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Prof. W.R. Breckenridge - Tribute to a friend

The passing away of Prof. Dr. W,R. Breckenridge, former Professor of Zoology and one time Principal of Trinity College was indeed an inestimable loss to those who had the good fortune to know him intimately. Dr. Breck as he was known to his wide circle of colleagues and students at the University and "Breck" to many generations of Trinitians is the second son of one of Trinity's illustrious and distinguished teachers of Trinity - the Late R.R. Breckenridge.

I, my late father Teddy Abeyesekera who was a senior practitioner at the Kegalle Bar and my late uncle, Oliver Abeyesekera former Regional Director of Education Kegalle has had the distinction of being taught by him at various times at Trinity. My association with Breck began on the 11th of January 1950 when both of us were in Form II B along with Mr. S.M.L. Marrikkar. This 59 year old friendship, has been one of absolute pleasantness and joy and it was a wonderful to associate with him and enjoy his delightful company.

As a student at Trinity from the early 50s Breck ascended the Rosestrewn path of promise and expectation and achieved distinction in studies winning for himself a sizeable proportion of special prizes on offer each year at Trinity's Prize Giving.

The year 1952 became a memorable year for Breck with the return from England of Hilary Abeyaratne who became our class master. Each one of Hilary Abeyaratne's classes proved to be absolute gems of thought in learning as we sat at his feet and listened to him in admiration.

Celebrities as teachers from Oxford and Cambridge were Rev. John Elliot and Gordon Burrows who taught English Literature and Latin respectively. Of course the unforgettable teacher of mathematics dressed in sherwani was A.M. Sundaramani who left an indelible mark on his students of that year as his expressions and anecdotes both in class and outside was a constant source of amusement in the many mid night chats we had in Ryde House and also figured prominently in our conversations later in life when Breck and I met with Mariks, when the three of us indulged in unstoppable fits of laughter nearly rolling off our seats.

School life to Breck were great and jolly days as it was to us in the boyhoods surrounded by river, lake and mountain.

In the year 1957 when we were both in Colombo for higher studies, Breck as an undergraduate at the science faculty and I for my law studies, Breck would take time off on Saturday mornings to cycle along the various roads in Colombo and as a lover of nature would admire the verdant foliage that adorned the landscape of Colombo and would often say "how happily they grow" very much like his brilliant teacher of Botany the late Bill Sinnatamby who taught botany in the natural habitat.

Proceeding to Canada in 1964 for his Doctorate which he obtained with remarkable ease he returned to Sri Lanka in 1967 to be a lecturer in Zoology. All these years abroad he kept writing to me about various old boys he met and life in Canada. And when I was abroad he urged me to write to him as he said these friendships must be kept where ever we are. Recognising his capabilities as a brilliant teacher of zoology he soon donned the mantle of Professor of Zoology at Peradeniya which post he held till 1998 when he became principal of Trinity College which was a re-investment of the best of Trinity traditions. In his sacrament of service to Trinity as Principal he brought to bear on his work, the highest decree of service to Trinity.

Quite apart from brilliance in the study of science subjects Breck was a lover of music his best loved singer being Frank Sinatra his other favourites being Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong and Nat King Cole. His collection of recorded music is mostly that of Frank Sinatra. He also liked very much the evergreen compositions of Rogers and Hammerstein. (Oklahoma), Learner and lore, Stephen Foster and orchestral music of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. An avid reader W. Somerset Maugham was his favourite author. At an early age he had read most of his short stories and travel books and would often quote his colourful expressions. Having read "on a Chinese Screen" Breck was quite fascinated how the old spirit of China was recaptured in that book. Other books he fancied were "the Moon and six-pence" and "Christmas holiday" Leaving Trinity Breck setup his cozy home amidst the lush green hills of Hantane Forest abundant with flowers and bird life. About three tears ago, I spent a weekend at his Hantane home with Mariks walking in and it was most enjoyable.

His home was fragrant with cheer of friend and stranger alike and his charming wife Chandra was the perfect hostess. Honourable in word and deed and generous to a fault Breck held warm in friendship the many he knew. The best in human nature was often inspired by associating with him.

To his immediate family he was a fount of knowledge and comfort. He was a stead fast and loving husband to Chandra a kind and understanding father to his two daughters now well settled in America. Though he is no more with us, I hope he will be with them in some way as an invisible guide.

"And what does the Lord require of thee" asks the prophet Micah in the Bible in the Old Testament, "to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God".

Worren Ranjitham Breckenridge was such a man.

Good Bye Dear Breck you will always be remembered.

- Ranjan Abeyesekera


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