Sam P.C. Fernando was born on 18th January 1909 - 95 years to the date in 2004. Bar-at-law (Gray’s Inn), Senator, Minister, Ambassador, in public life and ardent church worker, Diocesan Councillor, Standing Committee member, Diocesan Treasurer and member of many committees in the Anglican Diocese, he took them all in his stride and did well in whatever he was chosen to do.
A product of Prince of Wales’ College, Moratuwa, St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, University College, Colombo - he was a leading lawyer. In the late 1950’s, he migrated from Moratuwa to Colombo and was much sought after for cases even outstation. A man of unimpeachable integrity, he fought indefatigably for any cause he espoused and for his clients. He appeared in many cases in which public interest was evinced at the time, such as the turf club case, the ‘Yakadaya’ case and the generator export (opium) case, to name a few. He was junior counsel to D.N. Pritt QC in the famous Jomo Kenyata case at the Privy Council.
A fluent and flowery speaker, he excelled in the art of repartee even in courts. Master of the spoken and written word, proud of his heritage, he walked with kings and still maintained the common touch. A host par excellence, he had a large circle of friends.
He cut his political teeth in local politics at the Moratuwa Urban Council as a member nominated by the then Minister of Local Government, the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. He was appointed a Senator by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and sworn in as the Minister of Justice in her Cabinet in 1960. He represented her at the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s conference in London the same year. Felix Dias Bandaranaike in Parliament and Sam P.C. Fernando in the Senate were two formidable personalities who steered government business through in difficult times of the new government in the bi-cameral legislature.
As Minister of Justice, he was saddled, inter alia, with onerous tasks relating to the late prime minister’s assassination case, the implementation of the language policy, the initial work on the Press Bill and some of the legislative work connected with the 1962 coup. In addition, he played an important and significant role in the conduct of the prestigious Non-Aligned Conference. He performed all this with great aplomb. Pettiness and jealousy did strive to put him down but he stood tall in the multi-faceted areas he dealt with.
Although education was not one of his subjects, he played no mean part together with the then Governor General, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, to settle the serious and sensitive dispute with the Roman Catholic Church on the schools take-over, through the good offices of Cardinal Gracias of India. His contribution to that debate in the Senate has much relevance and has proved prophetic today in the context of the veritable mess in education and the proliferation of companies and other entities clouding and dismembering the free-education policy.
To quote Senator Sam P. C. Fernando, Minister of Justice - " I wish to say that the education of every child in this Island, whether Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu, is not a matter that is of supreme indifference to the government." If parents have to pay fees even if they choose to do so, it is not a matter of indifference to this government. It should certainly be a matter, which should strike at the conscience of the government, if parents are driven to it." (Senate Hansard of 15.11.60).
Indeed as minister owing allegiance to the country and the government he served, he had his share of personal contradictions which he faced with a high degree of finesse and loyalty displayed within the meaning of collective responsibility, particularly with the relativities of his standing in the Anglican Church on the schools issue, the nationalization of insurance, and the Press Bill, whatever his liberal outlook would have been and whatever interpretations affected parties would have read into his stance. Yet, he had the courage to stand up and defend national interests.
Latterly, he served as Ambassador to Egypt with accreditation to certain Middle-East countries. As Treasurer of the Anglican Diocese he took meaningful measures to improve the lot of the priests. He walked the corridors of power both in public and religious life with consummate ease earning regard and respect. A connoisseur of the arts, he had varied interests from horticulture to drama and antiques. In drama, as a bachelor, he had displayed his prowess in a popular stage play at the time - "The Oxford Way" - acting side by side with Stella, his fiance (later his wife).
He encouraged his two daughters, Sherrence and Sicille to inculcate such interests and take to pursuits close to his heart. Silver and Gold had he none, yet he did not have his hands sullied. He had his head high. He kept his Faith and always humbled himself before his Creator. He did not fail in his last words to whisper - " I am going to meet my Maker". As a nephew who had been with him through thick and thin, I have no doubt about this God-fearing man achieving his final ambition. So be it..
"He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not
lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the
blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation".
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