Wilhelm Woutersz

Dutch Burgher Union President

BY J. B. Muller
Wilhelm Woutersz, career diplomat, Foreign Service Officer and distinguished member of the Dutch Burgher Community in Sri Lanka passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning, 16th. November 2003 at his residence in Kalubowila, Dehiwela.

He succeeded Ms. Deloraine Brohier to the presidency of the Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon and was in a long line of distinguished and eminent members of the Dutch Burgher Community who occupied that office from the time of the Founder, R. G. Anthonisz in 1908.

Thelmuth Harris Wilhelm Woutersz had been Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Italy and the Holy See since 1999 and was concurrently ambassador to Greece and high commissioner to Cyprus and Malta. He had just completed his tour of duty prior to retirement when he was suddenly struck down by a stroke. He had also been Sri Lanka’s accredited permanent representative to the UN’s Food and agriculture Organization [FAO], the World Food Programme [WFP], and the International Fund for Agricultural Development [IFAD], all three organizations based in Rome. He had also served as the chairman of the Group of 77 [G77] Conference as chairman of the Rome Chapter from 1999 to 2002 and as deputy leader of the Sri Lanka delegation to the World Food summit in Rome in 2002 led by Her Excellency the President.

He was a distinguished Old Boy of Royal College and graduated from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in 1961 reading English Literature, western Classics and European History. He was for a short while thereafter on the tutorial staff of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia before joining the Sri Lanka Administrative Service in 1962. In 1965 he joined the prestigious Sri Lanka Foreign Service and served in India, Germany, Pakistan and Bangladesh before being appointed ambassador to Yugoslavia (1986-1991) where he was also the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. He served as ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (1993-1997) with concurrent accreditation as ambassador to Mongolia and North Korea.

In Sri Lanka at the Foreign Ministry he has held the posts of director of various divisions, Director General and as Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 1999.

Born 19th. July 1939 he was married to Desiree Frederica Rita Hills and lived in Dehiwela.

As the new president of the DBU elected in 2003, Wilhelm planned to give his time and considerable skills to the accelerated development and rehabilitation of the Dutch Burgher community with particular emphasis on education, professional development and vocational training as a tried and tested strategy to roll back the poverty and marginalization afflicting some sections of the Community. He also backed an initiative to train a pool of competent English trainers who would be deployed countrywide to teach English in schools. After his recent election as President he looked for ways and means of developing, enhancing and sustaining the Dutch Burgher contribution to building ethnic harmony and national unity.

Wilhelm Woutersz, it is recalled, said in his inaugural speech that he was proud to be a member of the DBU. He said that he owed it much because he became what he was due to the generosity of the DBU in supporting his entire university education at Peradeniya. Retiring as he was after four decades of serving his Motherland, he wanted to devote most of his time to building on the foundations laid by his distinguished and eminent predecessors. He certainly possessed the expertise and finely honed diplomatic skills to accomplish his agenda.

Wilhelm Woutersz stood firmly for the unity and solidarity of ALL Burghers and looked towards making the Burghers a strong and vibrant part of the unique Sri Lankan mosaic, contributing of their many and varied skills and talents. He strongly believed that this miniscule community of less than 40 thousand souls could and would play a tremendously significant part in creating a ‘Land flowing with Milk and Honey’ because they were, to him, ‘the leaven in the loaf’ and ‘the spice in the rice’ that made Sri Lanka such a wonderful country to live in.

Wilhelm, to those of us who knew him personally, was a true Burgher: Light-hearted, humourous, gracious, helpful, courteous and just plain nice. He was comfortable to be around. He also had a prodigious memory. He met me in 1973 when he arranged for a meeting between the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and myself to discuss a programme to rehabilitate young people caught up in the 1971 insurgency. Meeting three decades later at the DBU he said: ""Ah, yes, I remember you. You were the chap I introduced to Mrs. B. I gave you ten minutes and you talked with her for over one hour. She told me after you had gone that she wished there were more young men like you whom she could trust. I asked her why and she had said: "That Burgher lad just told me the truth about a great many things. He wasn’t worried, wasn’t anxious, just said it all from his heart." And, then Wilhelm said: "Are you still like that?""

Indeed, our loss is great as we mourn his passing away.

May the perfect peace that passes all understanding be with him until that great and terrible Day of the LORD comes.