My elder brother, M. R. Fernando, passed away on 5 May 1995. On his 27th death anniversary, I write this to him tribute because at the time of his death I was living in London. Everyone called him MR.
He missed his university entrance as our father suffered from Typhoid fever. Later ‘MR’ joined the Technical College at St. Sebastian Hill, Maradana, and qualified B.Sc. (Hons) London in Civil Engineering. After he qualified he worked as a lecturer at the same Technical College.
We, three brothers hailed from an engineering background, my father was a Government Civil Engineering Contractor. My elder brother joined the Public Works Department (PWD) as an Assistant Engineer, and his first appointment was in Kandy. The Public Works Department metamorphosed over the years and is known today as the Road Development Authority. At the time of his retirement he was the Director of the Territorial Civil Engineering Organisation. He was a teetotaller and non-smoker. I always admired his qualities and considered him a paragon of virtue.
I was many years his junior, hence, there existed no brotherly bond but respect given to an elder. Later my second brother, MG (Gunapala), allowed me to drive his car to gain confidence when I was a teenager.
MR’s wife was from a wealthy family in Panadura and they had seven children. He climbed the hierarchical promotional ladder from assistant engineer to executive engineer, superintending engineer and regional director and ultimately reached the zenith of his career and became the Director of Highways. He got transferred to every district in the country with family quarters. Consequently, he never concentrated on building a house for his large family. Once he was promoted to the Director’s position and transferred to Colombo H.Q, he realised his mistake of not building a house for the family. However, after negotiating with the Territorial Civil Engineering Organisation, he was allowed to build a house in Stanley Tillakaratne Mawatha, Nugegoda, on the Territorial Civil Engineering Organisation (PWD) site. Subsequently, he built his own house in Maharagama.
As a Member of The Institute of Civil Engineers and a Fellow of The Institute of Engineers Sri Lanka, he contributed immensely to the construction and maintenance of road networks in the island and represented Sri Lanka & overseas. When he was the executive engineer based in Kalutara, Cholomondeley Gunawardena was the Minister of Highways (also lived in Kalutara). Under the Minister’s instruction he carried out the construction of the new ‘three-roads’ across Kalutara town and constructed the new bridge, connecting Kalutara North and South with the facility for pedestrians to walk along the sideway. He was a workaholic when it came to official duties and influenced many young engineers.
Due to extensive pressure from the late R. Premadasa, who was then the Minister of Highways, he had to resign from the Director of Highways position prematurely. He then sought an appointment with the Hong Kong Government as a Highways Consultant. His last project in Sri Lanka was to work with an American Consultant on a feasibility study on the ‘Colombo-Matara’ toll highway (today it is known as the Southern Expressway).
My brother on this occasion went to a private hospital for a general check-up, and was asked to stay back for further tests. Within three days of his admission, he died. I was living in London when the tragedy occurred. My elder niece phoned me that Friday evening and we both cried during the conversation, also because I could not attend my brother’s funeral which was fixed for that Sunday.
Being a weekend, and Monday being a holiday in London, I desperately telephoned Fazel Mohamed, Manager at Sri Lankan Airways in London. He was out at the time, but I left a message in desperation with his wife. Around 22 hrs, Fazel phoned me back and sympathised with me first and said, “Tilak, your seat is confirmed on the Saturday Sri Lankan airways flight to Colombo.” I took the Saturday night flight, after paying the air fare, from Heathrow airport, which landed at Katunayake airport giving me a breathing space to have a glimpse of my beloved brother for the last time on Sunday, before the cortege left for Kanatta
My brother had a noble and generous heart. He never lost touch with the ordinary folk, and he was never on cloud nine with the impression that he was the Director of Highways. His impulse was always to help others, so others’ problems became part of his difficulties. At times his over generosity was misused and exploited by a few. Yet, he bore no grudges, nor did he envy another, an excellent quality he left behind for the rest of us to follow. He never helped others seeking rewards or publicity in return. He did not like to be admired, and everyone associated with him loved his outstanding qualities. The people who loved him showed their appreciation by paying their respects at his residence at Maharagama and at the cemetery at Kanatta, shedding silent tears. He was a fatherly figure to everyone, irrespective of their age or social status. He was never swayed by money, power, or the level of influence in society. He was a simple, unassuming person who always treated others in a kind way. He had a strong character and spoke the truth without hesitation or fear. As one who understood the true meaning of the word love he always advised his seven children to be kind to one another by saying: “When love exists, confusion and disorder vanish, boredom – the great vice melts, inertia dies, disharmony disappears, old wounds will heal leaving no scar tissues, resentments and grudges cease to be important, cheap gossip and tawdry fault-finding wither away, and the suffering of others are shared, and there will be gladness”.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana
Picture Credit: Priantha Fernando