Sacred to the memory of Canon

R. S. De Saram
by T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka
(Member, Royal College Class of 1949)
Canon R. S. De Saram, Warden of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia from 1932-1958 was truly a Colossus who was in our midst. Besides being Warden of S. Thomas’ for over quarter of a century, he was an educationist par excellence whose fame spread well beyond the portals of his Alma Mater which he loved so dearly. He was venerated not only by S. Thomas’ College but also by Royal College. Definitive proof of that was, when his earthly life was slowly but surely ebbing away in 1986, a distinguished delegation from the Royal College Old Boys Union approached his family and sought the honour of carrying his casket at his funeral. His daughter Wendy was so touched that she said her father was slipping in and out of consciousness and to please wait till he regained consciousness. When he did, our delegation obtained such permission from the Warden himself. In the annals of history of Royal College never have we honoured anybody from another school in this manner.

Reginald Steuart De Saram was born in 1898 and was admitted to S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal in 1904. At S. Thomas’ he epitomised the concept of mens sana in corpora sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body). He was a good student, played in the Royal-Thomian Cricket Matches from 1915 to 1917, captained the Football team, won his colours in Boxing and had a natural flair for leadership. Besides he was a devout Christian who at a young age showed an inclination towards the priesthood. All these attributes resulted in his admission to Keble College in Oxford University, a time honoured nursery for priests. There he read for a degree in Classics, earned his Blue in Boxing and indicated his desire to take The Holy Orders. He was duly ordained a deacon at Cuddesdon Theological College in Oxford in 1924 and ordained a priest in 1925. Thereafter he returned to the land of his birth with his bride. In 1926 he was appointed Sub-Warden of his Alma Mater, Acting Warden in 1930 and Warden in 1932. He was the first Ceylonese to be so honoured in all those appointments.

The outstanding features of Warden R. S. De Saram were strong leadership and an even stronger concept of discipline which cannot conceivably be enforced in this day and age. Besides his leadership was a one-man rule, the exact opposite of what Royal College was during that period of time. As a Christian priest he perceived that any talent a mortal had was endowed by The Maker. As Warden he looked upon it as his sacred duty to develop such talent to its full potential. However such development had to be done within specific parameters. According to us at Royal, the hallmark of a Thomian is firstly being a gentleman in the true sense of the word. Indeed S. Thomas’ has produced such refined gentlemen year in and year out since 1851. Warden De Saram ensured that in a fast changing world, those cherished concepts remained intact at S. Thomas’. Warden De Saram also ensured that S. Thomas’ retained its identity as a Christian school but simultaneously welcomed boys who were Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. The Warden showed the highest respect to those great religions and ensured that none of such boys were induced to become Christians. If anybody did become a Christian, it was during adult life and that too due to personal conviction.

According to us at Royal, being humble in victory and gracious in defeat is part and parcel of being a Thomian. That characteristic feature of S. Thomas’ was enhanced in the era of Warden De Saram. To quote just one example, at the Royal-Thomian Cricket Match of 1946, Royal was winning easily but it was a matter of opinion whether a victory for Royal or the rain will come first. The light was fading fast and the lights in the pavilion at the SSC were at full intensity. In the meantime with the drinks, and with new gloves which were mysteriously sent periodically, the Warden himself sent instructions to the batsmen not to appeal for bad light. According to Ronnie Weerakoon, now Chairman of the Tea Board and earlier Ambassador to Egypt, he could barely see the bowler let alone see the ball, while he was batting. Royal won by 84 runs. It was basically an example of well done Royal, well played S. Thomas’.

The De Saram era produced so many star sportsmen in the Ceylon teams. They included W. W. Tambimuttu (Athletics), Donald Fairweather (Cricket), R. B. Wijesinha (Cricket), H. M. P. Perera (Athletics), V. G. Prins (Cricket), Oscar Wijesinghe (Athletics), Douglas Arndt (Swimming), C. T. A. Schafter (Cricket and Hockey), P. I. Peiris (Cricket), Ranjit Sri Nissanka (Swimming, Water Polo and Rugby), Rupert Ferdinands (Tennis), Michael Tissera (Cricket), D. D. N. Selvadurai (Tennis), B. G. Reid (Cricket and Table Tennis) and Neil Chanmugam (Cricket). They excelled in their respective sports. They excelled even more as sportsmen both on and off the field.

According to Warden De Saram the biggest difference between Royal and S. Thomas’ was that in any given year over 50% of those leaving Royal after completion of their studies gained admission to Universities, whereas at S. Thomas’ the corresponding figure was never in excess of 25%. Nevertheless the De Saram era produced scholars in every conceivable discipline. In the traditional disciplines such as the Classics, English History, Mathematics and the Sciences, Thomian scholars excelled periodically. However few know that S. Thomas’ also produced scholars in the Oriental languages. For example, Professor Ediriweera Sarathchandra, Professor of Sinhala at the University of Ceylon and the producer of the famed ballet Maname, was a distinguished product of the De Saram era. He was at S. Thomas’ under the name E. R. S. De Silva. Bernard Tilakaratna, later a Foreign Secretary, was also a scholar in Sinhala. Once Sinhala became a popular subject at S. Thomas’ Warden De Saram introduced classical Sinhala, known as hela bhasa, into the curriculum.

Despite his natural inclination towards a one-man rule, Warden De Saram had the wisdom to realise that he needed good staff to support him. He regularly sought the advice of Dr. R. L. Hayman, his Sub-Warden, and through the good offices of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in London he obtained the services of dedicated British teachers. They included the Reverend (later Canon) A. J. Foster, J. G. Elliot (later the Reverend) and W. T. Keble, all fresh from Oxford. Simultaneously he exhorted his Ceylonese staff to treat teaching not merely as a livelihood but as a calling. He himself was a supreme example of such dedication. Accordingly, the Roll of Honour at S. Thomas’ for those who taught for more than twenty five years has a record number from the De Saram era. In alphabetical order they were S. J. Anandanayagam (later a Warden), Mrs. Ruth Anthonisz, Mrs. C. M. Bandaratilleke, Miss A. E. Bay, the Revd. A. J. Barnabus, V. P. Cooke, D. F. David, C. H. Davidson (later a Warden), B. C. D’Silva, O. P. Gunaratne, Mrs. Dora Jansz., Harold Jansz, H. P. Jansz, B. E. W. Jehoratnam, J. H. S. Peiris, E. L. Perera, C. B. Paulickpulle, J. P. Manickasingham (a classmate of the Warden), W. I. Muttiah, A. J. Schafter, C. S. Weerasinghe and C. R. Wise. The parable of the lost sheep, as enunciated by Jesus Christ himself, was part and parcel of the thinking of Warden De Saram. As such he was horrified by the tradition of Royal College of rigorously implementing our motto Disce Aut Discede (Learn or Depart!)

We from Royal complain that Thomian grit was the cause, whenever a Royal-Thomian Cricket Match which we should have won was mysteriously lost or drawn. For example in 1944 S. Thomas’ were struggling at 80 for 9 when K. L. M. Perera, a recognised batsman, was joined by S. Elapata, the last man. The pair put on 114 runs for the last wicket and lo and behold Royal lost that Match! Such Thomian grit was displayed in other fields of human endeavour too. For example in 1942 and 1943 when S. Thomas’ had their buildings requisitioned to accommodate British combat troops, the school produced her best results ever in gaining admission to the University of Ceylon, then our only seat of higher learning. A battery of Thomian scholars led by Ronnie De Mel, F. S. C. P. Kalpage and P. P. G. L. Siriwardene and well supported by T. F. K. Abeysekera, C. C. T. Fernando, C. Q. C. Fernando, Ivor Ferdinands, A. M. Mendis, W. Thillekeratne and C. Viswasam excelled in their studies. The annals of history of the University of Ceylon record that Ronnie De Mel obtained not only a brilliant First in History but obtained thirteen A’s in the thirteen papers he sat. In 1947 he easily won the English University scholarship and proceeded to Cambridge University for post graduate work. In 1948 he was placed first in the Ceylon Civil Service examination. F. S. C. P. Kalpage somehow missed his First in Chemistry but did a splendid doctoral thesis at London University in Soil Chemistry. He later became Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at the University of Ceylon, Professor of Agriculture at the University of Malaysia and Chairman of the University Grants Commission, which is the apex of our University system. P. P. G. L. Siriwardena also somehow missed a First in Chemistry. His doctoral thesis at Cambridge University on Metallurgy was so good that they were reluctant to allow him to leave. Morefully he returned to lecture at the University of Ceylon where his golden brain and heart of gold made him an invaluable asset. Not surprisingly he became the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Lanka with seven campuses throughout our nation.

Warden De Saram placed much importance on the concept of mens sana in corpora sano but he was too humble a man to give the impression that he personified that concept both at S. Thomas’ and at Oxford. He was delighted when W. A. Wijesinha who had a match bag of ten wickets in the Royal-Thomian Cricket Match of 1933, scored a century in the Match of 1934, entered the Colombo University College on an exhibition, when S. J. Thambiah who captained the Cricket team in 1948 and was also the Head Prefect went on to take a First in Sociology and P. T. Shantikumar who captained the same team in 1949 came first in the Ceylon Civil Service examination. Bradman Weerakoon who played Cricket under them also joined the then prestigious Ceylon Civil Service and of him it is now said Prime Ministers come and Prime Ministers go but Bradman Weerakoon goes on forever! However, Warden De Saram publicly acknowledged at the Centenary celebrations of 1951 that Manickam Saravanamuttu of the Stone era was the finest all round product of S. Thomas’ in her first hundred years.

Warden De Saram was indeed a courageous man who stood up for what he thought was right. He thought poorly of a famous demagogue from S. Thomas’ College and thought likewise of a famous demagogue from Royal College, both of whom advocated Sinhala Only and consequently reached the pinnacle of power in our nation. He publicly opposed their disastrous policy of Sinhala Only. In death Warden De Saram has been vindicated in that the Sinhala Only policy is now accepted as being one of the root causes of our Civil War. Indeed Warden De Saram showed that same courage, during the ugly racial riots of 1958, when he saw a mob of Sinhalese hooligans down Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia about to lynch a victim who was calling for help in Tamil. The Warden stopped his car, exhibited his skill in boxing and rescued the poor victim with great peril to himself. He was bleeding and his cassock was torn asunder when he left the scene escorting the helpless victim to safety. Such was the measure of this great man.

Warden De Saram never sought honours; instead honours sought Warden De Saram. In 1947 when Bishop Douglas Horsley, Bishop of Colombo in the Church of Ceylon, retired prematurely, the Church offered the vacancy to The Reverend Canon De Saram. He declined that honour to serve his beloved Alma Mater. In 1949 Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake appointed him to the National Education Commission. In 1950 he was awarded the OBE for his service to education. In 1955 Professor Nicholas Attygalle, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, invited him to join the Board of Residence and Discipline, of that seat of learning. In that capacity he was a frequent visitor to the University of Ceylon. Those visits could be looked upon with a mixture of amazement and amusement. Undergraduates from S. Thomas’ were amazed that we undergraduates from Royal indulged in animated conversation with their Warden. We from Royal were amused that undergraduates from S. Thomas’ trembled with fear at the sight of their Warden! Some even burnt their palms in hiding the cigarettes they were smoking!!

The question now arises, who produced this great and good man Warden Reginald Steuart De Saram? The answer is simple, it was S. Thomas’ itself. For having produced such a distinguished son of Lanka, we at Royal can honestly say:

Well done S. Thomas’

Esto Perpetua