J. Willie Aiyadurai (Dec.1909-Jan. 1998):
An Appreciation on his 100th Birth Anniversary
When I think of my dad on this day the 100th anniversary of his birthday, many vivid memories come into my mind. I remember most of all his great sense of humor when he was with people. He was the convivial raconteur par excellence. He regaled us with stories of his school days at Trinity College, Kandy, where he excelled in cricket (won his Trinity Lion and captained in 1928 and 1929), in rugby (won his colors) and in college athletics, and served as head prefect. But the best school stories were about his antics when boarding at Napier House at Trinity, where he caused flutters by his penchant for pranks that left his dorm mates (some of whom were co-conspirators) laughing even decades later.
Many of these antics are recounted in his article that appeared in the Ceylon Observer July 30, 1995. I am happy that they were published, for the sake of my own three sons who were growing up physically distant from their grandpa when I chose to live permanently in Canada in 1974. No one could help but feel at ease in dad’s presence because of his wit and genuinely affable manner. He taught me that friendliness begets friendliness and that genuine interest in a neighbor invites reciprocal interest. The friends he made remained his friends for life.
I also remember him for his writing talents that had taken him into journalism when he left school. In my growing years in Sri Lanka, the Ceylon Observer, Times of Ceylon and Sunday Observer were the platforms for his story telling. I remember especially the weekly serials on his unique street characters like Pasthol Moosa or the king of beggarland that put smiles on our faces. Early in his journalistic career he had shown a knack for poetry in the several years that he courted his "Princess Golden Heart," my Mom, via the columns of the Times and Observer using the pen name Wilver Arden. And the clippings of these poems filled a locked cabinet in his bedroom as I discovered one day.
Then there was his fine poetic piece "The Kandyan Love Song" that he dedicated to Mom (and to "Romance that sweetlier grows with Time") which was set to music by Alesandra Castilleno. Ruth, my wife enjoys playing it today on the piano. And in those courtship years before their marriage, he systematically showered Mom with beautifully bound classics of English Literature which filled the bookcases of our home in Schofield Place, Kollupitiya, and which I avidly read in my teenage years. Each book was inscribed in his bold hand on the inside cover "To Princess Golden Heart from Prince G.H"; those initials my Mom told me stood for "Great Heart". He was a prince of a man to her.
Their long romance was the prelude to a solid and happy marriage. A related memory is a family home constantly open to a steady stream of friends, relatives and even former domestic servants who tasted of my parents’ warm hospitality whenever they dropped in to visit. It must also be said that my Dad who was openly given to joviality had a manly reserve to openly showing grief. The prime example was when Mom died suddenly following complicated surgery for a bad hip fracture in April 1983. My brother-in-law, Hubert Aloysius, told me of Dad spending many a moment, several times inside the home bathroom, shedding tears for her during that fateful time.
Today, I keep and re-read his letters to me and to my children written in their early primary and secondary school years in Canada before he passed away in 1998. All his letters were hugely positive and inspiring. He encouraged my children on to self-accomplishment and to having good character qualities, a reflection of his own mould formed during his school days at Trinity College. So also were his letters to me encouraging me to complete my graduate studies and later to move on in life when I decided to settle permanently in Canada.
Looking back, although in my early teen years I did not follow in his large footprints and show prowess in sports at school (for which I was teased at Royal College by teachers who knew my dad), I still feel I have many bits of him in me— especially the importance of being positive and resilient, of cultivating good friendships, of having a sense of humor and the gift of community with anybody you meet. I do also keenly follow the game of cricket which he played and was an ardent lover of; his enthusiastic interest affected me in my growing years as we discussed matches and players together.
It was super having him as my dad and I love him always for the wonderful memories he has left me.
Victoria BC, Canada