A Politician and a Gentleman
Don Samuel (D.S.) Goonesekera, former Minister of Labour and Member
of Parliament for Udugama and Habaraduwa was one of the founder members
of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which was established by S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike in 1951. He was the person who was entrusted with the task
of handing over to Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake the proposals agreed
upon during the Sinhala Mahasabha Meeting in Madampe in 1951.
When the Working Committee of the United National Party rejected the
Madampe proposals, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the chairman of the Sinhala
Mahasabha, decided to leave the UNP. Several parliamentarians, including
D.A. Rajapaksa, Herbert Sri Nissanka and D. S. Goonesekera, followed
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike when he crossed the floor of the House to the
Opposition benches on July 12, 1951. D.S. Goonasekare was considered a
politician of highest integrity and he passed away on August 7, 1983 at
the age of 87. To learn more about the life and times of a politician of
a bygone era, Reminiscences met with Dr. Tilak Goonesekera, his eldest
son (Dr. Tilak is an Eye Surgeon and he was the President of the GMOA in
D. S. Goonesekera
D.S. Goonesekera was born on November 13, 1896 in Habaraduwa. His
primary education was at Dharmika School in Katukurunda, Habaraduwa, and
for his post-primary education, he joined Mahinda College, Galle, when
the famous theosophist F. L. Woodward was the Principal. He started his
career as a Licensed Surveyor, and while visiting the remote villages,
his interest turned towards the poor villagers. He was a very generous
person and when poor people sought his assistance, he surveyed their
lands without a fee and appeared for partition cases.
He first got into politics by becoming the chairman of the Kodagoda
Village Council in 1927, and he held this post uncontested for a long
period. In 1939, he contested the Main Street Ward of the Galle
Municipal Council and became a Municipal Counsellor, and later he was
elected as the mayor of Galle in 1944. In 1947, he became a member of
Sri Lanka’s first Parliament representing Udugama electorate which
stretched from Benthara-Elpitiya to Hiniduma.
D.S.G. lost the Udugama seat at the 1952 election due to the change
of party from the UNP to the SLFP. In fact, out of the eight
parliamentarians who contested under the SLFP, only S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike from Attanagalla and D.A. Rajapaksa from Beliatta were able
to retain their seats. However, all of them returned to Parliament at
the 1956 general election. In 1956, he was elected to Parliament as the
Member of Parliament for Habaraduwa. He served as Parliamentary
Secretary (Deputy Minister) for Trade and Commerce during Mr.
Bandaranaike’s period. During Mrs. Bandaranaike’s regime, he was
appointed the Minister of Labour, Cultural Affairs and Social Services.
Different political culture
D.S.G. hailed from an affluent family and was the only son of Don
Marthelis Goonesekera and Dona Clare Abeygoonewardena of Galle. He had
two sisters in his family. He inherited a considerable amount of
property as his father was a very wealthy landowner. He got married in
1927 to Nandawathie Victoria Wickremasinghe from Borelle Walauwa in
Kirinda, Puhulwella. Her family too had rubber and coconut estates.
Thanks to his family wealth, D.S.G. did not have to worry about money.
However, he sacrificed a lot of his family wealth in the course of
doing politics. He spent money not only for his own political campaigns
but also to help other politicians in his party. “What existed at that
time was a different political culture. They did politics for prestige
or out of sheer conviction. They did not make money out of politics. My
father was not an exception. There were several others who sacrificed
their personal wealth for the sake of doing politics. They did not
consider it as a sacrifice or an unusual thing.”
He was a politician with a lot of humane qualities.
He was very concerned about the education of the villagers. He
donated land and with his own money, he built five schools, one such was
the Badepita Junior School. At the beginning the teachers were paid by
him until the schools were handed over to the government.
His car was always available to bring poor patients from remote areas
in his electorate to the hospital, and he took upon himself to inquire
about their health conditions. Many government offices were located in
the Galle Fort. Since his house was also in the Galle Fort, villagers
who had to visit these places would invariably come to his home for a
cup of tea or a meal or for lodging.
His house practically became an 'open restaurant.' When he became the
Minister of Social Services, he started Milk Feeding Centres in all
local government areas so that the malnourished mothers and babies would
get free milk daily.
Philanthropy was a quality and a trait that he inherited from his own
parents. Dharmika School in Katukurunda which D.S.G. attended for his
primary education, was a school founded by his father with the support
of a few others in the area. His mother was a very generous social
worker and she even helped villagers to establish their own cottage
industries like lace making.
D.S.G. was a teetotaler and became a member of the Temperance
Movement. Being a vegetarian himself, he supported the 'Eat No Beef'
campaign in the 1930s inspired by Anagarika Dharmapala. He was also a
devout Buddhist and served as the president of the YMBA, Galle, for 30
One day D.S.G. was travelling first class by train from Galle to
Colombo. When a ticket collector got into the compartment and checked
his tickets, he could not find his rail pass with him. So he was asked
to pay a fine which he did without a fuss.
What had really happened was that his son was travelling in the third
class with his bag where he had kept his rail pass but he had completely
forgotten about it. The interesting thing is that even a minister had to
pay a fine at that time if he committed an offence.
None of D.S. Goonesekera’s children wanted to do politics but they
became successful professionals in other fields (five doctors, three
teachers, an engineer and a lawyer).
However, they still consider their father a role model for them,
particularly his personal characteristics such as honesty and personal
integrity. He was indeed a politician and a gentleman.