|Saturday, 22 September 2001|
The passing away of a many faceted man
The death occurred last week of Mr.H. C. Peiris, a distinguished Sri Lankan, a leading businessman, religious worker and philanthropist, Mr. Peiris at the time of his death was the Head of his family business, Yahala House Companies.
The scion of one of the most known and respected families in the country H. C. Peiris was the only child of J. L. D. Peiris. The late Hithakami Chidrupa Peiris known affectionately as "Chitru" to his large circle of friends was married to Ranee a loving, devoted wife and mother to his two sons, Jaitra and Darup, who are both actively engaged in the family business. A distinguished Old Thomian who, like his father contributed greatly to his Alma Mater, he was responsible to have David Paynter the famous artist, paint the large mural depicting the Risen Christ, described as one of the most beautiful in the world at the chapel of the Transfiguration at S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia. Deeply religious, and an indefatigable social worker, H. C. Peiris was a Diocese's representative for the Chapel of Homagama, and the Deaf and Blind School, Seeduwa. He rebuilt St. John's Church, Homagama and imported a statue of St. John from Vanpoules of London. At the time of his death, he was actively engaged in renovating the revered Shrine at Kompannaveediya Junction, the Church of the Holy Rosary which is popularly known as the "Golden Shrine of Infant Jesus", to which thousands flock for miraculous healing.
In 1961, the then Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetileke requested Mr. Peiris to accompany Ernesto Che-Guevara, the reputed South American Revolutionary, to the family estate, (Yahalakelle estate). The distinguished revolutionary was so taken up by Mr. Peiris's Rubber Plantation, that he not only planted a commemorative tree which still stands, but also spent time studying the manufacturing process, of latex to crepe sheets.
The "Havelock Tour-Inn" which was owned by Mr. Peiris was selected by the advanced party for David Rockefeller's stay in the island, whose visit however had to be cancelled on the advice on the U.S. embassy due to security reasons. Mr. Rockefeller was to have been Mr. Peiris's personal guest and elaborate plans had been made, including a special train for Mr. & Mrs. Rockefeller and the Peiris family to visit the two thousand year old archaeological sites. A man of great versatility, "H.C." was Advisor to Senator Sarath Wijesinghe when at his peak and establishing the first chocolate factory in Sri Lanka, which he, later, as Director coined the Acronym "Kandoscar", later shortened to two syllables as "KANDOS" by the advertising agents. This was the harbinger for Sri Lanka to embark on the manufacture of quality chocolates measuring up to the highest international standards.
Among his many firsts, was to be the first Ceylonese Chairman of Delmege Forsyth Ltd., which at the time was headed by the Earl of Inchcape of the Inchcape Group, one of the first 100 companies of U.K. Incidentally, "HC"'s father "JLD" was the first Ceylonese Chairman of British Ceylon Corporation. (B.C.C.)
Mr. H. C. Peiris was also the first Ceylonese Chairman of "Darley Butler & Co. Ltd", and first Ceylonese Chief Executive and Chairman of E. B. Creasy & Co. He was also Executive Chairman of one of Ceylon's first food processing companies, "Food Processing Company Ltd." He was also Managing Director of pioneering Ceylonese insurance firms "Colombo Assurance Co. Ltd" and "Colombo Life Assurance Co. Ltd". Another milestone in his life was the creation of the "India-Ceylon Industries Ltd" of which he was the Managing Director, with World Bank assistance. It was to be one of the largest Textile manufacturing companies in collaboration with Birla of India.
Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, during the 1970-1977 period invited "H.C." to accept a special appointment to oversee approximately two million acres of the State Plantations Corporation and the J.E.D.B. However, he politely declined the appointment. In 1960 one of the earliest Finance Companies "Industrial Finance Ltd" appointed him as its Managing Director. He also managed the "Queens Hotel" and "Hotel Swisse" and refurbished them. Their largest share-holder was W. R. Hancock, a first cousin of Sir Winston Chruchill. He was also the first Ceylonese Chief Executive Vice Chairman of Elephant House and "Victoria Farm" in Kandy. He also established "Tootal Private Ltd" which was sponsored in 1980 in collaboration with Tootal of Manchester, the largest British investment in Sri Lanka since independence. He sponsored and established a family owned International College in Colombo - "Belvoir College International", which is one of the leading International Colleges with over 1000 children and over 125 fully qualified teachers. Among the 54 appointments he held, was: the Chief Executive of "United Electrical Ltd," "Veytex," "Suduwella Trading Company Ltd," "National Development Bank," "Arbor Acres Pvt Ltd," a subsidiary of the Rockefeller Empire Allied Rubber Components (Pvt) Ltd, "Poultry Farms," "Sericulture," U.T.H/U.T.A. French Airlines, "Alco" of Finland appointed the local Agent by the largest liquor Distillers in Europe, to manage the Ceylon Distilleries Corporation of Sri Lanka. He was also the first to secure the franchise for "Pepsi Cola" in Sri Lanka.
He also pioneered "Coffee Robusta" and "Arabica" interplanted with coconuts. In the 1950's he pioneered the free issue of Tea and Coconuts to the workers of his family estate where over 7000 works benefited.
During the years 1964 to 1978 when Mrs. Bandaranaike was pre-occupied with politics Mr. Peiris acted as Attorney for Mrs. Bandaranaike and the family in the management of their private business interests.
At the age of 25, "H.C." was the youngest Director of a Public Quoted Company and he subsequently served in over 50 Joint-Stock Companies in Sri Lanka.
He initiated the "Mahakanda Housing Project" of nearly 500 acres, a short distance away from the University of Peradeniya, along with the "Kandy Hotel", the foundation stone of which was laid by Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten.
Other interesting land marks in his career, which would be described as "diversification", as he reached senior years, was the establishment of "Torino Restaurant" with Italian Nationals 20 years ago, and "Shilla Restaurant". He was also on the committee on the invitation of Dr. Ananda Tissa De Alwis which submitted a proposal to the government on the establishment of a TV station in Sri Lanka shortly after the change of government in 1977.
Although a devout Christian, one of his very significant contributions was his proposal to the then Prime Minister Mr. Dudley Senanayake for the declaration of full moon Poya days as Public Holidays, which was readily accepted and implemented.
Mr. H. C. Peiris was also invited to be the High Commissioner in London, Washington or any Capital of his choice by the then President J. R. Jayawardene, which he politely declined. He was appointed the Hony. Consul General for the Republic of Poland in 1995 was actively engaged in religious work and was Patron of the YMCA at Moratuwa and member of the central YMCA financial committee. He was also the member of the Anglican Church of Ceylon, new Cathedral Committee, Diocesan Missionary Council, Diocesan Agricultural Committee and the Executive Committee of the Diocesan Missionary Council of the Anglican Church. He was the Diocesan Representative of Homagama Parish and the "Chapel of the Holy Name Seeduwa" and was Trustee and Ex-co Member of the Deaf & Blind School, Ratmalana.
He was the Founder and first President of the Sri Lanka - United Kingdom Society (SLUK) which was inaugurated on the 9th October 1985. He was a Founder Vice President of the "Kiwanis Club" of Colombo city. He was a life member of the Sri Lanka - Australia - New Zealand Society, Sri Lanka-Japan Friendship Society, Sri Lanka - Malay Association, Sri Lanka-German Association and Sri Lanka-India Friendship Society. He was also a member of the Ex-Co of Sri Lanka - America Society.
He was the Founder and first President of the Thomian Society of Colombo on the 4th March 1993.
He was the Founder and Managing Trustee of the "Peiris Foundation" which was responsible for sponsoring the production of "The Sound of Music", the proceeds of which were donated to charity. Other benefactions of the Foundation to recognised Charities in the recent past exceeds Rupees fifty million.
Apart from many business, social and religious activities, Mr. Peiris found time for many hobbies. He had one of the finest collection of Vintage Cars which includes the two oldest cars in Sri Lanka. In the late 1950's he imported the first Air-Conditioned Car into Sri Lanka.
As a collector of antique furniture he owned rare and interesting pieces of furniture including Governor North's writing table and a Side Board owned by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War in 1854 - 1855, among what is perhaps the best private collection of Dutch furniture in the country. He was also a collector of Books, Maps, Paintings and an amateur Landscape gardener and Interior Decorator.
He was best known for his innovative contributions to the development of agriculture and the modernisation of the plantation sector in particular. The demise of this many faceted personality, a doyen of Sri Lankan business, will be greatly felt.
Produced by Lake House