The Era of Prof. Valentine Joseph


It was one morning in July 1956. King George Hall of the University of Ceylon was filled with a new batch of students eagerly awaiting the arrival of a wizard of Mathematics on the stage for the first lecture. A new chapter in the lives of the physical science and engineering students was about to commence. The expectations were high in the young minds filled with dreams of becoming academics and professionals. This was the only science faculty in the only university of the island at the time.

Sharp at eight o’clock, a young man dressed in a shirt, looking worn out, and a trouser showing lack of care, appeared on the stage and announced with a sharp voice "I am Valentine Joseph!". A negative response from the audience was a loud noise. But there was no stopping and the young man continued in the same tone "Imagine three rods placed in outer space at right angles to one another and that is going to be our frame of reference ……". By now the response from the audience was total silence and he continued his presentation with absolute lucid explanations based on his Frame of Reference.

Students gradually got adjusted to his ways of aloofness. When they noticed that he was using an old bicycle as his mode of transport they began to see more of his unusual ways combined with his ability, particularly when he used innovative approaches in solving mathematical problems. If there was a problem for which there were two possible solutions, he was able to guide the students to find even six possible solutions. From his innovations, lessons could be learnt which could be used throughout one’s life. Within a short time the students could fathom his academic strength resulting in a high level of admiration for him.

It became known that when Valentine went abroad for his doctorate he had to return empty handed due mainly to the inability of the supervisors to agree with his concepts. This was not at all a surprise for the student community. During the latter stages of his career as Professor Valentine Joseph, his brilliance was noticed even among an array of all-time academic greats Eliezer, Mailvaganam, Amarasekara, Appapillai, Dahanayaka, Siriwardana, C.L. de Silva and many more who were all from that 1956 era.

In 1995, when Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science invited Prof. Joseph to deliver an oration on his pet subject "Theory of Relativity" we had the opportunity of interacting with him and realizing that towards the latter part of his life he had developed a cheerful disposition and a very friendly attitude towards his students. It was noteworthy that he had written out the speech in his own handwriting and distributed the copies. As one who had the privilege of discussing his interests leisurely at his residence, this writer was amazed by his deep knowledge of all religious philosophies including the doctrine of the Buddha.

Prof. Valentine Joseph’s passing away on 16th March 2017 was a major loss to the entire nation and in particular to the academic community. Deepest condolences are offered to his wife Antonia, children Arulesh, Umesh and all members of the family. May he attain his final liberation!

Das Miriyagalla

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