Tuesday, 13 May 2003  
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Anandatissa always had time for youth

by Geoff Wijesinghe

Anandatissa de Alwis was too gentle a man to be a politician. To me he was not a man cut out to be engaged in statecraft, but an intellectual and one of the most brilliant orators Sri Lanka has had. The great thing about this distinguished son of Ananda College, was his simplicity and charm, to give ear to a young man seeking his advice, always ready to lend a helping hand in times of sickness, sorrow, depression or financial help, especially to the poor and needy.

He was no pragmatist. Shrewdness was something foreign to him. He was forthright, as he was friendly. He was a warm human being who sought warm human relationships. A brilliant conversationalist, well read, he was an unusual man whom I have in my sometimes close association with him, found that he was never one to seek revenge, although often he was wronged.

He sometimes lost his cool, particularly with the fawning, designing types, but his anger if it could be called that, was always short. He would send for the miscreant and advise him. Like many of his ilk he had his grounding as an orator in the YMCA Forum, that cradle of some of Sri Lanka's more brilliant orators, many who went on to become leading politicians.

Anandatissa had a very tough life, from beginning to end. It was marked continuously with personal tragedy, but he took it in his stride with great resilience and courage.

Dr. Anandatissa de Alwis began his career as a journalist in the Ceylon Daily News. He came from a poor but respectable family from Kotte. He earned a paltry salary of Rs. 40 a month and continued his practice of walking to and from work to home and hand over his salary to his family.

It was from those small beginnings that he rose to become the head of Colombo branch of Walter Thompson, the famous international advertising firm, in 1965, after serving for some years as the private secretary to Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela. He then established his own De Alwis Advertising Agency and at the same time becoming active in politics. He became a Minister of State, Speaker of Parliament and finally, the Governor of the North-Western Province.

Television was introduced to Sri Lanka during his Stewardship.

One of Anandatissa gems was the speech he made as Minister of State on the proclamation of the new Parliament. He concluded his speech thus: "Let us hope, your excellency, that in this House we shall always ensure that it will be the perennial spring of liberty that all our people will equally enjoy and that every deliberation that is undertaken in this House will lead to prosperity and that we shall be able to merely be the sources by which we will express what is there deeply implanted in mankind".

In a speech he made at his alma mater when he was a senior minister, he spoke for us all when he said:

"At a certain time in the education system of our country, dedication to one's old school, the pride in it, the sense of having belonged to a great educational institution, became a significant character building feature. There was also in that feeling of belonging to a great school, a search of an old boy for approbation hoping that the school would approve of his career after he left it, that the school would be proud of him and present students would talk about it."

Anandatissa recalled: When I was a young journalist, the Editor told me: "When you pick up a telephone remember you are the equal of any Prime Minister."

One Day I telephoned a minister. I said," I am from the Daily News."

"Yes," the Minister replied, "Why?"

"Sir, I am from the editorial staff of the Daily News:

"What is your name?"

"De Alwis"

"What do you want?" asked the Minister.

"Then I realised that I was not the equal of the Prime Minister. It did not end there. The next morning I was sent for by the Managing Director of the company."

He asked me, "Did you telephone so and so yesterday?"

I said: "Yes, I wanted to check a story." "Why didn't you go to see him? You are fined Rs. 5.00 for being presumptuous." He had his customary birthday on his 75th year at which those who sat to table with him at his flat noticed he was breathing harder than usual and his breath was short.

The next day, Anandatissa de Alwis was called to rest by his creator.

Dr. Anandatissa de Alwis was buried amidst a large and distinguished gathering of his relatives, friends and journalists, in a simple, graveside service symbolic of the dignity and simplicity with which he lived.

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