In Appreciation of Stanley Jayaweera: A Son’s Thoughts

Sanjeewa Jayaweera, in The Island, 6 February 2022, where the title runs thus “Remembering my father – Stanley Jayaweera” …. with highlighting imposed by the Editor, Thuppahi

My parents in conversation with Kurt Waldheim, President of Austria and former Secretary General of United Nations.

My father passed away five years ago, just a few months short of his 90th birthday. Since his demise, my late brother Rajeewa and several others have written extensively about his accomplishments. However, I felt at a time when our country is facing an unprecedented social and economic crisis, it would be useful once again to share with readers the qualities of a man whose life was built on pillars of honesty, integrity, ethics, the rule of law and a deep love of Sri Lanka. The country desperately needs loads of such men to state the obvious if we are to reverse the decline.

My parents in conversation with Kurt Waldheim, President of Austria and former Secretary General of United Nations.

A quarter-century ago, he perceptively identified the country’s most significant challenge. In an article published in The Island of August 6, 1997, Thathi wrote ‘the country is in shambles, the ‘tragedy is that society as a whole has failed to throw up a community of principled men who can stand up to our rampaging politicians and put them in their place.

Public Servant par excellence, Nationalistic fervour and saying “No.”

As a public servant, he served the country with skill, a sense of duty, loyalty, dedication, and pride. A recent editorial in the Sunday Island, encapsulated these qualities saying, “the late Stanley Jayaweera was a career diplomat at a time this country had a public service as different to what we are burdened with today as chalk and cheese.”

My grandmother used to relate how his intensely nationalistic feelings would cause headaches for my grandfather in the period leading to our independence. A large contingent of youngsters from less well-off families used to attend night classes at the Pirivena along Pirivena Road, Ratmalana, where Thathi used to teach English. He, therefore, had a sizeable number of loyal “followers.” He occasionally led a procession of them shouting nationalistic slogans in front of homes of those they considered loyal to the British! No sooner the march started, a message would be conveyed “anna Jayaweerage rasthiyadu kollo tike enawa.” Many windows and doors were quickly bolted and closed until the procession passed. Several would, after that, stop talking to my grandparents!

Soon after graduating from the University of Colombo, majoring in Philosophy, he took up teaching. He taught at Christian College, Kotte, Dharmapala Vidyalaya, and Dharamaraja College. His first love was teaching. His parents, however, firmly convinced him that he would not be able to support a family on a teacher’s pay and forced him to sit for the Ceylon Civil Service entry examination. Although he came third, he was absorbed to the Foreign Services as he was slightly overage.

His first overseas posting at the age of 31 was as Deputy High Commissioner to Singapore. Earlier, when designated to open the Embassy in Moscow, he conveyed his reluctance to go as he felt he would not be able to work with the person named as the Ambassador. Permanent Secretary Gunasena de Zoysa could not change his mind and therefore took him to meet then Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike. Asked by SWRD why he was unable to work with so and so, Thathi had revealed the reasons with trepidation. SWRD had roared with laughter and said, “Gunasena, send Jayaweera to Singapore where he can be his own boss.” Those days the High Commissioner was based in Malaysia.

Interdiction, challenges, and defiance

In July 1965, my father was interdicted by the Dudley Senanayake government purportedly as some files were missing from the citizenship division of the foreign ministry of which he was the head. It was nothing more than a political witch-hunt as he was perceived as a leftist loyal to Mrs Bandaranaike. The government failed to bring charges before the Public Service Commission (PSC) for over four years despite Felix Dias Bandaranaike raising the issue in parliament on several occasions. The PSC enquiry did not last more than a couple of hours and the charges against him were dismissed. He was immediately reinstated with full back pay. However, he and the family were subjected to severe hardship as he was paid only 25 per cent of his salary for the first two years and then increased to 50 per cent.

Coincidentally, his brother Neville a senior civil servant was promoted by the then government as Chairman SLBC. He, therefore, was close to both Dudley and JR Jayewardene. On several occasions, they had told Uncle Neville to tell my father to come and say “sorry” and that he would be immediately reinstated. However, despite my mother, his parents and parents in law pleading with him, he said, “why should I say sorry when I did nothing wrong?” Despite the severe impact on our lifestyle due to the meagre financial resources, he stood firmly by his principles. He also refused several offers of employment from the private sector. He was determined to clear his name. Aiya, my three sisters and I are mighty proud that he did so, and our experience during those challenging times have stood all of us in good stead and no doubt shaped our personalities.

On a more humorous note, in exhibiting his anger towards the then government, no sooner any by-election results were announced, he would light firecrackers as invariably the UNP lost all such by-elections. This was around 2 a.m, and we woke up all our neighbours, mostly die-hard UNP supporters. Our immediate neighbour, who was the chief government printer would the next day inform Dudley and JR that “Stanley Jayaweera lit firecrackers last night to celebrate the UNP’s loss.” Invariably Uncle Neville used to get an earful!

Despite what Dudley Senanayake and his government subjected him and his family to, it did not prevent Thathi from opening a book of condolences in 1973 at the High Commission in Islamabad when Dudley passed away. An anonymous petition conveyed this decision to the foreign ministry in Colombo. An explanation was called as no such instruction had been given from Colombo. He replied that the death of a five times Prime Minister demanded such a courtesy and found fault with the ministry for not initiating such a move. His explanation was accepted.

The consummate diplomat

When working overseas, a strength was his ability to build strong relationships and network with politicians and foreign office personnel in the countries he served. Some of them became family friends with whom my parents kept in touch even upon return to Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had a very cordial relationship with him despite knowing that Thathi was also in touch with one of his strongest adversaries, Abdul Wali Khan.

When overseas, we used to bemoan the number of dinners and cocktail parties he would host exclusively at our residence. He used to say that entertaining was an essential tool in networking and building relationships. However, he did not believe in entertaining at hotels and restaurants, saying that the country cannot afford such costs. So, my mother, assisted by my sisters, would invariably prepare the meals, Aiya would serve drinks, and I would be assigned to clean the house! We often asked him whether our cost of labour could be remunerated. You can imagine the response we received! In fact, at times, he would return his monthly entertainment allowance to the ministry, saying that it was not utilized.

I recall a humorous incident arising from one such function at our residence in Islamabad, Pakistan. A lady diplomat of European descent had excitedly approached my mother and said, “Seetha, can you please introduce me to that gorgeous man who looks like Omar Sherrif?” When the concerned person was identified, my mother being somewhat conservative, was shocked and perplexed because it was our Pakistani chauffeur, Mujibar! He was present to supervise the serving of drinks! For sure, the guy was a carbon copy of Omar Sherriff.

Love of India and refusing to ask/plead for an overseas posting

Thathi had a great deal of love and admiration for India because of their great struggle for independence. He often told us that the failing of Ceylon/Sri Lanka is that we never fought for our freedom, which resulted in the absence of truly patriotic leaders. Early in his career, he identified that our relations with India were of paramount importance. Therefore, unlike some of his peers who sought postings to European capitals, he wanted a stint in India, which was granted by posting him to Madras as the Deputy High Commissioner.

He and a few others played a crucial role in putting together the Sirima- Shastri pact. Despite being based in Pakistan, he still had many contacts in the Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi. When Mrs Bandaranaike visited Pakistan, he had made a presentation which resulted in her asking, “Stanley kohomada ochchara danne Indiava gane Pakistan indan?” (Stanley, how do you know so much about India despite being based in Pakistan?)

Thathi was sidelined by A C S Hameed, the Foreign Minister, for seven long years between 1978 and 1985 and was confined to the ministry in Colombo and consistently overlooked when overseas postings were made. He refused to seek or plead for an overseas posting because he believed there was no need to ask or beg for a posting when his seniority entitled him to one. Ultimately Prime Minister Premadasa and senior ministers like Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake forced the hand of President J R Jayewardene to appoint him as the Ambassador to West Germany. But, again, he stood by his principles and was prepared to stomach the indignity of many of his juniors being appointed as Ambassadors/High Commissioners while he languished in Colombo. He constantly said, “I am not going to carry that bugger’s suitcases!”

Family man, social activist, and a true Buddhist

After his retirement, he was a social activist and an opinion writer who contributed to newspapers and journals without fear to discuss many burning issues impacting the country.

A feature of my father that I admire most is that whilst being a practicing Buddhist, he taught all his children that all religions are equal and, if followed correctly, are all good. My father rarely visited the temple. Instead, he practiced his religion within the confines of his home and never tried to convince anyone of the merits of Buddhism. The net result of his broad-mindedness was that three of his children married Roman Catholics, and the religion of the person they married was never an issue. Neither were there any tantrums or requirements that his grandchildren should be brought up as Buddhists.

He also had great empathy towards the less well off. Post his retirement; he spent many hours at the Victoria Home for the Incurables in Rajagiriya teaching English and providing companionship to many whom society had neglected and forgotten. I remember the anguish of many at the institute when Aiya and I went to inform them of his passing. He used to lecture English during the weekends at the Colombo University post his retirement, which I believe was pro-bono. Many a graduate sitting for the foreign service entry examinations would visit him at home and prepare for the exams.

Despite being taskmaster in office, he was pretty relaxed and broadminded as a father. He never demanded that we get the highest marks when sitting for exams. He said a person’s development based on sound values and principles is more important than passing exams. When I was in London as a student and highly stressed before an examination, he called me and said, “Chutta, remember that failures are pillars of success”.

Unlike Aiya, who kept a close tab on my career, my father did not say much about my job. Given his years of public service and socialistic ideals, he may have silently disapproved of my working in the private sector. However, on a few occasions, he did ask me, “Chutta, why do you need to drive such a big car?”

Both Aiya and I were allowed to have girlfriends at a relatively young age despite my mother’s protestations! His view was that boys needed to be boys!

He was very much a family man who liked to enjoy quality time with all of us. He would enjoy a couple of drinks every evening and play western classical music with the family around him, and we all used to narrate various humorous stories and have a good laugh. He also loved listening to Sunil Santha and C T Fernando.

His wife and my mother Seetha, whom he used to call “baby”, yes, he was far ahead of times, predeceased him by five years. She was constantly by his side in both good and bad times for 58 years and confirmed the saying, “behind every successful man, there stands a woman”. She was undoubtedly the rock on which the family was anchored. Her sweet demeanour made him often say, “Ammi is a better diplomat than me.” Her passing resulted in him going into a shell. His interactions with others were after that limited. Aiya took over the responsibility of looking after him post our mothers death.

Finally, I wish to borrow a comment from one of Aiya’s articles where he wrote, “Being a man who lived by his ideals and principles, he left no riches. His lasting legacy to his five children were the ideals and principles he endeavoured to impart albeit by example.”

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.



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One response to “In Appreciation of Stanley Jayaweera: A Son’s Thoughts

  1. Chandra Maliyadde

    Stanley Jayaweera’s departure marks falling of another pillar in contemporary Sri Lanka

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