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Ashley Halpe:A life dedicated to leading kindly light

He put together a wired frame

With ball and socket joints.

Lest it lack feeling insulate it he did

With ligament and slight muscle-bulge.

A starter he digitised in its vein

Saying ‘Dei Verbum’! ‘Dei Verbum’!

The frame did not move.

He thought for a while

The seventh day lying a day ahead.

Made a cosy chamber for its heart

Filled it with creative gel;

Yet, it did not move.

Ah! A frame without a name,

He mused awhile and whispered

Ashley! Ashley! Ashley!

The frame stirred and cried.

…………

"Where’s the Poet? show him! show him,

Muses nine! that I may know him!

Tis the man who with a man

Is an equal, be he King

Or poorest of the beggar-clan,

Or any other wondrous thing"

- John Keats

I was delighted to read the tributes paid to Prof. Ashley Halpe by Carl Muller, Tissa Jayatilleke and Jayantha Dhanapala, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his teaching career and the 75 anniversary of his birth. My association with Ashley goes back to the early 1950s when we were students at St. Peter’s College, Colombo. I must confess my memories of Ashley are not as clear as those of his other contemporaries in the Arts stream, like the late Michael Mack, late Jimmy Barucha, Charlie Mahendran and Edgar Cooray. My association with Ashley at the Peradeniya Campus is vivid to the point that nostalgia evokes a sense of regret in not being able to engage with great minds.

Ashley and I occupied rooms in a row that shared a common balcony. Reading from left to right balcony-wise, were Ashley, the late Hector Candappa, Attorney-at-Law, self, Frank de Silva, former IGP and Jehan Rahim, a UN executive.

When I first met Ashley, he was a dapper little man, gentle, sprightly, cheerful and friendly. Learning and abundant talent sat lightly on his frame. I had the privilege of playing tennis with him on the court by the banks of the Mahaweli and games of carom in the common room. Once, when he mowed down a fly with the striking dice, he solemnly intoned "Alas poor Yorick"!(Hamlet; Act V, Scene1). May I continue in this strain with apologies to Shakespeare by saying this of Ashley: "I knew him: a man of infinite wit, of most exquisite mind". I also recall singing alongside him in the choir-loft of the Church of Our lady Seat of Wisdom, where Sri Lanka’s friar, the burly but genial Fr. Ignatius Pinto celebrated the Eucharist. A hymn I remember with great affection is Cardinal Henry Newman’s "Lead kindly Light amid the Encircling Gloom". Ashley’s life both private and public was dedicated to leading kindly light.

I was not endowed with the good fortune of maintaining a regular association with him or his peers, with the exception of one of his batch-mates, the late Ivan Silva, because my working career was confined to routine operations in the dark and turbid atmosphere of the petroleum industry, where no hedge survives. Yet, I have kept track of his illustrious career with great admiration. I congratulate you Ashley for the light you have shed in the encircling gloom.

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