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Dr Uthum Herat the "Gentle Man"

Much has been written about Dr Uthum Herat, the highly qualified and brilliant economist, who’s career was studded with outstanding achievements, being the Director Economic Research and Alternate Executive Director of the Executive Board representing India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan at the IMF, Assistant Governor of the Central Bank and finally the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

But I think it is not inappropriate to pen a few words about the "Gentle Man" Uthum Herat was, a truly outstanding human being who possessed rare qualities of humility, kindness, gentleness and sheer goodness. I consider myself fortunate indeed to have associated with him, and I am proud and privileged to have been able to call him a friend.

I have known Uthum for almost a quarter of a century but got to know him rather well when my family started worshiping regularly at the Methodist Church Mt Lavinia. about one and a half decades ago. Every Sunday after service he would chat with my family and we all enjoyed his company. I was impressed at how easily he established a rapport with my teen - age son and daughter, who appreciated his genuine interest in them.. His ability to listen without interrupting, his wide and varied interests, made him popular with the young and old alike.

We all welcomed the Sundays when Uthum conducted the worship service. He never tried to show off his cleverness with high flown theology. His sermons were obviously well prepared, sincere, very focused and easy to remember. There was always a "take home" message that helped us through the week .His sermons also sparkled with his lovely sense of humour. His ability to say funny things with a straight face, and clever punning with words made him very listenable. He was one of the few preachers who held the undivided attention of his congregation, not even the over seventies would nod off during his sermons. When my son was studying abroad for 4 ½ years in a place where there was no access to a place of Christian worship, Uthum was one of the preachers whose message could be summarized and included in my weekly letter

Uthum also had the gift of making us all feel the very presence of God when he prayed. You felt that he had a "hot line" to God. I was not surprised when my daughter insisted that "Uncle Uthum" conduct the prayers at her wedding. I am so glad that we have those precious moments captured in a video.

When Uthum was critically ill, I received a call from a young man pursuing his undergraduate medical studies abroad wanting to know about his condition and prognosis. He said I quote "Uncle Uthum is such a wonderful person; I will never forget what he taught me in Sunday school. He always brought real life situations into his lessons and showed us the importance of getting our priorities right, making the right choices and most of all trusting the Lord Jesus"

I clearly remember Uthum emphasizing the need to make a personal choice about what we believe. He stressed that merely being born into a Christian family does not make you a Christian. In his own words "God has many children, but no grandchildren"

All this may give the impression that Uthum was a "holier than thou" sort of person who was rather boring company. Nothing could be further from the truth. His presence always added a sparkle to any gathering, not because he tried to be hearty, but because of who he was, a warm and sincere person with a genuine interest and concern for all he interacted with. He loved reading and was a self confessed "Lord of the Rings" fan. I remember his amusement when he learned that our Cocker Spaniel was named "Frodo" and that one of our grand daughters had "Arwen" as her first name.

I remember one Sunday morning being told by Uthum that I am not bringing up my two grand daughters correctly. I was a bit taken aback, till I caught the twinkle in his eyes. He said I quote "They are far too quiet in church, you must teach them to be a bit more noisy during long and boring sermons that go on and on".

A few weeks later when my naughty two year olds ran all over the church aisle, one of them even attempting to play the drum set ( much to my embarrassment) Uthum said " they are getting better, but there is still room for improvement" !!! Uthum delivered the Homily at the wedding of a young couple from our parish , and he began by saying " I wondered if I should be delivering a homily as I am not married , but then I thought why not- after all Catholic Priests do it all the time !!

Uthum was humble to a fault, using public transport to work and back rather than owning a flashy car. He used his official transport that he was entitled to, only on rare occasions.

I am told that he even did his own photocopying at work. We would see him walking slowly down Hotel Road carrying his ever present umbrella either on his way or returning from church. When ever we offered him a lift he would politely refuse and say "its not far, I can walk" Most people were un aware of the high and influential positions he held as he would not boast about it. I remember meeting him at Heathrow Airport some years ago. Though we chatted for some time , he never revealed that he was attending a World Bank meeting as the sole representative from Sri Lanka.

The last encounter we had with Uthum was the day before he had his fatal intra cranial haemorrhage, when we gave him the invitation to attend our grandsons’ christening and asked him to lead the prayers. He readily agreed, saying that he will definitely be there little knowing that it will be one promise he will be unable to fulfill.

During the dark week when Uthum was battling for his life on a Ventilator in an ICU, it became apparent that he had had an impact on the lives of almost every member of our congregation. The love we shared for Uthum brought us together in prayer to intercede for his life, in a way never seen before in the history of our church.

He leaves a void in our church family and in our personal lives that is impossible to fill. We find comfort in the sure knowledge that Uthum is in the presence of our Lord Jesus whom he loved so much and served so faithfully. Thank you Uthum for way you touched and changed our lives. Good Bye till we meet again one glorious day … beyond the Sun Set.

The words of Laurence Binyon from his poem "For the Fallen" written in 1914 expresses the way we feel about Uthum’s demise.

"He shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary him, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember him"

Dr Suriyakanthie Amarasekera

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