Sumana Saparamadu: An Appreciative Vale from 2016

Lalitha Karalliadde Witanachchi, in the Sunday Observer, 8 May 2016, with this title “Epitome of Generosity, Kindness and Loyalty” **

The death occurred on April 15 [2016] of well-known journalist Sumana Saparamadu at the age of 92. She was born in Havelock Road, Wellawatte in the home of her parents Mr and Mrs. D.C. Saparamadu. Her father was a well-known apothecary who worked for several years in Kadugannawa, where Sumana spent her childhood “in the beautiful hill country with mist-laden hills and the train winding its way upcountry”, as she was wont to tell me when recalling her happy childhood.

When she was four-years old, her father decided that she should be educated in Colombo. Visakha Vidyalaya in Colombo had just opened a hostel for girls which her parents said, “Was safe for girls”. So at the young age of four-and-a half years, Sumana was admitted to Visakha as a boarder where she studied from Kindergarten till she entered the Colombo University. Visakha proved to be Sumana’s second home till she was in her eighties. She participated in all the school activities and was the most loyal past pupil till the very end.

She entered the University and did a Sinhala Honours degree becoming the first woman to win a first-class degree from the University in the early ‘40s. She wanted to specialise in Sociology and on the advice of Prof. Lynn Ludowyk’s wife, she proceeded to Melbourne University with its unique characteristics of diverse people from different nations.

Having graduated, she returned to Sri Lanka where for a time she was assistant lecturer in the Colombo University. She then quit and decided to be a journalist which was her first love. She applied for the post of journalist at Lake House and was selected by Mr. Esmond Wickremesinghe, she worked at Lake House for over 39 years and retired in the 1980s. She was the editor of the Tharunee – the paper for young women and the Mihira for children, papers that were very popular at that time. She could write lucidly in Sinhala and English and wrote children’s stories which even parents enjoyed. After retirement she worked as a freelance journalist writing on various subjects.

She had many friends from all walks of life, the great and the small. One of her closest friends was Dame Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House of Commons.

Words cannot describe her loyalty to her alma mater, Visakha Vidyalaya. She was President of the Past Pupils’ Association for many years. She took part in all the school activities. At the Jubilee celebrations nearly fifty years ago she attended all the rehearsals of Visakha Geetha Natakaya and gave useful suggestions. Three years ago, she served as matron in the hostel. At study time, she taught boarders English, Pali, Sinhala and General Knowledge. She related stories, taught History and participated in extra-curricular activities and taught the girls good manners.

She loved children and her love for Visakha was unparalleled. She was a silent worker who never bragged about what she did for charity. She sponsored the Somawathi Children’s Home in Galle where there were 120 children.

She gave of her time and money with no expectation of reward, with the assistance of some generous Dutch people. She was generous to her nephews and nieces as well. To me, Sumana was a special friend. In 1980, I returned from Nigeria after a period of teaching in the Teachers’ College in Birnin Kebbi. Two days after I returned Sumana came to see me and asked whether I would like to be a journalist.

“That would be granting my dearest wish” I told her “but I have no experience or training,” I said but that was of no consequence to her. I had sent her two articles from Nigeria and she had them published in the Daily News. She told me she had spoken to Manik de Silva, who was the editor at that time, that perhaps I could be a suitable person to be a journalist.

A few days later, I was interviewed and selected and so my wish was granted. I worked at the features desk of the Daily News, where I spent the happiest days of my working life.

So, I am eternally grateful to Sumana for having recommended me and given me the opportunity to achieve much as a writer. Sumana had a close relationship with her brother S.D. Saparamadu, former civil servant.

For the past two years she was not in the best of health so she was looked after by him and his gentle wife Rupa, daughter of the well-known writer Martin Wickremasinghe of Koggala, at their beautiful home in Pepiliyana, with great love and care. All her needs were seen to and she felt secure in their home.

Martin Wickramasinghe 

I visited her often with my daughter. We discussed books and various topics and when she visited me we played scrabble and spent many happy hours. As time passed she became weaker. She was fortunate to lead a peaceful life amidst beautiful surroundings under the care of her kind relations who spared no pains to see to her welfare, and she passed away having spent a noble life of service to others.

It is with deep affection and gratitude that I write this tribute to Sumana who provided me with the opportunity to spend many years as a journalist and made my dreams come true. She was a true and loyal friend.

May her Sansaric journey be free from peril and may she attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.


** In presenting this encomium some six years after Sumana Saparamadu’s passage to samsara, I am informed by my appreciation of the services rendered to Sri Lanka by the Saparamadu and Wickramasinghe families as well as the Tisara Prakasakayo Press. One important contibution was the prining of Leonard Woolf’s diaries in 1962………… In fact, it is via Thuppahi’s recent engagement with Woolf’s ‘journeys’ that I came across Lalitha Witanachchi’s epitaph to Sumana. 

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