The scythe struck fast and he was gone. Within three days of admission for an apparently innocuous abdominal pain Tony succumbed, mercifully unaware of his ailment.
The corridors of the Cancer Institute Maharagama still echo to the sound of his footsteps. The halls of the home of the College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka at Independence Avenue, Colombo 7 still reverberate with his booming voice, impeccable accent and studied pronouncements over controversial issues. The officers of the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, Colombo still recall his vision and commitment to furthering Postgraduate medical training in Sri Lanka. The meeting rooms of the Royal Colombo Golf Club still roar with the laughter that his talks and conversations evoked.
These visible features mirrored Tony’s attributes.
As tall as he was, he was straight and honest in his dealings and inculcated the principles of ethical conduct, both in his practice and his trainees. His measured strides were as deliberate as his surgical manoeuvers and scientific thinking, starting life as a brilliant general surgeon and later taking to oncological surgery at the Cancer Institute Maharagama. His forte was head and neck surgery to which area he also introduced reconstructive surgery. He was loved by his patients who occupied a special place in his large heart.
He would fiercely defend traditions at the College of Surgeons Sri Lanka where he was a long-time Council member and President in 1986 and was later awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the College. He was a life member of the Sri Lanka Medical Association and his father Dr V Gabril was its President in 1940.
He was a volunteer in the Sri Lanka Army Medical Corps, where he rose to the rank of Commanding officer and Colonel. During the 1989 insurgency when the country and health services were brought to a standstill, Tony and other brave doctors and nurses from the Medical Corp manned the Galle General Hospital. The story goes that Tony would stand in his uniform outside the OPD and nobody would dare challenge him! It was perhaps from this experience that Tony learnt his favourite phrase "an officer and a gentleman" when he had to measure the worth of a person.
He cherished the time he spent with his family and is survived by his wife Jeevamani and sons Harin and Sanjeev.
Measured by his own yardstick, he was the epitome of "an officer and a gentleman". We will remember him with great affection.
Deshamanya Professor A H Sheriffdeen.
SLMA news - Nov. 2008