Amarasuriya was born on the 17th June 1907 to Henry Mahendrapala
de Silva Amarasuriya and Caroline de Silva Amarasuriya of "Amaragiri
Walauwa" Unawatuna, Galle. Thomas who was named after his
paternal grandfather Muhandiram Thomas de Silva Amarasuriya was
often addressed affectionately as "Tom" by family and friends.
His grandfather and father were renowned landed proprietors and
planters who owned vast acres of tea, rubber and coconut in the
Young Thomas was educated first at Mahinda
College, Galle, founded by his grandfather, and later joined
Ananda College. At Ananda he played soccer and tennis for the
school and was a leading light in the debating team. After
completing his secondary education in 1926 he proceeded to
England to pursue his further education. He followed a special
course in Agriculture at Wye College in Kent. On his return in
1928 he with his brother Henry took charge of the extensive
plantations of his parents.
1932 was a landmark year in his life as he
married his life’s partner Lucille Gwendoleen Lois, the daughter
of the well known Buddhist leader of Moratuwa, Mr. M. J. C.
Fernando. This was significant as Moratuwa was the electorate he
nursed and won to enter the State Council in later years. From
1932 he took to politics and was elected to the Galle Municipal
Council which he served for 10 years. During this period he was
instrumental in moving for the establishment in 1939 of a
Vagrants Home in Galle. He was a member of the Executive
Committee of the Ceylonese Merchants Chamber and of the Lanka
Mahajana Sabha. He was also a Member of the Board of Management
of the Galle Industrial Institute and the President of the
Y.M.B.A. Also a member of the Friend-In-Need Society, Galle.
In 1942 at the By-election held for the Moratuwa
constituency in the State Council to fill the vacancy created by
the death of Mr. W. A. de Silva, he was victorious. During his
tenure as State Councillor he represented the State Council in
the University Court, Board of Management of the Rubber Research
Scheme and the Coconut Research Scheme. He did much to improve
his electorate Moratuwa, was responsible for getting funds for
the acquisition for extensions to the Princes Louise Hospital in
Lunawa. Amarasuriya was the Vice President of the Moratuwa Maha
Jana Sabha, member of the Conciliation Board, Moratuwa
Friend-in-Need Society and the society which administered the
Home for the Aged.
He was unanimously elected the President of the
Sri Lanka Bauddha Samithiya in succession to his father-in-law,
the late Mr. M. J. C. Fernando who was the founder president. He
held this office for seventeen years during which he contributed
largely towards the funds of the society and Moratu Vidyalaya.
He was also a great benefactor to students in Moratuwa by
awarding scholarships for University education to deserving
In 1947 he contested the Moratuwa electorate
again but was unsuccessful. In 1953 he was elected a member of
the Senate. His election to this seat in the upper House
fulfilled the concept the Soulbury Commission had regarding the
calibre of the individuals who were most suitable to occupy the
Upper House. To quote Soulbury "There are in Ceylon as in other
countries a number of eminent individuals of high intellectual
attainment and wide experience of affairs who are averse to
entering political life through hurly burly of a parliamentary
election. It would be advantageous to the country to get the
services of such men and women who can express their views
freely and frankly without feeling themselves constrained to
consider possible repercussions upon their electoral prospects".
In 1953 Senator Amarasuriya was conferred
Membership of the Order of the British Empire O.B.E. in
recognition of his services to the country.
Earlier a member of the UNP Senator Amarasuriya
resigned from that party in 1959 following disagreement on the
party stand on the Public Security (Amendment) Bill and joined
the SLFP led by Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. On the 5th
November 1963 he was unanimously elected President of the Senate
which post he held till his retirement in 1965. With his sound
business knowledge and his ability to speak up especially on
matters pertaining to the planting industry which is the
mainstay of the country, Senator Thomas Amarasuriya made a
valuable contribution to the Upper House.
Despite his varied social and political
activities his great interest in the plantation industry was
He became the Chairman of the LCPA in 1948 and
was the first to hold that post for three years. He was elected
chairman of the Coconut Board in 1950 and in 1951 was the first
Ceylonese to be appointed Chairman of the Tea Propaganda Board
succeeding Mr. Singleton Salmon.
In 1956 the Planters Association of Ceylon broke
a 102 year old tradition to elect Senator Thomas Amarasuriya as
the first Ceylonese Chairman. It was not merely paying pooja to
the principle of Ceylonisation but giving recognition to one of
the ablest of planters among the sons of the soil. Modesty was
one of Amarasuriya characteristics. Thus when he was elected
Chairman he said: "I feel greatly honoured by your electing me
as your Chairman... I realize that in doing so a great
compliment has been paid to Ceylon planters. I deeply appreciate
the fine spirit displayed by the European community."
Election as the Chairman of the Planters
Association, was not the only "first" scored by Amarasuriya. He
was also the first Ceylonese to be elected as Chairman of the
Tea Propaganda Board (1951-52). Among the other posts of great
responsibility filled by him in the planting world are chairman
of the Southern Planters Association — he occupied this post for
three years in succession - an unprecedented achievement - and
member of the Central Board of Agriculture. He was also the
Chairman of the Coconut Board extending over a period of fifteen
In the field of social service his first
interest was in the Discharged Prisoners Association for a very
long period. He has pleaded for the reclaiming of prisoners and
making them useful members of society and giving them employment
to have the means to support themselves honestly.
Buddhist activities were a family tradition and
movements for promoting the propaganda of Buddhism and Buddhist
education always received his unstinted support. He was an
active member of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and the YMBA
and the Buddhist Theosophical Society, the latter of which he
was a Vice President at the time of his death. He was an
enthusiastic and loyal member of the Ananda College OBA.
Being a member of one of the most philanthropic
families of the Southern Province, he together with his three
brothers Henry, Francis and Buddhadasa gifted their ancestral
home "Amaragiri Walauwa" in 1967 to the State to be used as a
Training College for Women Teachers. Building schools and
contributing to the educational and upliftment of our society
was always foremost in their minds. This gift was the
culmination of their inborn desire to serve and educate the
nation. Up to now hundreds of women teachers have walked out of
the portals of this institute and many hundreds more will walk
out in the future to impart their knowledge to unborn
generations in the future too.
A man of varied interests, Thomas Amarasuriya
was an active member of the Rotary Club of Colombo and served a
term as its President too. He was a long standing member of the
Colombo Turf Club and the Galle, Gymkhana Club.
He led a happy family life with his wife Lucille
who always supported him in all his activities. He had five
daughters and three sons. He passed away peacefully after a
brief illness on 5th May 1979 at the age of 72.
It would be appropriate to end this article with
a quotation from the late President Premadasa’s speech. He made
a tribute to the late Mr. Amarasuriya when parliament passed a
vote of condolence on his death on 22nd May 1979. "The late Mr.
Amarasuriya has been linked with politics from the days of the
National Congress. He was a member of the UNP for sometime but
later left it. Yet he did not break off old friendships with the
UNP. He continued the great work for which the Amarasuriya
family stood. In politics he had no malice which was a rare