Shelley Wickramasinghe: a Tribute to the GOM of Bloomfield

Sa’adi Thawfeeq, in The Nation, 14 August 2011

Shelley Wickramasinghe respectfully known as the Grand Old Man (GOM) of Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club, one of the oldest cricket clubs in Sri Lanka was laid to rest at Kanatte yesterday amidst a massive crowd that turned up at his funeral. Strangely enough it was on the same day and venue that the funeral of Deshamanya HK Dharmadasa, chairman of Nawaloka Group and well known sports promoter also took place.  Shelley passed away on Wednesday morning at his home at Park Road, Narahenpita at the age of 85 leaving behind a legacy to Bloomfield with whom he was associated for a greater part of his life.
Bloomfield which is 119 years old and Shelley are quite synonymous. He has been their foundation from the time they had been pushed from pillar to post in search of a permanent venue until they eventually settled down at their present location at Reid Avenue. If not for Shelley the club would not be standing handsomely at its present location at Reid Avenue.
Shelley as he was fondly and popularly known is ever grateful to former sports minister late KB Ratnayake for giving Bloomfield this land.
“When we went and saw the land, believe me it was a jungle, grass upto your waist. The first thing I had to do was to get the ground done up,” recalled Shelley. “After having done that and built a moderate pavilion we were badly in need of a turf wicket. I built six strips. Then we needed a good pavilion and Upali (Dharmadasa) helped me build it. It was my design and my efforts. I also approached about 30 firms and all of them helped me because they knew that money given to me will be well used.”Shelley devoted virtually his entire life to Bloomfield and its cause. When he said: ‘I was responsible for putting Bloomfield on the cricket map’ it was not an idle boast but one which he truly deserves.  “I personally feel that I have done a lot of work for cricket and for Bloomfield. I have spent a lot of time and money sometimes from my personal account even at the cost of my own family. The club started doing well after I moved in as president,” he once recalled in an interview with The Nation.
Shelley was three times president of the club. The first was in 1972-73, the second in 1976-77 and the third an unbroken sequence of 22 years from 1979 to 2000. When he eventually quit Bloomfield they gave him a grand farewell and presented him with a large crystal ball which rests handsomely at his home.
    During Shelley’s tenure as president, cricket at Bloomfield flourished. The club has made it a habit to keep on producing top notch cricketers who invariably ended up playing for Sri Lanka.  Even in retirement Shelley followed the fortunes of his beloved club closely. He visited it occasionally and once stated, “At my age it’s not very much that I can do for cricket now because of my illness. I am completely retired now and spend a lot of time reading apart from the newspapers and watching cricket on television.” It is not that Shelley suffered from any kind of serious illness it is that he was too feeble to walk alone unassisted for long distances.
What made Bloomfield such a successful club to keep turning out good national cricketers all the time was that the players were well looked after.
“Bloomfield is a very homely club in the sense that all committee members and others as well are there to show the cricketers that we need them and are doing something for them. You must show interest in them, the club management and president downwards. No member of Bloomfield ever went to another club for want of more facilities or looking after during my time as president,” he said.
While being Bloomfield president he was head of two other important associations – the Mercantile CA and chairman of the National Sports Council. Nobody held these three posts simultaneously. He was also vice-president of Sri Lanka Cricket in the mid eighties at a time when interim committees were not even heard of.
Shelley suffered several setbacks in his family life losing his wife and then his daughter who was married to former Sri Lanka off-spinner Lalith Kaluperuma, but he was strong enough to overcome those obstacles and continue with his life.
Shelley’s motto for a successful career: “I haven’t had any setbacks in my career because I got thoroughly involved in everything I did and there were good results. All the work I did I was involved in them personally and in a big way. Anything important and any detail that needs doing were attended to because those with whom you work with follow your example, and naturally good results come out.”
Shelley was considered a leading authority in the field of engineering. There was no engineer in Sri Lanka as highly qualified as Shelley on mechanical and road transport. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, London, Fellow of the Road Transport Engineers London, in addition, a Fellow of the Plant Engineers of London.
The Institute of Automobile Engineering Association of Sri Lanka felicitated him two years ago for the services he had rendered to transport and dieselisation in this country – the first to be honoured by this association (of which he was a founder president)..
Although he was educated at a Catholic school, St. Peter’s College, Colombo, Shelley is a devout Buddhist. “I have always been religious because I feel that being religious is very important to anybody.” Shelley was a trustee at the Kalutara Bhodiya for 14 years and a member of the Colombo YMBA (Young Men’s Buddhist Association) for more than 35 years going upto the level of president. He built places of worship at Kataragama following in the footsteps of his uncle Sir Cyril de Soysa.

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