Madam Elina Jayewardene
by Prematilaka Mapitigama

Gilbert Leonard Rupasinghe, Notary Public, prominent planter and entrepreneur and his young wife Nancy Margaret Suriyabandara, who was expecting her first baby, whilst sight seeing in Italy had visited a picturesque and charming hamlet called Eline. They were so enthralled by its serenity and its scenic beauty they decided then and there to name their baby to be born after this hamlet. On 15th December, 1913 a baby girl was born and she was named Elina. She was the only child in the family.

As was the custom in the Kandyan region in those days to add the name ‘Bandara’ to male children besides their other names, in the low country, too, among elite groups it was customary to assign 'Bandara' even to females. Mrs. Rupasinghe, too, was accordingly known as Nancy Margaret Suriya Bandara before her marriage to Mr. Rupasinghe and their daughter also came to be known as Elina Bandara Rupasinghe.

Elina, the only child in this aristocratic family, did not attend school, but was tutored at home as was the custom of families of the elite of the day. She was tutored in English, Sinhalese and Pali and also in Accountancy, Stenography and Music. By 193, she was an accomplished young lady with all necessary attributes in education, caste, creed and social status.

She was also heiress to enormous family wealth. As the most eligible debutante at the time, she was also the most sought-after by prospective mothers-in-law, who longed to welcome her to their hearth. But Leonard Rupasinghe had laid down certain stipulations in selecting a bridegroom for his daughter. Among the many suitors, the the young up and coming barrister son of Mrs. Agnes Jayewardene, Junius Richard Jayewardene, better known as J. R., was accepted to be her partner in life.

They were married on 28th February, 1935 and settled down at 'Vyjantha' in Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7, the 'Mahagedera' of the bridegroom, which now houses the Jayewardene Centre. Their only child, Ravindra Wimal, was born here on 22nd April, 1936. After three years at 'Vyjayantha', they shifted to Ward Place building their own house after demolishing the old house 'Braemar', which belonged to Elina's father. The new house, designed by an architect, was to be their home ever since, and the name 'Braemar' from the old structure remained. J. R. preferred to live in 'Braemar' rather than at his official residences, as Prime Minister and Executive President, which he used only for formal functions and official duties.

Elina never took an active role in her husband's political affairs, but was always the driving force and strength in behind his illustrious career. She was his loving and faithful companion throughout their long married life. It is said that after a tiresome day, studded with many problems of public office, he always loved to come back home, where he found solace, comfort and affection.

President Jayewardene, recalling his married life, admitted that Elina's co-operation and affection have always been the driving force behind his life. Before breathing his last, he summoned his Secretary and stated that after his death, everything at Braemar should be done according to her wishes. It was indeed a fair indication of the depth of his devotion and love he had nurtured throughout his married life for a woman who meant so much to him.

The major portion of the properties of the Jayewardene family was what Elina inherited from her parents, and she encountered no obstacle in disposing of them according to her own wishes. Manelwatta in Bollagala, Kelaniya, a prime coconut estate of over forty acres, was donated by her to the Malwatta Maha Vihare. Dharmaloka Vidyalaya, which caters to a vast student population in the area, is established on a land donated by her father. Numerous blocks of land in Dehiwala, Attidiya and Bellanwila, which belonged to her, have been transferred to those who reside in those lands.

Elina had over one hundred widows on her pay roll, who visit her regularly on an appointed day to receive their donations, which no doubt went a long way to keep their home fires burning. She makes this an occasion to have tea with them and have a chit chat with the old ladies.

Once she received a letter from a schoolgirl in Gampola, who had written to say that she was the daughter of an estate labourer, and had only one school uniform, which was discoloured and worn out, and that her father could not afford her a new dress.

Elina promptly made arrangements to dispatch material for five school uniforms through the then Government Agent, Kandy, . S. M. Tenakoon. Having delivered the material, the Government Agent, enclosing a letter of thanks from the girl, wrote back to say that the girl thoroughly deserved help as correctly perceived by the First Lady.

Elina could move with the elite, both local and foreign, and at the same time mix with the poor.

Notwithstanding her position as the First Lady of the country, she had neither critic nor competitor. Her generosity, decorum and true appreciation of humanity endeared her to the young and the old, the rich and the poor alike.

We salute her as a worthy daughter of Mother Lanka.


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