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D R Wijewardene - 125th birth anniversary:

Multi-dimensional personality

The 125th birth anniversary of Don Richard Wijewardene, the founder of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (ANCL) fell on Wednesday (February 23, 2011). To mark this occasion an All-night Pirith Pinkama will be held today (February 26) followed by a Sanghika Dana to the Maha Sangha

D R Wijewardene

It is very often said that “great men whether great social reformers, eminent lawyers, or veteran journalists or even great Judges differ from common man only in one thing. They give life a meaning, a purpose and dedicate themselves to that purpose. They testify to the truth and refuse to compromise whatever the cost”.

The secret of late D R Wijewardene as a powerful newspaper proprietor was due to his high degree of discipline, dedication, devotion, commitment combined with loftiness of his character and versatility of his intellect. Further, no field of human endeavours was left untouched by the swaying amplitude of his imagination, encompassing sweep of his thought, felicity of his words and the indefatigable zeal of his actions. No wonder, he left an indelible impression in most of what he touched with rare dynamism and exemplary zeal.

Noble actions

His greatness was unique. There was a ring of authenticity and nobility of courage and earnestness in whatever he did. Besides, he was of the opinion that noble means, noble ideas and noble actions would certainly have noble consequence convoluted thinking and contorted behaviour would lead to calamitous consequences.

Don Richard Wijewardene

* Founder Associated Newspapers of Ceylon (ANCL)
* Successful entrepreneur
* Established seven newspapers - the Dinamina, Silumina, Daily News, Sunday Observer, Thinakaran and Sunday Thinakaran
* Played major role in independence movement
* Primary education at Sedavatta School
* Secondary education at S Thomas’ College
* Entered Cambridge University for higher education
* Became a Barrister

In fact, he was a great patriot and his devotion to his country was evident in deeds, not in words. He was a patriot in action, not in speech. Indeed, D R Wijewardene was one of Ceylon remarkable personality of the era. The running of a newspaper is more hazardous than any other venture. If it is successful one may derive sufficient wealth and power to influence a country, a nation or a Government. If it fails, the owner will be completely crushed.

Further, D R Wijewardene established seven newspapers - the Dinamina, Silumina, Daily News, Sunday Observer, Thinakaran and Sunday Thinakaran. He trained a generation of gifted journalists to man the newspapers. He organized an able administration and installed printing machinery which could print large number of copies per hour.

Solid foundation

Having, overcome the perils of an arduous journey, he set about to equip his newspaper group known as Lake House or the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon (ANCL) and to establish it as an unshakable foundation. He went to office at 10 o’clock in the morning and would first examine the Financial Section and the Printing Department to ensure that the papers reached the outstations in time before the people woke up.

Undoubtedly, D R Wijewardene was first and last a patriot. It was the love of his country which led him to prepare, as a student in England for his life’s work. It was his realization that the struggle for independence was the one most worthy of a wealthy young man’s energies that guided him to politics. Although, he possessed a strong personality, he had not sufficient confidence in his ability to excel in debate or sway crowds by power of speech. He chose the far more effective method of influencing men by establishing news papers among the best in Asia and published in national languages as well as in English.

Successful business

D R Wijewardene was born at Sedawatte, where his father, the late Muhandiram D P Wijewardene, a wealthy merchant and contractor, lived within each reach of Colombo, where he had a very successful business.

He was educated at S Thomas’ College when Read was Warden and the Rev G A H Arndt was Sub-Warden. From S Thomas’ Wijewardene went to Peterhouse, Cambridge and came in contact with great personalities like Surendranath Banerji, generally known as the silver-tongued orator of Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a member of the Imperial Legislative Council, a Statesman who made great sacrifices in the service of the country. In fact, Wijewardene was very much impressed by Gokhale’s sacrifice for the Independence of India. D R Wijewardene’s friend and mentor during his student life in England was F H M Corbet, an influential Barrister with Ceylon Connections. Furthermore, Wijewardene’s major contribution was the moulding of public opinion through the highly successful newspapers he conducted. This success was due not only to business ability and political knowledge but even in greater measure to a flair for journalism. Although he had never been a reporter or political correspondent, he was always the best news gatherer of his papers.

Though, he rarely put pen to paper, the columnists and the leader writers were inspired and encouraged by his uncanny gift of reading the public mind.

In fact, his interest in journalism was stimulated by daily reading of the London Daily News then edited by A G Gardiner. When he founded a Newspaper himself Wijewardene called it the Ceylon Daily News. In the meantime he owned a half share in a Sinhalese newspapers called the Dinamina published from Norris Road in which Sir Baron Jayatilaka wrote most of the editorials.

Gift of leadership

Wijewardene was a good judge of men and matters. He always had loyal workers, men who were ready to be driven hard because they respected his integrity and devotion to duty. Crowthsa whom he had known in England, joined him in 1919 as Editor of the Daily News and continued in that position.

The partnership was happy and fruitful one and helped to lay in solid foundation. In fact, no man worked hard than Wijewardene himself. D R Wijewardene had the gift of leadership and his was not a public leadership, but one within his small circle of friends, fellow freedom fighters and within the institution he created. He had an uncanny gift of spotting those who could serve both his ideals and his execution of them.

He was a man of exemplary life, an intellectual and a man of business. He was unique in his generation of freedom fighters because he alone had the vision and foresight to ganged the importance of public opinion, formed, led and reflected in a National Press. Undoubtedly, he was a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional personality in the whole history of Sri Lanka’s journalism.



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