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'A leader is born, a leader of leaders to be'



Mevan Pieris

SELECT excerpts of the Jerence Nansel Oleap Fernando Oration delivered by Mevan Pieris on the occasion of the ceremonial opening of the JNO Fernando Hall of the Headquarters building of the institute of Chemistry, Ceylon, June 28.

PROFESSOR Fernando was born to this world in extraordinary circumstances as an extraordinary child. The period in which he was born belonged to the second world war and great crimes and atrocities were perpetrated by man who had turned beast in the quest of power.

Whilst Hitler ran wild massacring and murdering the innocent on one side the Japanese war machinery wreaked havoc on the other side.

The British Empire to which Ceylon then belonged stood threatened on either side, but yet for all God of Love continued to reign supreme at Pilberine Gardens, Moratuwa, and the news was broken that the Lady of the house had found favour once more.

Such Joyous news indeed brightened the mood of them that dwelt there at a time when Colombo remained threatened and a japanese plane had been shot down not too far away at S. Thomas' College Mt. Lavinia where the new born was destined to stamp his class.

So, in the leap year of 1944 under extraordinary circumstances, the fourth child of Osmund and Emerine Fernando saw light of this world on the 29th day of February.

Needless to say the baby's cries would have brought tears of joy to all at home at a time close to noon with the sun yet on its upward journey on that leap day, and taking the capital O of his father's name, the babe was most appropriately named Oleap.

Jerence Nansel Oleap Fernando began his schooling as a bonny little boy, at the nearby Prince of Wales Moratuwa, and at the age of 8 years entered S. Thomas' College Mt. Lavinia. A couple of years later it was my good furtune as well to enter this great college and more so to come to know JNO.

I am told that, whilst at S. Thomas' young Oleap had developed a tender affection for goats but certainly not because he came to know me.

He had a pet kid at home which he would cuddle fondly. Oleap in turn was the darling kid of the family although altogether a different kind of kid to the one he cuddled.

Pilberine Gardens provided ample space for youthful exuberance and there he was brought up under the watchful eye of his parents in the rich traditions of the Christian faith.

Those were the days at S. Thomas' where Canon Reginald de Saram who had taken Greats at Oxford, was Warden, and the brilliant maths wrangler of Cambridge, the Revd. Boyer Ynne was chaplain.

They were also the pristine days of the Hela movement of STC with great teachers of the calibre of Pinto Jayawardene and Ariyasen Ahubudu at the helm.

The lower school to which JNO and I belonged in our early days at College stood against the sprawling playing fields across which the balmy breezes of the Indian Ocean blew.

Those were the days when little boys like JNO and self would take a quick glance through the windows of class rooms on Friday afternoons, to catch a glimpse of legendary cricketers such as Ronald Reid and Dan Piachaud wield the willow in great style.

Those were also the days when JNO and I would sprint across the field to the modest tuck shop which stood at the far end of the grounds near the railway track, to enjoy a plate of string hoppers, pol sambol and meat curry which Samaris would serve for a princely sum of 35 cents.

They were the days when JNO and I would return to Samaris with plate stretched out asking for more as Dickens' Oliver Twist did.

Oleap Fernando began his professional career as an assistant lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya and served the University of Ceylon, Colombo also in the same capacity.

In 1968, he followed a short course in radio isotopes at the Australian School of Nuclear Technology, New South Wales, before entering Imperial College of Science and Technology, of the University of London as a Commonwealth Postgraduate Scholar.

At Imperial College under the guidance of Professor F.C. Tompkins and Dr. D.O. Hayward, Oleap studied heats of adsorption of diatomic gases on tungsten using the calorimetric method and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of London in 1971.

Ladies and Gentlemen, one wonders why Oleap chose such a subject for his research. Was it simply to obtain yet another degree or was it done with the prospect of an applied career in mind or did the subject fall on his lap from his supervisor's table as in most cases.

Perhaps his Guru Professor PPGL Siriwardene who was to be with us this evening until the cruel hand of destiny gathered him away from us a few days ago, may have had some influence on Oleap, and indeed the subject of his research was appropriate for a Chemistry Graduate with a Physics subsidiary.

Whatever may have been the case, and having taken the trouble to read his thesis, I have no doubt that the concepts and theory that the thesis carries, has served JNO well not only to impart valuable knowledge to students but also to understand human interactions better.

There is no tungsten to be found in Sri Lanka. It is a material found as its oxide mainly in China, the two Americas and Europe.

The main strength of Tungsten is its extremely high melting point of 3410 degrees C and in its strong electrical conductivity. It is also one of the heaviest metals with a specific gravity of 19.3.

These properties make Tungsten an excellent material for industrial applications such as in the manufacture of electric bulb filaments, as an alloying metal for tool steels and in making welding electrodes.

The knowledge JNO obtained in the area of adsorption on Tungsten filaments coupled with his natural brilliance would have most certainly paved the way for a very successful and rewarding industrial career in any part of the world either in the bulb industry or in the wider metal industry. Instead Oleap decided to pursue a career in the academic world as a dedicated teacher.

Jerence Nansel Oleap Fernando has remained in the university system like Tungsten, strong and robust in character and most difficult to melt even in the most trying circumstances of all. In his doctoral research he has studied the adsorption of hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen on tungsten.

These are diatomic species of high mobility which may seek adhesions or adsorptions both chemically and physically with certain kinds of solid surfaces under differing conditions.

Likewise, human beings of strong personality and character present themselves as Tungsten would projecting their energy in a manner comparable to the hybridized electronic orbital states of Tungsten and not only directed at their closest neighbours as in the case of atoms but directing itself even unto the far end of the world bringing about human relationships on par with orbital interactions of an atomic level which we associate with the concept of chemisorption.

The inspiring energy of a strong personality penetrates the gaps in the mind of another that present themselves in a way vacant orbitals of an atomic species would.

Indeed an opportunity for coordination. Materials experience Physical adsorptions as well and human beings likewise stick together based on physical closeness of association.

In 1971 the handsome young Dr. Oleap Fernando decided to leave London and returned to his motherland to assume duties as a lecturer in Physical Chemistry at the University of Colombo. Needless to say, those at home soon got busy finding him a bride.

The obedient son he was had delegated the task to his able mother and before long a pretty girl was found and she too happened to be a Fernando.

Mandrupa who is also here with us today has every reason to be proud of her husband's achievements and indeed of her achievements as well in managing admirably well such a strong personality as JNO.

In 1977, making use of his first Sabbatical, Oleap left for the University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology where he furthered his knowledge in the area of surface chemistry by chromatographic determination of isosteric heats of adsorption on zeolites.

On his return to Colombo in 1979, Dr. Fernando was in charge of the Physical Chemistry Division of the Department of Chemistry of the University of Colombo, and five years later an opportunity arose to crossover to the Open University at Nawala and join the newly formed Chemistry Department with a Professorship as well.

So, in 1984, Dr. JNO Fernando assumed duties as senior Professor of Chemistry of the Open University of Sri Lanka and has served that University upto now not only as a Professor but also as Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences from 1993-1999. He also served briefly as acting Vice Chancellor.

Apart from his dedicated service at the Open University, Professor Fernando has helped from time to time many other Universities as a visiting lecturer.

He has made available his teaching skills to University of Jaffna (1979-1983), Ruhunu University College (1980), University of Papua New Guinea (1987), University of Colombo (1984-1998), University of Peradeniya (1990 - 1991), University of Sri Jayawardenepura 1975 - 1985, 1990 - ), University of Kelaniya (1981 - 1993, 2001 -)

Professor JNO Fernando's contribution to the discipline of learning has been substantial. Apart from his dedicated service as university teacher, his contribution to the uplift of the Science of Chemistry has been outstanding.

He joined the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon in 1973 and was immediately elected to serve on the Council and continues to do so.

He served the Institute as the General Secretary from 1978 - 1981 and during this period I too having completed an exhaustive cricketing career felt that the time was right to join the Institute.

If my memory serves me well it was JNO and the late Professor RS Ramakrishna who encouraged me to do so, and I was soon in the Council as well. Even in those early years JNO's contribution was remarkable.

He would hold his own against giants of the past and vehemently oppose all efforts to squander the funds the Graduateship programme was yielding on exercises such as staging nice little conferences here and there. JNO was then a young man with a vision and insisted that the funds be saved for a greater purpose.

Although the need for a building for the Institute was recognized under the Presidency of the late Dr. Devananthan even before Oleap was a member, it was Oleap who gave life by pushing continuously at the very seams of the idea. He was not only the catalyst but also the accumulator of the required resources.

He was elected as Vice President in 1982 and President in 1984. It was my privilege and honour to serve as the Honorary Secretary of the Institute during JNO's Presidency. During this period I came to know JNO very well on account of our close working relationship.

I realized the President for whom I was secretary was a man of action wanting to do new things. I remember the long hours he and I spent revising the constitution of the Institute and during this time I remember the extremely positive manner in which he reacted to any new suggestions.

He was also a President who kept in touch regularly and would telephone me almost on daily basis and would start the conversation in his characteristic buoyant style by asking how things were. I must say I enjoyed working for a cheerful dedicated President.

During this period the Institute produced the inaugural issue of the journal 'Chemistry in Sri Lanka', and JNO insisted that the first copy should reach the hands of none but the highest in the land.

So, armed with a copy of the journal, which I was more than happy to allow JNO to carry we went over to President J.R. Jayawardene's residence at Ward Place, and were warmly greeted by him.

A beaming JNO made the presentation and by the look on the face of the President I thought he expected something much thicker which could find a place in his imposing library.

Nonetheless, the politician he was turned the pages of the journal with glowing comments although I guess the contents were "Double Dutch" to him.

JNO has been the livewire of the Institute for several decades and the leadership he has given in educational affairs has been remarkable.

He was the founder Honorary Secretary for Educational Affairs and served in that capacity from 1981 - 1983 and thereafter was elevated to the position of Chairman, Educational Committee, and is currently the Chairman, Academic Board and Honorary Dean of the College of Chemical Sciences.

He functioned as the Founder Coordinator of the Graduateship Course in Chemistry and served in this capacity from 1978 - 1983.

The excellence with which Professor Fernando managed the Graduateship Course, firstly as coordinator and then as the Chairman of the Academic Board, coupled with the outstanding services rendered in managing the finances of the Institute received recognition in 1995 when the Institute for the first time decided to bestow a distinguished services award.

Since the inception of the Graduateship course, Oleap Fernando has taught Physical Chemistry and continues to do so. He takes great pride over the fact that in the past twenty five years the Institute has turned out hundreds of Graduates in Chemistry who are now gainfully employed in Sri Lanka and abroad.

He gives wide publicity to this by what is popularly known as the JNO curve, which is a cumulative plot of graduates that have passed with time.

In recognition of the dedicated services rendered by him in the cause of teaching chemistry, the Institute of Chemistry whilst celebrating last year the Silver Jubilee of the Graduateship course, deemed it fit and proper to award Jerence Nansel Oleap Fernando a silver medal.

They who have graduated from the Institute and who are today firmly on their feet have surely a debt of gratitude to pay Professor JNO Fernando.

Professor Fernando has many a quality associated with great leaders. Ability to make decisions has been his forte. If he as a young boy was able to take a bold decision to postpone life and death surgery and give priority to task at hand in sitting his first major public examination, there indeed were the makings of a great leader.

William Shakespeare in AS YOU LIKE IT says "Some are born great, others achieve greatness and some others have greatness thrust upon them". Oleap's greatness is measurable by his achievements. Jack Welch the CEO of General Electric, USA, revolutionized that big organization by his leadership.

The four key Es that provided the superior Leadership in him were Energy, Energizer, Edge and Execution. It is a well known fact that great leaders have an abundance of Energy.

Professor Indira Parikh in her address to the World Human Resources Development Congress held in Mumbai in year 2000, stated that the energy of human beings and organizations are in three states which she described as Captive Energy, Free Energy and Frozen Energy.

The captive Energy is energy that was formerly free energy and now imprisoned and held captive due to unpleasant circumstances resulting in people in organizations staying with the routine.

Free Energy on the other hand drives people forward to do new things and strike new relationships and makes the organization a bee hive of activity.

On the other hand when the leadership of an organization is at loggerheads and the leadership has been wrested by unethical methods by individuals lacking integrity the organizational and individual energy freezes.

Leaders like Oleap Fernando are men with an abundance of free energy. The Edge a person has is the competitive spirit in him.

The Energizer characteristic is the capacity the leader has to motivate others with a genuine and sincere brand of enthusiasm, and Execution is the understanding the Leader has that energy and edge will be useless unless there is that capability to implement and execute the plan.

These four Es are to be found in Oleap Fernando. Ladies and Gentlemen these four Es lead to guts, Head and Heart of the Leader. The four Es generate the type of leader who jumps out of bed in the morning wanting to learn more during the day.

One wonders whether JNO jumps the same way as Jack Welch does. JNO is a man with passion for achievement. He is committed to make the Institute a success story and has that crucial trait of being able to define his vision so that others could really around him.

JNO is a proactive person of immense energy. His ability to move from place to place and participate in lively discussions in a range of associations has won him the admiration of all.

Oleap has made a significant contribution to the scientific community at large by the role he has played in the affairs of the Sri Lanka Association For The Advancement of Science over the past thirty years.

He has been an active member and provided the leadership to this prestigious organization as the General President in 2001 and is currently The Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He has also shown a keen interest in the activities of the organization of professional associations and serves as a representative of The Institute of Chemistry in that forum.

In the International arena, Oleap serves as the Director of The Asian Chemical Education Network of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies. His presence at meetings has always provided the excitement, and sometimes a surplus of energy erupts with volcanic propensity in characteristic style. The ability to work long hours has been one of his special talents.

He, like all great leaders, is a man of determination. From the very inception of the Graduateship Course in Chemistry he was determined to make a success of it. Acting as the coordinator of the course under trying circumstances JNO's determination surmounted all obstacles.

He was determined to excel with books and how well he has done it. He was determined to dedicate himself to the noble profession of teaching and how well he has stuck to this task.

He was determined to raise a building for the Institute and how well he has been able to harness the resources for such a complex project. "People who produce good results feel good about themselves" - Ken Blanchard and Robert Lorbar.

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