14th death anniversary of Prof. Stanley Wijesundera
It is almost an impossible task to pay an adequate tribute to the memory of the late Professor Stanley Wijesundera who strode the scene of university education in Sri Lanka like a colossus for at least a decade in the eighties. However, the indelible impression he has made enables one to refer to at least a few of his valuable contributions even in a short article such as this.
Following upon a brilliant school and university career studded with academic and professional distinctions, including a First Class Honours degree in Chemistry, he joined the university system in 1947 as a member of the staff of the Department of Biochemistry in the Faculty of Medicine. He rose speedily within the Department to secure appointments as Head of Department in March 1978 and as Professor of Biochemistry five months later.
It was the good fortune of the University of Colombo that Professor Stanley Wijesundera was appointed its Vice Chancellor in 1979. Twice reappointed to this post, Professor Wijesundera was able to guide the destinies of the infant university for an unbroken decade, conferring on it an identity very much in line with his own personality, values and convictions, so much so that at the end of his stewardship it was exceedingly difficult to distinguish the personality from the institution.
From the very beginning Professor Wijesundera resolutely guided the development of the University of Colombo on a planned path enabling it to blossom as the premier metropolitan university in the country. He rebuilt the physical foundation of the University by the construction of a number of new buildings and by the improvement of existing facilities. The whole physical appearance of the University of Colombo today stands as a solid monument to his sound thinking. He attached the greatest importance to the academic and professional development of the teaching staff who would then be able to offer a wide variety of courses catering to national requirements. He actively encouraged staff research, and the commencement of the University of Colombo Review provided the staff with a convenient forum for the publication of the results of their research.
The institutional links that he successfully established with a number of prestigious institutions of higher learning all over the world helped to revitalise and strengthen the academic programmes of the University in a wide variety of disciplines. He recognised the obligation of the University to meet the countrys needs in the area of continuing education, including opportunities for those in employment to improve their prospects in life. The large number of extension programmes which were organised towards this end under his direction has added a new dimension to the academic life of the University.
Professor Wijesundera adopted a number of prudent measures in order to sustain the rapid and planned development of the University such as reinforcement of the infrastructure, streamlining of its decision making procedures, invigoration of its component organs and the upgrading of welfare and counselling programmes. After a lifetime of industry and dedication he left the University in a strong enough position to face with confidence the challenges of the future.
The mantle of leadership fell upon his shoulders in what ever organisation he happened to belong to. He was elected the first Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Directors, and in this role he was able to make an important contribution to the development of university education in Sri Lanka. He played a crucial part in the Commonwealth University system, leading to his being elected Chairman of the Association of Commonwealth Universities in 1983 1984.
Finally he was honoured by the conferment of the coveted Symons Award for distinguished service rendered in the context of the Commonwealth University system.
This tribute will not be complete without even a very brief reference to his sterling qualities which accounted for his unique achievements. With his magnanimous attributes devoid of all that was small and unworthy, he could rise above triviality and rancour and handle people and situations retaining poise and balance in the most trying circumstances.
He was a living embodiment of the rare qualities of leadership including loyalty to ones colleagues, fidelity to ones word, consistency of purpose humanity and compassion.
On the first anniversary of the sad and untimely passing away of Professor Stanley Wijesundera the University of Colombo and I personally salute his memory. His historic contribution to the development of the University of Colombo shall forever be enshrined in our hearts.
Prof. Peiris was the Vice Chancellor of the Colombo University when he wrote this article on March 1990.
It is hard to believe that 14 years have passed since the tragic death of Professor Stanley Wijesundera and we can only reflect on and remember his life and work with a sense of nostalgia. Much has been said of his achievements and accomplishments both before and after his demise, by both the highest and lowest in the land and it would not befit him to make those tributes into cliches now.
I would only therefore comment on what has taken place after his departure to bear witness to his aspirations and hopes of both his public and personal life. His public life though encompassing the entire University milieu in the country was certainly centered in his own University! the University of Colombo and it is there that the fruits of his labour can be seen, nurtured and protected by worthy successors.
The development of the University of Colombo since his assuming office in. 1978 is legendary. The infrastructure has grown and developed beyond recognition from old wartime buildings to modern complexes, from stereotyped academic courses and obsolete administrative procedures to dynamic and efficient systems that are now in place. To name a few of the obvious improvements brought about it would be enough to mention the massive building schemes begun and completed both during and after his lifetime. For instance the new administration building adjoining College House that stretched out a cramped and cooped up administration. Hopefully, this building or any other would someday be named after him. Then there is the Law Faculty Complex, the new Chemistry and Physics buildings, the Institute of Computer Technology (ICT), the Student Centre and several service centres that were made possible by his efforts. It is good to see that the new Arts building is also complete now. This and the new Library Building for the University was something he was trying hard to achieve during his third term of office but which was not to be. Thankfully they are now complete and bear silent testimony to his untiring efforts.
In his personal life too, it is good to see his children all-in turn fulfilling his aspirations for them. Though born with silver spoons in their mouths they have all achieved their goals by their own hard efforts and the strong support and guidance of their mother.
If, and I repeat if, the University has achieved the stature
of a dynamic and vibrant academic institution and is serving not only the metropolis but
the country itself as a Centre of Excellence and his aspirations both in public and
private life have been fulfilled, then it could be said that Professor Wijesundera has not
died in vain.