A leader snuffed out in his prime
Lalith Athulathmudali, a smart and intelligent scholar, sportsman,
academic, legal luminary and a very popular politician and
parliamentarian, who like all the social revolutionists and talented
leaders of the world, sad to mention, was cruelly assassinated and is no
more with us.
The politically unstable climate that prevailed in Sri Lanka during
this very unfortunate period prompted, the probable unknown plotters to
secretly plan his killing, and the moment the heartless
gangster/murderer pulled the trigger of his firearm, perhaps not knowing
the great value of this great man to our motherland, may be, on the
implicit instructions of an enemy of Lalith, took away his life in a
He was born to an affluent, respectable family in the Kalutara
District, in the Western province of Sri Lanka. His father D.D.
Athulathmudali a distinguished lawyer, was also a member of the then
Ceylon State Council winning the Matugama legislative Council seat in
D.D Athulathmudali, just like his son Lalith was very much respected
by the people of Matugama. Lalith was the eldest in the family and was
born on November 26, 1936. He had a younger brother named Dayantha, who
later in life became an engineer, and a sister named Sujae, a medical
doctor in the U.K.
Everybody in Sri Lanka knew that Lalith was happily married to
Srimani De Saram, who later became the Minister of Transport and
Environment in Sri Lanka, and had a daughter named Serala Athulathmudali.
He was educated at Royal College, Colombo 7, during the prosperous
and peaceful times between 1940-1954 in Ceylon. During his College
career, he had a brilliant academic record, whilst being an interschool
debater, and winning school colours, and all Ceylon records in sports
This reminds us of the Sinhalese proverb, "A growing tree will be
known from the first or second pair of its leaves." But the cruel
illicit treefeller cut down and killed this valuable tree during the
prime of its life, on the April 23, 1993 between 7-8 p.m, at Kirulapone,
when it was about to profusely bloom and bear many fruits of benefits
and social advancement to the general masses.
Lalith William Samarasekera Athulathmudali, by which name he mostly
preferred to be recognised, was to show to the world, that he not only
inherited his blessings in life from his beloved father, but a highly
esteemed, respectable, very intelligent assortment of genes from his
much loved mother also.
He finished his primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka, and
entered the Oxford University Law College where he had a distinguished
academic career at Oxford (Jesus College), and was the secretary of the
Oxford Union in 1956, treasurer in 1957, and the President in 1958, a
unique feat not achieved by any Sri Lankan so far.
Thereafter, he was called to the bar at Grays Inn in 1959 and later
obtained a L.L.M degree from Harvard, USA. Thereafter, before he
returned to Sri Lanka he was a lecturer in Jurisprudence at the
University of Singapore and many other distinguished international
In the year 1972 the former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka the Late
Dudley Senanayake invited Lalith to join the UNP, and made him the chief
organiser for Agalawatte.
Later in 1977 the UNP nominated him to the Ratmalana seat and threw a
challenge at him to win the Ratmalana leftist red fortress of Mrs.
Vivienne Goonewardene, which he captured with a majority of 7,000 votes.
He became the Minister of Trade in 1977, the shipping portfolio was
added the year after and later he held the ministries of National
Security, Agriculture, and Education. An assassin almost claimed his
life by throwing a hand grenade at him in Parliament.
It was a miracle that he recovered according to the opinion of his
doctors and his friends.
Later when R. Premadasa contested the Presidential Election, after
President J.R. Jayewardene's retirement, Lalith supported him and
canvassed for his election in all the electorates in the Island. But
Premadasa did not appoint him probably because he wanted a low key man
who would listen to him, as his prime minister which resulted in an
impeachment against President Premadasa organised by Lalith which was
He left the UNP crossed over to the opposition, just like S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike his old Oxford political predecessor in Sri Lanka and
formed the DUNF which was just about to capture power when the people
lost him forever.
This article first appeared in the CDN in 2002.