Dil Jayawardena: An Outstanding & Upstanding Lady

Nan, in the Island, 18 December 2022, where the title runs thus: 

 I had met, listened to, read, and spoken to Elmo Jayawardena. Admired him very much too. He invariably brought his wife into any public address he made or personal conversation. Hence my emails conveyed my regards to Dil though I had not met her. Then I did. I invited the two of them to visit and as she stood in my doorway smiling so friendly, I immediately warmed to her. I felt she was a friend I knew so well. I was struck by the fact that there was no remarkably outstanding facial feature in Dil but she was truly beautiful, very beautiful. I surmised her loveliness was because her warm and generous personality shone through. She gives the impression of sincere friendliness and puts one at ease.

Elmo decided to give his beloved spouse a Christmas gift of appreciation. I wanted to be part of it. Thus we decided to surprise Dil with an article in the Sunday Island. Elmo was a mite skeptical since Dil shies away from publicity and avoids the limelight. But I said a little bit of shyness suffered is worth a surprise that should turn pleasant. So here goes. I need input, I said, and Elmo wrote around and my goodness, I was stormed under a deluge of messages of heartfelt praise. Some were personal friends; some who worked in CandleAid; others who had been helped by Elmo and Dil; and one was their daughter Dineli who said she could retail reams about her mother.

The person

Dilrukshi de Mel was made to meet Elmo on the fringe of a basketball court. Priya Cooray, close family friend supplied the details. “Eie Priya, umba ada Dil Akkava geneng”. Typical Elmo command. It was to the Moratuwa YWCA to watch him play basketball. Priya adds it was to show off his games’ prowess; and so Priya took Dil on the pillion of his bike. “Dil watched with amusement and blushes, hearing all the sudda Sinhala accompanied by rude gestures of the big boys at play.” This was in the early ‘70s when Dil was working in the Central Bank and Elmo was training to be a pilot. Dil reciprocated Elmo’s youthful advances with the admission she was attracted to him. So developed love between them which has grown deeper and stronger in the 48 years they have been married. (Elmo’s cryptic and blush-producing comment is that she married this “Spherical bastard who adores her.” They have been devoted to each other and thence his success as a prestigious pilot and their combined work to help the less fortunate. They have daughter Dineli, son Mevan, and four grandchildren who adore her as she adores them.

This great and good woman seems to be the wind beneath Elmo’s wings and those wings were of a most prestigious pilot and trainer of Air Lanka and Singapore Airlines. He acknowledges that he owes all to his wife and adds she is an excellent communicator and a silent worker committed to achieving results without caring who gets the credit. She edits everything he writes, whether a novel or a report. “She is exceptionally kind to the poor. I have never met anyone who did not or does not like her.”

Dil was a Founder Director of The Association of Lighting a Candle – AFLAC in 1994 which evolved to CandleAid in 2007. She has been its Education Director for 27 years and currently counts more than 1,000 students on sponsorship. She handles all admin matters and heads the Planning Committee alongside Elmo.

Others’ opinions

Priya Cooray included this in his lengthy praise of Dil. “Every time adversity struck me her soul uplifted me with so much of spiritual strength, faith, and hope. She has been an angel on earth for me, continuing some unfinished business God has left in her hands.

“It is what Dil Akka does to reflect God’s love for mankind that makes me realize how wonderfully blessed I am, especially when we come together with Elmo to serve the needy. It has been a wonderful journey and an immense pleasure to work with her though I could hardly keep up with her pace. Just like her man, when working for the needy or for anyone, it is never a worry to her when the sun rises or when it dives beneath the horizon; she goes on. ‘Busy as a bee’ she says with appreciation. The terms like sacrifice, dedication and commitment are words too small to be applied to her; she is much more.

“Before one of my important decisions in life she wrote: ‘I have not forgotten that you are going tomorrow to Algeria – and you are going into a sort of a climax – but I fear not for you, as God will be your protector – have prayed for you much’. I survived Algeria and she protected me all the way with her prayers.   I will never forget what she once said: ‘Don’t tell God how big your problem is but tell your problem how big God is’. That is her, my Guardian Angel.”

Dhananath Fernando who started helping Elmo with swimming for young ones, came under his and Dil’s protective and promoting guidance. He is committed and keen on any undertaking, thus he is now CEO of Advocata Sri Lanka. He was recently in the US having won an Eisenhower Fellowship. He was also awarded $100,000 for Advocata as the Templeton Award for this year, which he personally received in New York.

He wrote thus: “Aunty Dil is one of the most kind hearted people I have ever met. My mentor Captain Elmo calls her ‘Captain of the Captain’ or ‘CEO of the CEO’ which honour she truly deserves. I have witnessed myself what we see most inside of the award winning author Elmo Jayawardena, which is actually Dil Jayawardena. She is so humble to always be backstage, making Elmo Jayawardena perfect on public stage. I often think the Picasso of Elmo is none other than Dil.

“She has been very influential in my life too. She spent time improving my English. She has the incredible ability to encourage people. She kept us in her prayers and thoughts for the longest time I can recall. She truly cares about people and it just comes from the bottom of her heart. I have witnessed many a time how she goes completely out of her way to help people in need. She cannot sleep when someone is in trouble. I have also noted how she conducts herself: so natural, simple and humble. Though CandleAid is known as Capt Jayawardena’s brainchild and organization, the engine and live-wire both are Dil J.

“Capt Elmo is an award winning author but I bet my last rupee that he will not be able to write a book or an essay without her help. She is his greatest critic and pretty much the creator as well as the supporter of everything he undertakes. That’s the Horekale interpretation.”

“Capt Wilhelm Dias and his German wife Sabine are very close family friends,” Elmo wrote as a preface to what Sabine Dias sent me. “She has been the international coordinator of the CandleAid cancer programme for more than 20 years. She certainly is from the top shelf.”

Sabine wrote: “Dil is one of my closest, dearest friends for more than 20 years. She has been my rock and constant in good and sad times. She is family to me. She works tirelessly for the poor and anyone who is in need, sacrificing her time and life to help others and I do really admire that in her. She is my hero!”

Her work

I am certain readers know of CandleAid. However I include here a very brief introduction since it is Dil who manages the entire outfit: office, accounts, programmes, coordination, with of course Elmo calling the shots, as it were. It is written by Elmo.

” CandleAid is the most important thing I did in my life. The Organization helps people in need, irrespective of what race they belong to and which God they worship. We may not have moved mountains, but we did level a few anthills through the years. There were many Starfish we picked from the beach and threw back to the sea.”

Here again I needs must comment. Men plan; women execute. That is my maxim noticed as true several times over. Elmo may use a choice Sinhala word or two on me, but I must give expression to my impression. A baby is made with mere input from a man but the woman carries the foetus for nine months, sometimes with suffering, and with immense pain brings forth to life a baby. The task of bringing up the child mostly devolves on her. Just so a man gets a brilliant idea and the work roosts on a woman – most often spouse. Elmo probably proclaimed in the 1990s: “We have spare time now and are financially OK, So let’s help the underprivileged.” Super duper idea! Who did the ground work and carried it through? Dil.

There really are hundreds, nay thousands, who praise Dil and love and admire her. Some owe their successes to her; some gratitude for her kind empathy that pulled them through difficulties. A few may even owe their mental well being to this kind, affectionate woman who remains simple, dedicated to God, work, family and friends

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