Gentleman par excellence
The 31st death anniversary of William
Gopallawa the first President of the Republic of Sri Lanka falls today
William Gopallawa was born on September 17, 1897 at Dullewa Maha
Walauwa, in Dullewa Village, Asgiri Udasiyapattuwa in Matale district.
His mother was Tikiri Kumarihamy Dullewa from Dullewa Village and Tikiri
Bandara Gopallawa, his loving father was from Gokerella in Kurunegala
district. When little William was only three years old, he lost his
Young William had his early education at Dullewa village and later at
Getambe, St John's College, Kandy. In 1909, he entered Dharmaraja
College, Kandy and later continued his education at St Anthony's College
Katugastota. Having passed his Cambridge Senior he joined, Matale
Buddhist School (now named Vijaya College) as an assistant teacher in
1917. He took the initiative to organize the first boys’ scout platoon
at Vijaya College and started the first library in the school.
In 1920, he joined the Ceylon Law College and qualified as a lawyer
in 1924. He entered local politics, contesting Matale Urban Council in
1926 and was elected as the youngest chairman of Urban Councils in the
island and served the people of Matale town for 13 years till 1939.
William Gopallawa got married to Seelawathie Rambukwella on March 8,
1928. They were blessed with two sons and two daughters, named Iranganie,
Asoka, Chintha and Monty (Late Governor of Central Province). Gopallawa
joined local government administration and was appointed first Municipal
Commissioner, Kandy in 1939 and from 1951 to 1957 the Municipal
In recognition of his services late S W R D Bandaranaike appointed
him as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the Republic of China, it was very
significant as Sri Lanka had just established diplomatic relations with
socialist countries. Sirimavo Bandaranaike appointed Gopallawa as Sri
Lanka’s ambassador to the United States, Cuba and Maxico in 1961. The
greatest achievement of his career was his appointment as the Governor -
General of Ceylon on March 2, 1962. Gopallawa had the distinction of
being the first Buddhist and the second Ceylonese Governor - General.
When National State Assembly promulgated the first Republican
Constitution in 1972, he became the first President of the Republic of
Sri Lanka and served the country till 1978.
As the first Buddhist Governor - General he introduced the Buddhist
religious, cultural and traditional customs and values to the
President's House after many centuries. Even his dress, he wore, the Sri
Lankan white national dress. He never wore the colonial white hat and
the white-tunic which his predecessors used to wear. He opened the doors
of the President's House to the public, and the ordinary villagers from
remote villages used to visit their loving Head of State any time of the
Religious and cultural activities
President Gopallawa was truly a great Buddhist who diligently
practised ‘Meththa’, ‘Muditha’, ‘Karuna’ and ‘Upekka’ and was a
gentleman par excellence, who knew no political, social or religious
barriers in his public or private life. He used to say, many times, that
his education and upbringing at Dharmaraja College, Kandy made him truly
religious and cultured person. Apart from being engaged in activities of
Boys’ scout in school, he took keen interest in dramas and acted as Sri
Wickrama Rajasinghe in the school drama which was staged at Dharmaraja
College. He was very much interested in radio dramas and listened to
‘Muwan Pelessa’ and ‘Monara Tenna’ his favourite prgrammes and never
missed a single episode, Monty Gopallawa my good friend told me.
His outstanding trait was his composure which reflected in his
character of good will and kindness to all around him with a generous
smile and a kind word. He had no difficulties whatsoever when dealing
with persons of religious, ethnic or political groups. Gopallawa used to
have lunch with Prime Minister Dudly Senanayake every Wednesday at
President's House and used to discuss the problems of the country in a
very friendly and cordial manner.
His outsanding religious and cultural activity was the installation
of the first ‘Ran Weta’ around Sri Maha Bhodiya in Anuradhapura in 1969.
He was also very much interested in social service. Differences based on
race, caste or creed did not exist in him. This innocent villager from a
far off village in Dullewa, Matale fulfilled his obligations towards his
motherland and without any fear or favour. Sirimavo Bandaranaike writing
an article to the William Gopallawa centenary volume (1897-1997) said
that “I have been a beneficiary of mature guidence, good advice of Mr
Gopallawa in his capacity as ambassador, Governor-General and the
President of the country. His vision was broad and his thinking was
always full of compassion and vigiteousness. He was guided by the
thoughts of the Buddha, he never had a partisan outlook in any issue of
national importance. As the Prime Minister I had many dealings with him
on a variety of issues, and I found him to be the elder statesman I
could look up to and obtain guidance”. (Pages 13-14)
Gopallawa spent his retirement at his family residence at Dharmapala
Mawatha, Matale, and used to walk around Matale town and village around
the town dressed in a white bush-shirt and a pair of white trousers with
a walking-stick without any security guards around him.
He used to visit his friends, relations and the ordinary people of
far off villages and also temples, kovils, churches and mosques when
Former President William Gopallawa was made a member of the British
Empire by Queen Elizabeth the IInd (MBE). He was accorded LLD University
of Ceylon (Peradeniya) in 1962. LLD Vidyalankara University in 1962 and
D Litt. Vidyodaya university in 1962. He was a keen follower of scouting
and also functioned as chief scout of Sri Lanka during his tenure as
Head of State.
William Gopallawa passed away on January 30, 1981 at the age of 83
years. According to his wishes his eyes were donated to two needy dones
of Sri Lanka Eye Donation Society. His funeral was held in Matale town
and ashes were interred at the family burial grounds in Dullewa village.
Madam Gopallawa had predeceased him on October 4, 1977, her eyes too
were donated and ashes were also interred at the family burial grounds
in Dullewa village.
Although 31 years have passed since you left us, we all still
remember you with great honour, love and respect. May you attain the
Supreme Bliss of Nibbana, towards which you practised in your life!