Dr. Brendon Gooneratne

- A personal tribute to one of our most outstanding Royalists


by Jayantha Gunasekara, President’s Counsel.

The CLASS OF ’49 is so named because we entered Royal College in 1949 mainly from Royal Primary School (Royal Preparatory School – " Royal Prep " as it was called).

Our CLASS OF ’49 has been a star-studded one producing 65% professionals out of 102 that entered Royal that year.

In the field of education it has produced excellent teachers. Among its outstanding academics are Vice-Chancellors of Universities, civil servants of many varieties who have headed government departments and corporations; engineers of many fields of expertise, including one who headed the Ceylon Electricity Board; doctors , twenty two of them in a class of 102, in different disciplines including Physicians, Surgeons, ENT Surgeons, Neurologists, Paediatricians , medical research scientists, Radiologists, Parasitologists, Bacteriologists Obstetricians and Gynacologists among others. To the country’s legal profession it has contributed lawyers and barristers, District Judges, Judges of both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, President’s Counsel , solicitors; supplying also accountants, architects and artists, business tycoons and other business entrepreneurs , hoteliers, painters, planters and at least one poet. In the field of conservation, members of our class have fought nobly to preserve elephants, dolphins, and whales, and have given their time, money, and expertise to prevent the extinction of sea turtles by collecting their eggs, establishing hatcheries, and releasing thousands of hatchlings back into the ocean.

Among our number we can count Army and Air Force officers, and at least one Ambassador; politicians and quasi-politicians of every stripe and colour; and even ( I regret to say ) active supporters of, apologists for, and sympathizers with, a terrorist organization . We have produced authors of medical books, writers of monographs on sociology, history, politics, fine art, and even one-day cricketers.

We have a publisher in our midst, an entrepreneurial, idealistic businessman. For a while we even had a Buddhist monk among us. In the field of sport our Class of ’49 has produced internationally recognized athletes, besides cricketers and rugby players who have played for Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

The Class of ’49 contributed three athletes to the record breaking Royal College athletics team which swept the board at the Public Schools Athletics Meet of 1955, sportsmen who won their events and also secured for the College the Senior Tarbat and Junior Tarbat Cups and the Jefferson Relay Shield – a record which may be equaled, but can never be bettered. One of these went on to hold an Asian Games Record, another was an Asian Games Winner of his event.

Dr Brendon Gooneratne, sportsman, physician, historian and internationally acclaimed conservationist, was the monitor of our class from Forms 1 – 6, all the way through our student days at Royal College. He was chosen by his peers in Royal to give the talk on "The Class of ’49" on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. I join my fellow-students of the Class of ’49 in paying tribute to Brendon as a man of honour and personal integrity, of rare achievement in sports and studies, and also in the fields of conservation and history: a veritable human dynamo.

Let me begin with some of his achievements as a sportsman.

First, cricket.

Brendon Gooneratne was a fine pace bowler; a reliable bat, and an excellent slip fielder. One year he took match bags of 10 wickets against Ananda, Zahira, Wesley and Nalanda. In the second innings against Wesley, he returned the fantastic figures of 8 wickets for 18 runs, and helped Royal win the match by scoring 42 runs not out as well. This match, the 63rd encounter, is described in the book Royal vs. Wesley Centenary Match as "Brendon Gooneratne’s Match".

In his memoirs, scheduled for publication in March 2015, Brendon tells the story of an encounter with one of the ‘Greats’ of international cricket:

‘The legendary Sir Learie Constantine visited Ceylon. He accepted invitations from Royal and other colleges in the island to coach some of our cricketers. Sir Learie was a fine, friendly man, very fit for his age – he must have been in his late forties/early fifties at the time – and a master with the bat and ball. A great all-rounder, he displayed his skills, showing us how to play cricket properly and make full use of our talents. We were all fired up in his presence, of course, and I was bowling my fastest to impress the great man. Sir Learie observed me closely. At the end of the day, having showed us how to hit sixes with effortless ease, he called me to a side and said:

"Son, you must be able to bowl within yourself. You cannot bowl every ball at top speed, you have to contain yourself and send the occasional ball very fast. Otherwise you will become exhausted in no time."

Brendon won cricket colours in 1954, 1955 and 1956, winning the Best All Rounder’s Prize in 1955 and the Best Bowler’s Prize in 1956. He scored 104 runs in the first innings of the 1955 match against Zahira College, Colombo, and followed this up with 50 runs in the second innings, taking 10 wickets in the match. (In the previous year, Royal had lost to Zahira College.)

One of the greatest achievements for any schoolboy cricketer is to play in a Royal-Thomian Big Match, which is considered the ‘Pinnacle of All School Big Matches’. In the Royal-Thomian encounter of 1955, Brendon Gooneratne opened bowling for Royal in the match against St Thomas’s, and took 4 wickets for 15 runs: capturing in the first innings the wickets of Ronnie Reid for 0 (in the third ball of the first over), Dan Piachaud for 45, Claude Reid for 6, and Dennis Ferdinands for 6. His figures were 14.5 – 8 – 15 – 4. He top-scored in the match, scoring 48, and was the First Winner of the Sir Cyril de Zoysa Prize and Challenge Cup for the Best Performance in the entire match.

In the 77th Royal-Thomian encounter in 1956, played at the Oval, he scored 20 runs in the first innings, and 33 in the second innings. He captured 2 wicket for 67 runs. This was a tall scoring match, in which the late T. Jothilingam scored 121 for Royal, and Ronnie Reid remained unbeaten on 158, establishing a new batting record.

Although Brendon could have played for Royal for another two years (and he had the option, too, of accepting Sir Learie Constantine’s invitation to play for his Lancashire League cricket club Windhill on leaving school) he entered the Medical Faculty of the University of Ceylon in 1957, being one of 80 students who had obtained 4 credit passes at the University Entrance Examination out of about 5,000 to 6,000 students who had sat the Examination.

Born on 28 March 1938, Brendon attended Royal College, Colombo (1949-1956). An exceptionally brilliant student, he notched a First Class in the Junior School Certificate Examination, with Distinctions in Latin, Greek, History and Chemistry. Further, he excelled in the Senior School Certificate Examination by obtaining Distinctions in Physics and Buddhism. In 1956 he won the Mackeen Memorial Prize for Religious Knowledge, having earlier secured the B.F. de Silva Memorial Prize for History. As a student, Brendon attended the Vajirarama Dhamma School and in 1953 was placed first in the All-Island Y.M.B.A. Buddha Dhamma Examination, a rare achievement for a versatile schoolboy sportsman. He won the Light of Asia Elocution Contest conducted by the Young Mens Buddhist Association in 1955.

He was, in fact, a complete student, a great all-rounder, besides being one of the best cricketers Royal ever produced, captaining the Under-14 and the Under-16 teams in 1951 and 1953. He is a classic example of "Mens Sana in Corpore Sano"

In athletics, too, Brendon made his mark, holding the record for High Jump in 1952 at Royal. He was a member of the 4x110 relay team that broke the Group Meet record in 1953. In the Public Schools Athletics Meet in 1954, he won the Discus Throw.

It was not only as a sportsman that Brendon excelled. He was a member of the Royal College Dramatic Society, and played the role of Billy Bones in Treasure Island, a dramatization of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel. He was a member of the Boake House Debating Team, was Boake House Captain, and a college prefect. That same year, he led the Royal College team that participated in the quiz contest titled ‘Do You Know?’ held for schools in the 1950s, and were runners-up to the Ladies’ College team led by the late Nirmala de Mel.

Brendon captained the University of Ceylon in 1961/1962. In previous years the side had been undisciplined and wayward. He transformed his team into a fighting unit, essentially instilling discipline, the value of physical fitness and regular practice. He insisted on cricket practice at 4.30 pm every weekday, and slip cradle practice as well.

The good work Brendon put in paid dividends the following year (1962/1963), when the University won the Sara Trophy – the cricketing plum of Sri Lanka – for the first, and alas, the last time. Playing in the Sara Trophy, Brendon’s University team had been runner-up to the

Sinhalese Sports Club, led by the legendary F.C. (Derrick) de Saram. The other leading S.S.C. players included C.L. Gunesekera, R.B. Wijesinha, A. Polonowita, and Ben Navaratne as wicket keeper.

Brendon’s University team beat the N.C.C. captained by K.M.T. Perera. The formidable Nondescript side consisted of Vernon Prins, Michael Tissera, M. Francke, and L. R. Gunathilleke, to name a few.

In 1958, touring India representing the University of Ceylon, Brendon Gooneratne helped the University to register its first victory on Indian soil by capturing 6 wickets for 78 runs against Nagpur University.

Academic Achievements

Brendon’s academic achievements began in 1962, when he was awarded the M.B.B.S. Degree with Honours by the University of Ceylon, Colombo.

While researching medicine in London, he was honoured by the award of the Beit Memorial Fellowship for Medical Research: the first and only Sri Lankan and the fourth Asian to be elected to this Fellowship, since the inception of the Trust in 1909. Seven previous Beit Fellows had been honoured by the award of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, over 80 Fellows awarded membership of the Royal Society and over 100 awarded DSc degrees. The Beit Trust was founded by Sir Otto Beit, the owner and founder of De Beers Diamonds in South Africa and Rhodesia. In 1967 he was awarded the Academic Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Parasitology and Entomology (DAPE) from the London School of Tropical Medicine.

In 1970 he was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD.) from the Faculty of Medicine, University of London.

Appointed to teach in the Department of Parasitology, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, Dr Brendon Gooneratne served first as a Senior Lecturer, and then as Head of the Peradeniya University’s Department of Parasitology.

In 1972 he proceeded to Australia, and was attached to the Commonwealth Department of Health and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Sydney. In 1974 Butterworths of London published Lymphography :Clinical and Experimental , his textbook of medicine. Having worked with the Department of Diagnostic Radiology of the Prince Henry Hospital for some time, Dr Gooneratne set up his own medical practice in Sydney.

He now took time to explore other interests, important among them being history, cartography, wild life, antiquities, and the environment. As a member since 1974 of Project Jonah, Australia’s premier voluntary organization for the protection of marine mammals, and as President of Project Jonah from 1989, Dr Gooneratne campaigned for the survival of whales and dolphins, preventing their slaughter by Norwegians, Icelanders and others. He gave evidence in Sir Sidney Frost’s Inquiry instituted by the Australian Government to stop whaling in Australia and the rest of the world. (Australia banned whaling after the Frost Inquiry Report was published.) He was in addition the prime architect in establishing the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary for All Time in the late 1980s.

As Chairman of the Sri Lanka Pugwash Group (1999-2002), he fought for environmental causes in Sri Lanka, and as Chairman of Friends of the Ancient Cities of Sri Lanka, he, together with others, brought out to Australia the magnificent exhibition of "The Sacred Images of Sri Lanka", which was placed in the Art Gallery of New South Wales for three months.

He was appointed the official Australian Government Valuer of Sri Lankan Antiquarian Books, Maps, Antiques and Antique Furniture, and World Maps for the Department of the Arts, Heritage and Environment under the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme in the 1980’s.

In 1999 Dr Gooneratne set up an International Research and Study Centre in Sri Lanka, where he funded scholars from all over the world to conduct research in idyllic surroundings in his tea estate bungalow; to which he has added a study and Conference Centre equipped with all necessary technical innovations . He did this to acknowledge the great gift of free education that Sri Lanka gave all his generation and even gives today.

Undoubtedly, in Brendon Gooneratne we have one of the finest all-rounders ever produced by Royal College and the University.

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