Jayantha Dhanapala – The First UN Under-Secretary-General from Sri LankaNovember 16, 2013, 5:22 pm
I received the sad news of the death of Gamani Corea while presiding over a conference in Istanbul – where trade routes from the North and South and East and West, including the famous Silk Route, converged whether as Byzantium in the 7th century BC, Constantinople in the 4th century AD or as Istanbul in the modern secular Turkey of today. It was an appropriate location to reflect on the enormous contribution a Sri Lankan had made to achieve equitable terms of trade for developing countries and to ensure that international trade and development was conducted on a level playing field. For nine years Gamani held the post of Secretary-General of UNCTAD with the rank of UN Under-Secretary-General - the first Sri Lankan to do so - setting the bar so high for us all to feel a deep sense of pride.
Many eloquent tributes have already been paid to Gamani Corea , including from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, recalling his achievements as a scholar and an economist who shaped our national economy and influenced the international economic discourse for many years. From my early days of protocol duty as a junior diplomat in London greeting the affable Gamani at Heathrow Airport, to the long discussions we had in Geneva, he was always disarmingly modest and accessible. As a raconteur he held the attention of all with his wit. As Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka in the period he was UNCTAD Secretary- General, I was proud to hear him speak on the most complex economic issues without a prepared text. He was a pioneer in the use of computers almost child-like in his fascination for the latest model in the market. Despite the shadow under which he lived the last decade of his life after he suffered a stroke, he never lost his charming sense of humour or his gracious courtesy.
Two anecdotes merit repetition. One has been retold in different versions but the version Gamani related to me is as follows – In the mid 1950s M.D.H.Jayawardena as Minister of Finance, with his officials Gamani Corea and Raju Coomaraswamy, entered the office of the Canadian Finance Minister in Ottawa to be greeted with the amused question to the towering trio –"Gentlemen, do you represent the starving masses of Ceylon?". Gamani gave the credit to M.D.H.Jayawardena for having quipped back "No – but we represent their aspirations!" In my own drawing room in Washington DC a State Department official hailed Gamani along with the two other bachelor diplomats from Sri Lanka – Shirley Amerasinghe and Neville Kanekeratne - as the three most distinguished bachelors from the country. Gamani impishly replied "Yes, but two of them are extinguished!"
As Gamani ended his tenure in UNCTAD a group of his admirers and friends put together a collection of tributes. I was invited to contribute to it. I can do no better than reproduce that tribute below in the format in which it was published in ?"Letters to Dr. Gamani Corea on the Occasion of His Relinquishment of Office of Secretary-General of UNCTAD.?(UN,1985 – 194 pages"
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