Vale: Professor ND Samarawickreme moves to Samsara

Piyasiri Wickremasekera & Chandrasena Maliyadde with substantive inputs from Sachithra Samarawickreme 

The sudden departure of Professor Navaratna Dissanayake Samarawickreme – our Peradeniya batchmate and close friend popularly known as ‘Samare’ – has caused us great shock and profound grief. He was hale and hearty, and it is still difficult for us to reconcile his sudden demise on 13 January 2022 without giving us the opportunity to bid goodbye.

Early days

Professor Samarawickreme never used his given names –and made himself known to all as Samarawickreme.  Likewise, we knew little of his background – he apparently did not want to waste our time by narrating his personal life and issues. He shared with us everything common to all of us. He never promoted himself – “me, myself, my and mine” were words we hardly heard from him.

He was born on 27 February 1943 at Mederipitiya, one of the most beautiful villages in Deniyaya, bordering the world famous UNESCO heritage site – the Sinharaja rainforest in the Matara District. He was the eldest son of late Mr. R.D Samarawickreme, the village headman and the late Mrs. Laura Senanayake. He was affectionately known as ‘Loku Ayya’ by his siblings – five brothers and four sisters.

He is a past pupil of Deniyaya Central College – one of the frontline national schools in the region. Samare was a popular figure at the college and excelled in both academic matters and sports. He was the captain of the school volley ball team competing at district and regional levels.

Campus days and Peradeniya years

Through dedication to studies, he got admitted to the Colombo Campus of the University of Ceylon in 1964. He did well in first year studies, and was one of the few selected for the Bachelor of Commerce special degree at the Peradeniya University in 1965.

Of course, Peradeniya University is like a paradise with outstanding landscapes, large numbers of huge green trees with falling creepers, decorated by blooming flowers and located at the bottom of the Hanthana mountain range on the banks of the meandering Mahaweli river. This was an ideal background for the blossoming of Samare’s talents in both academic and personal areas. Samare kept his eyes open not only in the library, but also outside of it to his advantage. Samare, the loner we saw was no longer a loner.  We envied him being the first among our batch mates to get some attraction from the fair sex. As a student, he was equally comfortable and at ease in the lecture room, the central library, the University gym and of course, the lovers’ lane. He enjoyed university life fully in every sense. His famous quip known to close associates – “Ape professor owata kamathi neha” (Our Professor does not stand this nonsense) still rings a bell.

He was close and affectionate to all who associated with him irrespective of age, rank, relationship, or position. We always recall his welcoming and never fading smile and his resounding laughter- his hallmarks. His affection and closeness were  reflected through a “YO” added to a name of a friend: Sunil is Sunilayo; Madure is Madureyo; Parane is Paraneyo; and Justin is Justiyo, and so on. He was open and outspoken. His likes and dislikes were well-known because he was never good at pretense. He was never hesitant to appreciate, and he was equally not hesitant to criticize. He was a symbol of sincerity.

Samare did hard work in the final two years, and was a favourite student of the formidable Dr. Hewavitharana, Senior Lecturer in Economics, at the time. He was among the few to obtain the Batchelor of Commerce Degree with a Second Class (Upper Division) in 1968. He joined the Department of Economics, University of Peradeniya in 1969 which he served in various capacities until his passing away. We still enviously remember him driving to lectures in his unique flashy red colour Datsun Sunny coupe sports car he acquired in 1973  on his return from the UK – dubbed by admiring campus students at the time as ‘Malini Fonseka’.

Samare was a life-long learner. He was educated at prestigious universities in the UK (Manchester and Surrey) and in the USA  (Boston University). It is to his credit that he completed a doctoral degree at the University of Colombo with his pioneering research on “Industrial Accumulation in Sri Lanka: Impact of Policy Shifts” in Sri Lanka. This thesis was published by Gyan Publishing House in India in 2005. It remains until now the only exhaustive and critical study of the early phase of Sri Lanka’s industrialization policies.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Samare did not believe in leaving the sinking ship, and continued to stay in Sri Lanka teaching thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students in different universities except for short visits abroad. He served as a senior lecturer in economics and management at the University of Sokoto, Nigeria, during 1983-1986. He spent 2005 as a Visiting Senior Fellow at the School of Economics & Finance, College of Law & Business, University of Western Sydney, NSW, Australia. He also had memorable short visits to overseas universities, the Sun Moon University, Asan, South Korea in 1997 and the Faculty of Economics, Saga University, Japan, in 2008.

A father figure to his siblings and the extended family

While he was in his final year at the university, his father passed away leaving a big vacuum in the family. As the eldest son in the family, he stood up to the challenge, and  took over the responsibilities of the family (there were three siblings under 10 years of age, with the youngest just 4 years!). He gave his  mother marvellous support to bring up his brothers and sisters to set them up for success in life. He never shied away from helping a family member. He also devotedly looked after his mother until she passed away in 2015.

As one of his brothers stated: “He was not only a brother; he was a father to us too.” Among his extended family from Deniyaya he is referred to as the “King of the Clan”, being the first to come from rural Deniyaya and graduate from a university, and then to go on to be a successful academic at his alma mater.

Own family

Samare had a chance encounter with Ms. Chandra Rajakaruna, his own batchmate at Peradeniya University and successful teacher, at a friend’s place a few years after her graduation. It was love at first sight, and Samare was counting hours and minutes for the next rendezvous with Chandra arranged by their mutual friend. According to his own words, he could only mumble “I need you”, and the matter was settled. It was a marriage made in heaven, and Chandra became his lifelong companion and beacon light. They were blessed with two sons – Sachithra (medical professional domiciled in USA) and Madhubasha (IT professional living in Peradeniya). Chandra accompanied Samare and ably supported him during  his longer overseas stays –  Boston, 1977-1980 (with Sachithra) and Sokoto, 1983-1986 (with both children).

Samare’s attachment to Peradeniya was further demonstrated when he built his mansion with a beautiful view of the Mahaweli river on a hilltop in Hindagala, next to the Campus. We all had samples of lavish hospitality by Samare and Chandra on numerous occasions at this place.  They warmly welcomed batch reunions at home.

Samare was a dedicated father. Thanks to him, both sons are now well settled and doing well. He was justifiably proud when his elder son, Sachithra entered the Faculty of Medicine at Peradeniya and subsequently joined the Medical Faculty staff of the same University where he was teaching. Sachithra completed  his PhD at the University of Southern California, and is now in the USA as a leading clinical biomechanics and sports medicine specialist, and entrepreneur. His younger son Madubhasa, the IT professional who remained with the parents in Sri Lanka, and his children brought immense joy to Samare and Chandra in their role as grandparents.

A dedicated teacher and educationist to thousands in Sri Lanka and abroad

Samare was both a life-long learner and life-long teacher. He excelled in business economics, public enterprise reform, development economics and quantitative techniques. He loved sharing his knowledge with his students and peers. Since the day he graduated, Professor Samarawickreme was dedicated to university teaching – he taught at Universities of Peradeniya, Colombo and also Rajarata. His devotion and life-long attachment was, however, to the University of Peradeniya, his alma mater. He was one of the first to volunteer to teach at the Dumbara (Polgolla) Campus of University of Peradeniya when it opened and was the head of the economic studies programme there.

He rose to the rank of Professor after joining as an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Economics, Commerce and Statistics in 1969. He continued as a Professor in the same Department until his retirement in 2008. He also served as the Head of Department for a few years.

Retirement by no means marked  the end of Professor Samarawickreme’s prolific academic contributions. In fact, the family believes that he was busier than before with a number of academic engagements. There were many demands on his expertise in economics and management studies. He contributed to the Postgraduate Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Peradeniya as a postgraduate thesis examiner, among other things.  He contributed immensely to promotion of social sciences and economics disciplines in the Departments of Social Sciences and Economics at the newly established Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale. He taught Introductory economic theory and highlights of the Sri Lankan economy to science faculty undergraduates who opted for a special elective in economics.

He also held other prestigious academic appointments. He was a Board of Study member in Economics & Management which is responsible for offering postgraduate study programmes and other training programmes in economics, management, and accounting & finance at the University of Peradeniya.  It was also a crowning achievement for him to be nominated by the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka as a member of the Peradeniya University Council – the Governing Body of the University. This is undoubtedly one of the most prestigious positions for which persons of high calibre who have rendered a distinguished service in educational, and professional fields and with interest in higher education are appointed. The Vice Chancellor and the university community expressed their deepest sadness at his sudden departure as captured in the image below.

A Final Word

It is a piece of cruel irony that Samare after reading our appreciation of another batch mate (Dr. Paranavithana) told us jokingly that he was happy that we will be there to write a similar appreciation for him. We were then amused but are now so sad that it came to pass so soon.

He was full of life, optimistic and forward looking. It is difficult to come to terms with his sudden passing away. He devoted six to seven decades of generous caring for the family, welcoming friends with his never fading smile and dedicated most of his life to the University of Peradeniya.  He was more than a teacher.  He was a friend, mentor and companion. His demise is an irreparable loss to our Class of 1968 at the University of Peradeniya.

Dear Samareyo – you played many roles during your life, and you can say goodbye with pride – that is why we describe you ‘a man for all seasons’. We shall always remember you as a dear brother, a true friend, a father-figure to your siblings and extended family, a loving husband to Chandra, a devoted father and grandfather to your children and grandchildren, a  highly committed  university teacher to thousands of students in Sri Lanka and abroad, one who dedicated his life to promotion of standards of university education in Sri Lanka, an amiable and generous host, and above all a kind human being with roots on the ground. Your gentle captivating laughter still rings in our ears.

Dear departed friend: Rest in Eternal Peace! May you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!!

We do hope we will meet again in this long journey of Samsara – the wheel of life!

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Vale: Professor ND Samarawickreme moves to Samsara

  1. Sisira Jayasuriya

    Thanks for sharing this very sad news. It came as a shock. My condolences to his family.

  2. pwick7

    A shorter version has been published in the Daily Mirror thanks to Maliyadde.
    https://www.dailymirror.lk/news-features/He-was-a-symbol-of-sincerity/131-233410

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