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An appreciation
Uthum Herat, PhD., FCMA

Like many, I was devastated to learn of Dr. Uthum Herat’s sudden illness and demise on Oct 23, 2009. Expressions of grief have been flowing in from all directions as was also evident from the large numbers who had turned up at his funeral. The sentiments expressed have a recurrent theme. Uthum Herat: scholar, professional, orator, teacher, gentleman and friend - in all a noble human being whose loss to us who knew him is inestimable.

Uthum Herat obtained his first degree from the University of Sri Jayewardenapura and received his Masters Degree and PhD from Purdue University, USA. During his stay at Purdue he favourably impressed his peers and teachers, not only by his intellectual abilities and diligence, but his unassuming nature as well.

Uthum’s doctoral thesis dealt with the economy wide effects of aid associated with the Mahaveli (river valley) development programme. He did an impressive aggregation of a multi sectoral model for running computable general equilibrium (CGE) analyses as part of his dissertation. His research advisor at Purdue University on hearing of his demise wrote "Uthum Herat was an outstanding doctoral student at Purdue University. His work was thorough, and of the highest calibre, without being pretentious."

However, Uthum’s scholarship was not the only impression he made while in USA. His genial manner endeared him to many; in particular the Lindman family who lived near Purdue University came to regard him as one of their own. Thus when I went in 1994 to Purdue University, his stay there some years earlier, greatly facilitated my own. Uthum’s advice to me was "while your studies are the main purpose of being there, remember to enjoy your stay in another country."

There were other distinctions that Dr. Herat obtained in his career: He was a fully qualified CIMA accountant and was the chairman of both the Institute of Bankers of Sri Lanka and the Credit Information Bureau of Sri Lanka. He was also a Toastmaster and a lay preacher, skills that came naturally to him. Aside from these achievements and at a personal level, some years ago he took on the novel role of being a God-parent to my son.

Yet the most memorable role he played was that as Central Banker par excellence. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka was his employer for two and half decades. His dedication to the Bank was exemplary and many have commented on the ever lengthening hours of his working day. So it is not surprising that the Central Bank was truly the site of his main accomplishments, starting as a staff officer in the early 1980s and right up to his recent appointment as Deputy Governor. In between he held the positions of Director Economic Research and Alternate Executive Director of the Executive Board representing India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan at the IMF.

He had a profound grasp of the Monetary Law Act to the very detail. This would come through on the several occasions when he represented the Central Bank (and at times the country) at various forums. His audiences were immediately impressed by his mastery of subject and the manner he held their attention. There was the perfect blend of style and substance, humour and facts – archetypal Uthum Herat delivery.

He gave his best at the Central Bank and exhorted others to do the same, notwithstanding the challenges. He was awe inspiring to his colleagues and those in authority acknowledged his judgement on profound matters. In time, when a particularly major vexing issue cropped up at the Central Bank and required precise, lucid thinking, his superiors did what they believed would be best – they gave it to Uthum. He would break down the problem into its components and address them in a comprehensive manner.

Despite all these attainments, his true excellence was not merely in the heights he had scaled but in the fact that there was always a humaneness that characterised his relationship with everyone in the workplace. His subordinates admired, if not venerated, this exceptional quality and his superiors came to respect it.

There was initial disbelief at the news of his illness and the rapidity with which his condition changed, unfortunately for the worse. Dr Herat’s untimely end left many stricken with grief in the Central Bank and outside. Large numbers turned up at his home and the chapel of his alma mater for the funeral service to pay their tribute aloud or in silence.

In a particularly touching message, the Lindman family he befriended in USA expressed their appreciation to Uthum’s family and country for loaning him to them for a season. They wrote that when he finished his PhD at Purdue University, his relationship with them did not end once he departed. Though they missed his physical presence, the experience and the memories left them richer. On Oct 23rd, 2009 all of us whose lives Uthum touched could not help feeling, in many ways, the same.

Ananda Abayaratna

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