual who cared about justice and was willing to boldly advocate his beliefs and convictions. I clearly remember a discussion that several of us academics had at Upper Hantana in the University of Peradeniya during the riots of 1983. In that conversation, he was one of the most forceful among Sinhala academics on the need to take specific steps to protect minority Tamils, particularly our colleagues on campus.

Sam’s contributions to the academic world in Sri Lanka included his role in the Ceylon Studies Seminar, a venture by a group of academics to share research and provide one-another feedback. Sam worked with Michael Roberts in the organization of a conference at Gannoruwa sponsored by the Ceylon Studies Seminar on Agriculture in the Economic Development of Sri Lanka in August 1974. He co-edited the proceedings and subsequently, in 1977, edited a volume of papers on Agriculture in the Peasant Sector of Sri Lanka published by the Ceylon Studies Seminar. His energy was vital in promoting academic discussion across the university.

Sam and I were co-authors of several academic works including a paper on ‘Which PR?: A Critical Examination of the System of Proportional Representation Adopted in the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka,’ presented to the newly elected legislature and also as a discussion paper at Peradeniya in 1980 and later published by Marga Institute. We also worked together on an article on ‘The Development Council Election of 1981’ published in the Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences.

We lost touch after Sam and his spouse Vidya left Sri Lanka for the US, but time has not dimmed my memory of a man with a passion for justice and a readiness to work for the common good.


 Dear Colleagues, Friends and Grieving, Respectful Admirers of Sam Samarasinghe.

I was stunned, shocked and deeply saddened to learn, first from the Serendipity Group and then from Michael’s message, of Sam’s premature death. Since Sam was younger than me and, always, filled with good humour and disciplined creative energy, I assumed that I would be, by a few years, the first to go. There would be ample  time to reconnect more closely. I was wrong.

Sam and Vidya, in about 1985, were the first Sri Lankans I ever met and my oldest, most supportive Sri Lankan friends/colleagues. Elaboration on our collaborations, would take up more space than is appropriate. I am particularly grateful for Sam’s support of the project that produced my book, Paradise Poisoned. Sam wrote the Preface and did much to make publication of the book possible. We planned conferences together, edited a book together, and I provided Sam with modest assistance in many other ventures, including the ICES. One could not have asked for a more supportive, congenial, capable and generous collaborator. How could I not have devoted more time to keeping in touch, as Sam and Vidya faced the scourge of cancer? This is something I will regret, though I know Sam would understand the circumstances and be gracious.

My message to those who read my message is this. You will have very few friends and friendships in life to match Sam Samarasinghe and our friendship. Vidya too played an important role. Treasure and nurture such connections, no matter what your other priorities may be.

John Richardson ……………. Special Advisor, Safety Harbor (Florida) Arts and Music Center (shamc.org). Emeritus Professor, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.   (Formerly, Visiting Professor Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy & Adjunct Professor & Resident Fellow, Residential College 4, National University of Singapore).


NOTE that the highlighting emphasis has been imposed by the Editor, Thuppahi ... and that other appreciations will follow together with details about the conferences and publications of the Ceylon Studies Seminar where Sam was a major hand.


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