Phillip Upali Wijewardene a native son whose vision embraced the world



By Sudhammika Attygalle

It was almost thirty three years ago on 13th February 1983 that Phillip Upali Wijewardene founder Chairman of Upali Group of Companies considered the business tycoon of Asia disappeared in his Private Learjet plane with his business associates and staff. Upali was on his way to Sri Lanka to celebrate his 45th birthday which as on 17th February.

This incident sent shock waves throughout almost the entire world. The Government of Sri Lanka took steps to trace him via the Sri Lanka Navy and the 7th Fleet of U.S Navy which was at Suva Bay in Philippines. He was the only son of the late Mr & Mrs Don Walter Wijewardene of Tudugala Wijewardene Walawwe in Sedawatte. Upali was born at "Sri Ramya" at 44 Galle Road, Colpetty, presently occupied by the American Centre. Upali had two elder sisters, late Mrs. Anoja Wijesundere and Mrs. Kalyani Attygalle.

Upali was educated at Royal College, Colombo. He excelled in Academic Studies and sports particularly Horse Riding. He entered University of Cambridge U.K at the time his cousin Ranjith Wijewardene, Founder / Chairman of Wijaya Newspapers Ltd was studying at Oxford. Upali Wijewardene passed his BSc (Economics) and MSc (Economics) very successfully. He returned to Sri Lanka his motherland and engaged in an appointment as Management Trainee at the well known British Company namely Lever Brothers Ltd. He learnt all aspects of manufacturing such as Industries and Management very methodically. He was well disciplined and fearless; one who stood only for the truth.

Having completed all the assignments and necessary reports and submitting them to his Chairman, he -went abroad on leave. On his return home, his Chairman blamed him for not having submitted the relevant reports of the Company. However he maintained that he had done so. He then searched for it and found it in his Chairman’s tray Upali was very irked by this incident and went home never to return again to this office.

His maternal uncle the late Senator Sarath Wijesinghe of Adapane Estate, Kamburupitiya berated the European Chairman and gave substantial shares of his Ceylon Chocolates Company Ltd., to his nephew Upali Wijewardene. He took his initiative to start business / industries on Micro / Small and Medium Level in his grand parent’s ancestral home, Sedawatte Walawwa, Kelaniya. His business and industries very rapidly developed and he constructed buildings at Bloemendhal Road, Colombo 13 and Homagama Industrial Estate. With great initiative he forged ahead very successfully with this business. Also amalgamated to this was Electronics and Motor Business, Consumer Industries, Newspapers, Printing and Publishing, Travel / Tourism / Plantation and Aviation Business etc. Upali developed his own brands namely, KANDOS for Chocolates and DELTA for Confectionery, UNIC for Electronic and Air Conditioners. The DIVAINA, ISLAND, NAVALIYA for newspapers and UMC MAZDA, UPALI FIAT for motor vehicles and CRYSTAL, TINGLE. SIKURU for soap and AIR UPALI for Aviation. Upali had Chocolate factories in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and a Trading Office in USA.

In 1975 Upali married Lakmini Ratwatte niece of late Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Presently she is the Chairperson of Upali Group of Companies.

Upali always presented, as customery, his first product when launching it to the Kelaniya Temple. The first product from Upali was always sold to the late Lawrence Tudawe, Chairman Tudawe Brothers.

Upali was the Chairman, Board of Stewards of the Sri Lanka Turf Club and in early 70’s he together with Ajit Chitty, Bernard Halahackone, Upatissa Hulugalle, Sirimevan Senanayake, lthe ate Wasantha Coomaraswamy and late Mervyn Perera, restarted Pony and Horse Races at the Nuwara Eliya Race Course. Upali’s horses won many races namely "Royal Ascot" in England, "Singapore Derby" in Singapore, "Perak Derby" in Malaysia, "Queens Cup" in Sri Lanka. His horses were ridden by world famous Jockey Lester Piggot.

Upali took part in Motor Races in Katukurunda, Nuwara Eliya, Mahagastota and Radella Hill Climbs too. Champion Motor Cycle Ridder Rajah Sinnathuray assisted Upali in motor racing.

Upali presented a Score Board to Royal College during the Royal Thomian Centenary Cricket Match in 1978.

Upali was the Chief Basnayake Nilame of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya. This temple was restored by his grandmother Helena Wijewardene Lamathani in 1927. Presently Upali’s nephew Dhammika Attygalle is the Chief Basnayake Nilame of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya.

In 1978 Upali Wijewardene was appointed by his cousin President J R Jayewardena as First Chairman / Director General of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) (now BOI) of Sri Lanka to develop Industries with foreign investors which he did very successfully in Katunayake, Biyagama and Koggala by organizing Free Trade Zones for exports which generated employment and foreign exchangef

Upali was the founder of "Ruhunu Udanaya Movement" to develop the South particularly Economically, Socially, Culturally, Religiously, Educationally, Vocational Training, Technology Computers for employment of youth. Upali started a Driver Training School and a English Tution Class in Miriswatte Kamburupitiya which was his mother’s home town in order to facilitate foreign employment opportunities for the youth and uplift the living standards of the villagers. He too had the idea of developing a Southern University and presented a Conference Hall to Kamburupitiya Narandeniya School.

At the time of the disappearance, Upali had an idea of entering politics and had a vision to lead and develop Sri Lanka.

May he be born among us till he achieves Nibbane in his journey in Sansara.

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