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Royal College - Group of 49

EDUCATION: All parents clamour to get their children into Royal College, but not all of them are lucky enough. Royal was founded in 1835 by the then British Colonial Government, mainly for the education of the sons of the Britishers, under the Principalship of Dr. Barcroft Boake, a product of Oxford University.

Though the school was initially called the Colombo Academy, it came to be known later as Royal College. On the panels of the College Hall are the names of those who distinguished themselves in the field of intellect.

Also, in the College Hall hang the portraits of those who rendered yeoman service to our country. Some among them are C.A. Lorenz KC, the Acting Queen’s Advocate, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan Acting Attorney General and his brother Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam of the Ceylon Civil Service, Dr. C.A. Hewavitharne and his sibling Anagarika Dharmapala.

Of the Politicians of recent times were two Heads of State - Sir John Kotalawala and President J.R. Jayewardene, while H. Sri Nissanka Q.C., a well-known criminal lawyer and one of the founders of the SLFP also adorns the Hall.

About 57 years ago, 96 boys entered Royal College. They came to be called the 49 Group. According to statistics compiled, it is perhaps the best batch that Royal turned out in recent times.

It is said that 32 of them became medical doctors, most of them consultants, while nine entered the legal profession, two of them becoming President’s Counsel, two others becoming Judges of the Supreme Court, three entered the Ceylon Civil Service and 18 became Engineers.

It is estimated that about 60 percent of this Group became professionals, but while in school, each one of them fought for the last place in class ! But when they commenced their respective disciplines, they shone over the products of other schools.

Some surgeons of the 49 Group are, Ranjith de Silva - who captained Royal at cricket, Priya Samarasinghe, Geoff Vanden Driesen, Gamini Goonethilake, S. R. Ratnapala, whilst some of the well-known physicians are, Henry Rajaratnam, J.B. Pieris, Gamini Jayakuru, Brendon Gooneratne, the latter distinguishing himself in Australia. His wife, Yasmin Gooneratne, a Professor of English in Australia, has several publications to her credit

Another wife of a member of the 49 Group is Professor Lalitha Mendis, who reached the pinnacle of the medical profession. She was the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and the Director of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. She is the wife of the late Dr. Lalith Mendis.

The other physicians are, Danilo de Kretser, Tissa Cooray (W.H.O.), N.T. de Silva (UK), H.S. Karunasekera (UK), Leslie Muthukuda (UK), Dan Perimpanayagam, Yasa Rajapakse (UK), Disampathy Subasinghe (UK), V. Dharmapalan (New Zealand), and the late R.S.B. Wickremasinghe - who was the Director of the M.R.I.

Of those who took to Law, are two well-known President’s Counsel Jayantha Gunasekera (former Secretary of the Bar Association) and Chula de Silva.

Two other lawyers S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya and P. Edussuriya ended up as Judges of the Supreme Court, whilst A. Balachandran who worked in the U.N.T.K.N. Thilakan (District Judge) and Kumar Ponnambalam both died a few years ago. Alavi Mohamed, a Barrister also died recently. M.N.B. Pieris is a civil lawyer, in Colombo.

Harsha Wickremasinghe, D.G.P. Seneviratne and Dr. B.S. Wijeweera entered the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service.

Of the Engineers that come to mind are Professor C.L.V. Jayathilake (a Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya), Dr. Susantha Goonethilake, S.C. Amarasinghe (former GM of the Electricity Board) Dr. Sri Bhavan Sri Skandarajah, H.S.B. Abeysundara (Chemical Engineer), L.H. Meegama, C. Ramachandran and Bandula Yatawara.

Perhaps the cleverest of them all was Chelvanayagam Vaseeharan, a maths prodigy, who was to be appointed Professor of Mathematics.

In this class, were two leading businessmen, namely the Cambridge educated Upali Wijewardene of the Upali Group, and, Lal Jayasundera, Chairman of Hayleys. Ratna Sivaratnam headed another conglomerate - Aitken Spence, whilst K. Manikkavasagar was a Director of Glaxo. Arjuna Hullugalle and Upatissa Attygalle are successful businessmen.

V.H. Nanayakkara and P.H.J.S. Ariyapala both Bachelors of Science, joined the Staff of Royal College.

There was one member of the 49 Group who distinguished himself as a clever investigator in the Police Force. If he had not joined the Police, surely he would have been on the other side of the Law!

That was none other than Rahula Silva. It is reported that he was charged in several cases of violence. In all these cases he was successfully defended gratis, by his classmate Jayantha Gunasekera, a well-known criminal lawyer.

There is the very talented Artist/Architect Laki Senanayake, a partner of Geoffrey Bawa, whilst A.A. Wijetunga and K. Sivapragasam became Senior Assessors in the Inland Revenue Dept. K.L. Gooneratne is a talented Architect.

Late Bimal Padameperuma functioned as Chairman Engineering Corp, and D.C. Wimalasena was Chairman, Petroleum Corp.

T.D.S.A. Dissanayake, a prolific writer, first served in the U.N. later he was our Ambassador in Indonesia.

There were two members of this Group to whom life was a ball! They were Aru Sellamuttu and Ranjith Kiriella. Nimalasiri Fonseka, a bright spark in school, lives the life of a Squire in England.

Lionel Almeida and the late Tyrrel Muttiah took to planting, and were ruggerites. W.K.N. de Silva is a propriety planter. Bobby Perera, was one time Director of Quickshaws. Mahinda Gunasekera who is permanently domiciled in Canada, does much for our country by countering false propaganda.

These classmates are a very close knit family, though half of them live overseas.

The 49 Group, depleted as it is, gets together, definitely during the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter and the Bradhy Shield. Sometimes they meet more often, to welcome members coming home from abroad, for some reason or another.

It is at such gatherings that they reminisce about their schooldays, some wild and some even wilder! Only the pleasant memories remain, and old yarns are told and retold, with salt and pepper added too.

Masters then came to teach, in full suit (coat and tie, mind you), and some driving their own cars. They instilled into this impressionable Group of youngsters all that Royal stood for; so much so that even today, they instinctively take the acceptable course of action in any matter.

The feeling of brotherly love is strong in the 49 Group. A few years ago, with great emotion and bonhomie the 50th anniversary of the Group was celebrated for three days in a luxury hotel in the South.

Almost all the members (from here and abroad) attended this occasion.

On the last night of this grand get-together, the College Song was sung, with a tear in the eye. Apart from being top achievers in their respective disciplines, they had “Learnt of books and Learnt of men and learnt to play the Game”.

Here’s hoping that the 49 Group will meet for many more years, to reminisce and rejoice, over a meal that cheers!

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