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