A rare gentleman politician and a close friend

Dr. Ranjith Atapattu


Dr. Ranjith Atapattu

The news of Ranjith Sudden passing away reached us and no had to accept it with immense sadness. My association with Ranjith Spans over 75 long years beginning from the time we both joined Royal Primary School at the tender age of 5. Since then our friendship continued and grew stronger over the last few years. I deeply cherish a photograph of us, with Ranjith occupying a front view all bedecked in feathers and braids, as he played a vital role in the play Hiawata by H. W. Longfellow staged at the Royal Primary School. Seated along side with him are his close school friends Nihal Senaviratne, Hema de Zoysa, Mayor General CH Fernando, Geevaka de Soysa, Lalith Jayawardane and myself.

This close bonding convinced when we all joined Royal College proper in 1945 under the all guidance of Principal E. L. Bradly. Even today the so called 45 Alumni Group that regularly but sadly win more and more depleted ….........………. At Royal, Rayit played rugger for the four fifteen and participated in the well known Bradly Match as scrim half against friendly College. After Royal Rayit entered Medical College and soon passed out as a Doctor Our Parts went different ways after I entered the law Faculty in Peradeniya, but still our fording convinced.

Ranjith Kavishka Prakrama Atapattu was born 29th April 1933. He hailed from a very well known family in Tangalla were his father Don Peter Atapattu served as a member of parliament from March 1960 to March 1970 and served as Parliamentary secretary the Minister of State J. R. Jayawardana – living in a traditional ancestral stately home in Tangalle and with his father in active politics, it was no surprise that Ranjtih had imbibed the art of politics from a very early age. Ranjith having passed out as a Doctor, wasted no time working in Govt. Service but got back to his ancestral roots and set up practise in his stately home. Large crowds thronged his Dispensary and I for one know, that most of his patients from a less privileged background. He convinced to treat absolutely free of charge. His reputations and popularity as our Dostara Mahacthmaya grew so much so that after his father’s demise when he contested the Beliatta seat in July 1977 he was elected without much difficulty.

Ranjith continued to serve in Parliament in the Second National State Assembly and in the first and Second Parliaments until 1990 for over a period of 12 years. In the second National State Assembly he was a Minister outside the cabinet but in September 1978 he was appointed as Minister of Colombo Group of Hospital 4 years later in May 1982 he was appointed as Minister of Health in the cabinet and 7 years eater appointed as Minister of Labour and Social Welfare.

During the seventies and eighteen, this country was …………….. and fortunate to have 2 very distinguished committed and profoundly honest Minsiters of Health. The two were Gamini Jayasuriya Member for Homagama and soon after Ranjith Atapattu Member for Beliatta. Both these politicians served with utmost dedication, integrity and honestly – a very rare phenomenon in these troubled days.

Cupid struck an arrow and soon Ranjith married Dreda de Silva who herself had her education in the UK and graduated with a BA Degree. They were truly ……………………. with an only son Druvi who following his father footsteps paned out as a Doctor and how works dedicatedly as a Direction of Oasis Hospital. Drive himself followed his father to Royal College and ended up as Head Prefect.

During the both 1-2 years Ranjith was immensely worried and concerned about his dear wife illness and son Druvi and wife Himali both doctors persuaded Ranjith and Dreda to give up their Bagatelle Rd Apartment and come live with them at their Bullers Rd residence. Ranjith was so happy with this arrangement knowing well that the 2 in house Doctors would care for his wife with commitments.

I recall a few incidents regarding Ranjiths political life. 20 years ago when he was Minister of Health he suffered a hart attack and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the General Hospital. Prime Minister Premadasa who was extremely fond of Ranjth knew that Ranjith & I were close friends. He summoned me his office and said he had made arrangement for a top cardiologist from the US a Sri Lankan now visiting Sri Lanka to see him and wanted me to make the necessary arrangements. He also said that of this ……………… wasn’t enough, be would help to see Ranjith was flown to UK to receive treatment which finally happened when Ranjith and Dreda flew to UK. Mr. Premadasa was so close to him that when the UNICEF Director in Sri Lanka james Grant Offered Ranjith a posting in New York with UNICEF he said he would normally refuse to allow his Minister of Health to resign and go overseas, But because of Ranjith he would give permission – So Ranjith and Dreda both want to New York for 2-3 years for Ranjith to work with UNICEF. Apply this made of possible for Druvi to follow and complete his medical studies abroad with his father financing him.

The last 6 months Ranjith becoming rather frail So I was so happy in Nov & Dec last year to have helped Ranjith to meet his erstwhile friends. First occasion was when Hon. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya united Parliamentarian for lunch and invited me too I asked Ranjith if he had received his invite and he said No. On my informing the Speaker, He immediately reached and said I must bring him along. We both attended the lunch at the Speaker Official residence and Ranjith was so overjoyed to meet & greet over 100 of his erstwhile colleagues which made him so happy.

The other occasion was when I ashed Ranjith if he would like to attend an oration in memory of my late brother Prof. ……………………. Senevirathne ex Professor of Physiology who always told me that he was a good student in the second year. Ranjith happily agreed and I took him to his old haunts Medical College and to a new Auditorium and he was so delighted to meet so many of his old Doctor friends, and Professor and lectures in the Physiology Dept.

I have nostalgic and fond memories of our close friendship I recall how at every Old Boys functions, One could not stop Ranjith to get on the stage to sing the good old songs & Bailas. He was indeed such as kindly honest person. My heartfelt sympathise to Dreda, Himali and their lovely 2 grand children 12 year twins, a Royalsit and a Visakhian whom he Adored & who made him immensely happy.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

Nihal Seneviratne

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