First President of the Republic of Sri Lanka
His Excellency William Gopallawa was born on September 17,1897 at
Dullewa Maha Walauwa in a beautiful village, Asgiri Udasiya Pattuwa in
Matale district. Tikiri Bandara Gopallawa, from Gokeralla, a village in
Kurunegala was his father. His mother Tikiri Kumarihamy Dullewa was from
Dullewa village. When little William was only three years he lost his
Young William had his primary education at Dullewa village school;
later he studied at St. John’s College, Getambe, Kandy. He entered
Dharmaraja College in 1909 and thereafter he continued his education at
St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota.
After passing his Cambridge Senior, he joined Matale Buddhist school
(now named Vijaya College) as a teacher in 1917. He took the initiative
to organise the First Boys’ Scout team and the first library for the
In 1920, Mr. Gopallawa joined the Ceylon Law College and qualified as
a proctor in 1924. In 1926, he was elected to Matale Urban Council and
served the people for 13 years till 1939. He was the youngest Chairman
to be elected to an Urban Council in the island. On March 8, 1928,
William Gopallawa married Miss Seelawathie Rambukwella and they were
blessed with two sons and two daughters, named Iranganie, Asoka, Chinta
and Monty (Late Governor of the Central Province). William Gopallawa was
appointed as the Municipal Commissioner, Kandy Municipal Council in 1939
and later Municipal Commissioner, Colombo from 1951 to 1957.
In recognition of his services, late Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike,
appointed him as the Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of
China. Later, he was appointed as the Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the
United States of America, Cuba and Mexico in 1961, by Mrs. Sirimavo
Bandaranaike. The crowning moment of his career was his appointment as
the Governor-General of Ceylon from March 2, 1962. He had the
distinction of being the first Buddhist and the second Sinhala
Governor-General of Ceylon. When the then National State Assembly
promulgated the first Republican Constitution in 1972, William Gopallawa
was appointed the first President of the Republic of Sri Lanka.
As the first Sinhala Buddhist Governor-General, he introduced
Buddhist religious, cultural and traditional customs and values to the
President’s House, after many years. President’s House doors were opened
to the ordinary people. Buddhist shrine room was built in the
President’s House premises, and on every full moon poya day, he with
Mrs. Gopallawa observed ‘sil’ with other devotees.
Mr. Gopallawa was a Buddhist who diligently observed Meththa, Karuna,
Muditha and Upekka and was truly a gentleman who did not know religious,
social or political barriers in his public or private life. He had said,
many a times, that it was his education at Dharmaraja College, Kandy
made him a cultured person.
His outstanding trait was his composure which reflected in his
character of good-will and compassion to all around him with a simple
smile and a kind word. He never had any difficulties whatsoever when
dealing with people of ethnic, religious or political parties. Mr.
Gopallawa used to have lunch with Dudley Senanayake, every Wednesday,
when Mr. Senanayake became the Prime Minister in 1965, at the then
Queen’s House and used to discuss problems of the country in a very
The installation of the first ‘Ran Veta’ around Sri Maha Bodhiya,
Anuradhapura in 1969, was his most outstanding religious and cultural
activity. He never had any differences based on race, creed or caste. As
the Chairman of Urban Council, Matale, he re-named, ‘Pannagama Para’
which name had a distinct caste connotation as Vihara Para.
William Gopallawa, this simple villager from the remote village
Dullewa, Matale had fulfilled his responsibilities and obligations
towards his country without any fear or favour.
Let me quote, what late Mr. A. Amirthalingam M.P, for Kankasanthurai
had said on the condolence vote on William Gopallawa on February 20,
1981 in Parliament. “His career has very many unique features which no
one else in this country ever achieved or can ever hope to achieve. I
should say that all these positions which he filled with distinction and
honour were never sort after by him. So, Mr. Speaker while he was a
simple and unassertive, there were certain qualities in this great man
which enabled him to fill these positions without incurring the
opprobrium of any section of the people of this country. He was
honourable, incorruptible, meek, religious and dutiful in his life.
These qualities enabled him to fill the various positions he held with
honour. He never bandied words with anybody, I do not think he would
have hurt the feelings of anyone yet he rose to a position of
His Excellency William Gopallawa passed away on January 30, 1981 in
his house in Matale town, at the age of 83 years.
May, he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana, towards which he
practised in his life.