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Government Gazette

Kamalika Abeyratne:

‘Mother Courage’ of Giruwapattuwa

TRIBUTE: Dr. Kamalika Abeyaratne by her exemplary life and work inspired us all in different ways. To be associated with the launching of the biography of a most outstanding Sri Lankan of recent times is indeed a rare privilege.

To me, personally, the moment is of dual significance and satisfaction for not only does the volume celebrate a life of devoted service, inspiration and courage of someone who touched and influenced my own outlook towards life in general and my professional life in particular, but also, the book, A life in the round - the girl from Giruwapattuwa’ has been authored by none other than my own teacher, mentor and in more recent times, friend, Hilary Abeyratne whose influence on my life has been manifold, both at school and in later years.


MOTHER COURAGE: Dr. Kamalika Abeyaratne

This evening, tributes will be paid and thanks given to the life and work of Deshamanya Kamalika Abeyratne by relatives, friends and professional colleagues. Unrepresented this evening, however, are the legion of children and parents from the vast remotes of Nuwara Kalaviya to the busy metropolis of Colombo, whose lives she touched with so much love, grace, devotion, dedication and empathy.

Their treasured memories and admiration will be no less than that of us gathered here this evening. As we pay our individual tributes to a loving wife, devoted mother, affectionate aunt and cousin, an inspiring teacher and brilliant clinician and innovative researcher and an energetic and persuasive colleague with relentless drive and motivation. We also pay our collective tribute to one we could, together, well call ‘Mother Courage.’

It is my brief to recall and pay homage to Dr. Kamalika Abeyratne, Paediatrician par excellence, teacher and clinical researcher. Legion are the medical practitioners in this country from consultants to general practitioners who received their baptism in the practice of medicine under her caring and sharing guidance over a period of three decades as a Consultant Paediatrician in the Government Health Services.

It was not merely her unquestionable clinical and research excellence but her ethics, both moral and professional that made her a breed apart. Kamalika set the highest standards for herself and expected it of others under her charge.

She had little time or patience for bureaucratic procrastination and would not suffer fools gladly. In this she had a steadfast ally in Michael, her husband, who was never known to give up the good fight for what he thought was right and just.

Kamalika’s loyalty to those under her tutelage was legendary and with her wise counsel, guidance and support was a source of silent strength to her juniors. It was no surprise then that many of her juniors who followed in her footsteps are now Paediatricians of distinction themselves, to carry forth her legacy.

My own personal acquaintance and friendship with Dr. Abeyratne began four decades ago as I turned up at Anuradhapura to commence my Internship. Anuradhapura at that time was a far-flung outpost, certainly not the epicentre of medical excellence.

My first appointment was as an Internee in Paediatrics under a young and vivacious Consultant who herself had assumed duties not many months earlier. Only her short hair betrayed her Charles Way and Ladies College upbringing.

The simplicity of dress and humble demeanour with an absolute lack of false airs endeared her to the rustic rural Rajarata peasantry that was her clientele. Perhaps her own Giruwapattuwa roots provided an intangible bond.

I still take pride in the fact that I, along with Mal Weerasinghe, later Consultant Anaesthetist and Neville Fernando, also later to be a Consultant Anaesthetist, were the first to complete a full internship with Dr. Abeyratne.

Of course, I had known her husband, Michael, earlier at school, as a Prefect of the Junior School and who later went on to be the Senior Prefect and Winner of the Ryde Gold Medal for the Best All-round Boy.

The Abeyratnes - Finest, Hilary and Michael, sons of the legendary Lloyd and Augusta Abeyratne had carved an indelible niche for themselves at Trinity as one of the most distinguished families, excelling in both scholastic and athletic pursuits.

We learned under Dr. Abeyratne’s care both these arts unfortunately now a disappearing facet and the science of Medicine. By her example we learned not only clinical skills and competencies but the more difficult ethics of the discipline of medicine. But we had excellent teachers in both Departments.

It was at Anuradhapura in the midst of a raging malaria epidemic that Dr. Abeyratne published her first research paper, the first of many, in the Ceylon Medical Journal. It was my privilege to be named as Co-Author of the paper.

Sensitively to Primaquine in Ceylonese Children due to Deficiency of Erythrocytic Glucose 6 Phosphate Dedrogenese is now considered a landmark publication, quoted not only by Haemoptologists but also by anthropologists and archaeologists in relation to early migration patterns to Sri Lanka.

My friendship and association has continued over the years though our meetings in later years were less frequent than either of us would have liked them to be. In fact, one occasion that I have never been able to forgive myself and I wouldn’t blame if she never forgave me was when due to other compelling reasons, I failed to attend the Annual SLMA Kumaradasa Rajasooriya Oration which she delivered in 1999.

It has been my privilege to pay this tribute on behalf of her professional colleagues to an outstanding medical personality who by her professional skills and achievements, her determinations and example towards ethical practice and her courage and resolve in facing her personal tragedies, has done the profession, the women of Sri Lanka and all of us proud.

 

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