It was on October 20 that I received the sad news from Romesh that his dad Mr. Raymond Paranavitharne had passed away in Melbourne that morning after a brief illness.I was to say the least, very saddened at hearing this news. It took me sometime to comprehend what he told me. That I will not see Raymond Paranavitharne again.
This sad news brought back to me, a flood of pleasant memories of the man I knew and admired. Gentlemen of the calibre of Mr. Paranavitharne are fast diminishing in the present day world.I first came to know Mr. Paranavitharne in 1985 when we went on army training to Minneriya at the height of the LTTE war as a part of what became known as the Sri Lanka Rifle Corp.(SLRC) SLRC comprised of planters and senior regional administrators of the Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) and Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation (SLSPC). Mr Paranavitharne was at that time regional chairman of the SLSPC Nuwaraeliya region, which comprised of several well-known estates and had been a senior planter himself, before being elevated as a senior administrator.
We were the first batch of planters and administrators who were sent for this training which was the brainchild of the late General Ranjan Wijeratne to somewhat protect the estate regions. This batch of around 30 of us, ranged from those who were in their early 30’s like me to those in their 50’s like Mr. Paranavitharne. He was probably around 50 years of age like some of the other regional chairmen and directors. The group comprised of at least 5 senior chairmen, several regional directors and few estate superintendents (managers). Army training was tough and gruelling to say the least. Rank and position in the plantation world did not matter to them and all were treated equally. It was here that I first experienced the amazing characteristics of Mr. Paranavitharne.
When some of us were complaining and being remorseful of the army training, he took it in his stride, never complained, and did what was expected of him in the right spirit. The hallmark of a true leader. I admired Mr. Paranavitharne’s spirit and his courage. It was much later that I realised that his strong character was due to the Godly spirit that he carried which I experienced more in later years.During our training period, some of us younger members enjoyed pulling pranks on a few seniors in the camp occasionally and they were not always amused. Mr. Paranavitharne stood up for us and sometimes joined in the fun too. It was during this period that I realised the respect that many had for this mild-mannered gentleman who up to that time I only knew as a senior regional chairman. From then on, I had the privilege of getting to know him and kept in touch, despite our vast difference in status. I was just a young estate manager and he a senior regional chairman and administrator.Thereafter he was elevated to the no 2 position at the SLSPC Central Board in Colombo. A very prestigious and important role at that time in the late 1980’s.
I also got to know that he tried to recommend me to a senior administrator’s position at the head office during this period, which of course did not materialize despite his efforts. However, we kept in close touch, and exchanged many ideas and views about introducing new thinking to the plantation industry during this period. Unfortunately, due to an unfair decision as a result of Mr. Paranavitharne standing firm to his principles, he resigned from this position at the SLSPC around 1989 with courage and dignity. He then took up a very interesting role in a BOI venture until he migrated to Australia.His life is a great example to me. Several are the lessons I learnt from him. One was never to let success hit your head. Another was never to complain but to have the inner strength to cope with any situation. For this characteristic, I realised you needed to have that connection with your creator, which I know he had in full measure.
The other great quality I saw in him was how he accepted the high’s and the lows in life, all in the same kind of spirt. These are qualities that education or money could never buy, however much we strive. This is definitely the grace of God on Mr. Paranavitharne’s life. He was a man who was not only highly respected but well-loved too. Wherever he worked, he always walked with his head held high, and earned the respect and confidence not only of his superiors, but also his peers and subordinates. While he held many prestigious positions, he held each position with pride and dignity.
My wife and I have been blessed to keep in touch with him and his precious wife Dharshini even after they migrated. He always never failed to give us a call when he came to Sri Lanka and we would catch up on old times. We also had the privilege of being invited to their home in Melbourne in April 2019. Something that I cannot still get over is how he got up from his chair and made the cup of tea for my wife Lorinda and my sister in law, much to our embarrassment. That was the man I knew and will always respect. I last spoke to him over the phone around 3 months ago and had a long conversation and he reminded me once again that we must visit his home on our next visit to Melbourne. This was not to be, and it saddens me that we won’t be seeing this wonderful gentleman anymore.
We feel extremely blessed to have known him, as he was a great inspiration to us. Whenever we met him, he always made us feel so wanted. He had this amazing quality of recognizing and admiring others’ achievements, which is a characteristic of a great leader. His pride and joy, apart from his dear wife Dharshini who has stood tall and strong beside him all these long years, are his three precious children, Manique, Romesh and Samantha.However, in the recent past I found that his pride and joy had embraced his grandchildren too. I recall him telling us how he tries to find ways to entertain and amuse them. It is sad that his grandchildren may not know too much of who and what their Grandpa was. However,
I have no doubt that by now they would have seen and experienced his qualities of humility, patience and love. I cannot call him my friend as that’s not what he was to me. He was more than a friend. A lovely human being and a gentleman to the end. We will truly miss him. In conclusion I know for sure that his life truly reflects the words of the psalmist in psalm 37:23 which says, “The steps of a good man are ordered and established by the Lord and he delights in his ways.” That was his life’s journey.May his soul Rest in Peace in the arms of his creator whom he loved.
– Rohan Fernando