Shelley Wickremasinghe: A Giant of a Man

Mahinda Wijesinghe

The passing away of 86-year old Shelley Wickremasinghe on 11 August 2011 was yet another instance of the law of the world in operation, that “all compounded phenomena are subject to change.” Or expressed in lay terms: a mighty oak had fallen. Shelley was known to me for over 40 years and was always amazed at his composure when faced with the many vicissitudes he faced in life – and solved. Attempting to pay a deserving tribute to a multi-faceted personality who reached the zenith of all his worldly pursuits is a well-nigh insurmountable task. Reminds me of the Jataka Story when a squirrel strained to empty the mighty ocean with its little tail.

As we all know, he was an outstanding and a pioneering engineer of repute, a loving husband, a caring father and was a tower of strength not only to his own siblings but also to his in-laws, and the grandchildren whom he simply adored. Indeed, just a couple of days before his demise, and despite his failing health, the Wickremasinghe godfather had taken all of them out for dinner – stating that “this time it is going to be my treat.” However, I hope the family would not take much offence when I say that his devotion and services to Bloomfield came a fairly close second to his family duties and obligations. Remember, he served the club as President during the many turbulent years so ably for over 25 years, probably a record without parallel.

In fact, if not for Shelley’s inexhaustible energy, drive and tenacity, to save Bloomfield from extinction, ably supported by Vice-President Danny Liyanasuriya, there would have been noBloomfieldtoday. I and a few former club members remember the dark days when the club was being pushed from pillar to post, and how he and Danny fought shoulder to shoulder to put Bloomfield back on track. Most of us had actually held no hopes for the future of Bloomfield. Believe me it was that bad.

Shelley took over the Presidency of the club when it was located at Campbell Park in 1972. The clubhouse was on wheels and without a ground to stage Sara Trophy games. Despite this seemingly Himalayan problem, Bloomfield won the Sara Trophy for the first time, under the captaincy of Noel Perera in the 1963-64 season. That was the spirit of Bloomfield. Perhaps that may have been one of the reasons why Shelley thought he should lend a hand to this deserving club.Soon after Shelley became President, due to some political skullduggery, Bloomfield was given marching orders from Campbell Park. Fortuitously, it proved a blessing in disguise. Shelley moved mountains and was finally able to clinch the current Reid Avenue venue though, at that time, it was practically an uncleared jungle. The members and their wives did shramadana work enthusiastically to reduce the cost of clearing and preparing the ground, and with Shelley’s enthusiastic encouragement and support, the massive job was completed. Today, thanks primarily to the foresight and the efforts of Shelley, supported by the members,Bloomfieldcan now stage first-class cricket matches inColombo7.

A few years later, again pressure was brought to throwBloomfieldout ofReid Avenueas well. Here again it was Shelley, as usual with Danny by his side, who fought relentlessly and with steely determination succeeded in maintaining the status quo.

 Shelley conducted all our committee meetings during these tempestuous years with great wisdom, tact and understanding. His endearing smile always resolved many a sticky situation. So, Bloomfielders past and present owe a great debt of gratitude and perhaps hardly anyone would grudge if I refer to Shelley as Mr.Bloomfield. Naming the Pavilion after him can be considered small change compared to the unstinted and the incomparable services he renderedBloomfield. It is no exaggeration to say that sometimes we felt he carried the club on his shoulders.

Shelley never failed to tell me that he played for the first XI, under Dion Walles, at St.Peter’s College, and was very proud that he was a member of an unbeaten cricket team, implying with a twinkle in his eyes “can you beat that?” His love for the game of cricket knew no bounds. He was also the father figure of the Mercantile Cricket Association, and was responsible in putting the MCA on a sound footing. In recognition of his services to cricket in general, Shelley was appointed by the Minister of Sports to the first National Sports Council along with Sathi Coomaraswamy, in 1973, to look after the interests of cricket. Later he became the President of the National Sports Council and was also elected Vice President of the Cricket Board. As President of the YMBA he did yeoman service, following in the footsteps of his illustrious uncle Sir Cyril de Zoysa. I was also informed of his contributions to the Sri Lanka Institute of Motor Engineers that enabled them eventually to obtain international recognition. How he found the time and the energy for all of this gives a measure of the man and is a lesson for today’s younger generation. Let us not forget, there were no computers/mobile phones/ipods and other mod-cons to short-circuit time and make matters that much easier when Shelley was on the ball.

  His generosity and love for cricket knew no bounds. Not only did he personally assist many a cricketer financially, but also when Shelley was the Engineer at the Wellawatte Mills and Collettes Ltd., he recruited young cricketers and helped them along to build their future. This was not all. Shelley once told me that when he notices an advertisement in the media  of any person needing financial assistance for health reasons he would always respond.

  He achieved all of these despite personal tragedies he suffered during his lifetime when three members of his family predeceased him, reflects the measure of this giant we call a man who has now gone in the way of all flesh. Indeed this could well be his epitaph. So, let us all join in wishing Shelley: May the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem, assist you for a brief but happy journey in Samsara.

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