Vale Radley Claessen: A Tribute from 2011

Radley Claessen passed away recently in Adelaide and many a Lankan Australian and many Adelaidian Aussies were at the simple ceremony at the Anglican Church he attended to bid him farewell

Dr Nihal D Amerasekera, writing on 21st March 2011

At school Radley was a vibrant, energetic personality with a devouring passion for cricket. His Brylcreemed hair was firmly combed back. He had a strong respect for Wesley and great loyalty to his friends. Radley Claessen was a fine cricketer at Wesley College and captained the team in 1952. In that year Wesley College remained unbeaten, a rare achievement indeed when Royal and St Thomas’ had such strong teams. Radley’s cricket epitomised the best traditions of the school game. Not simply his ability, but also the way he conducted himself, both as a cricketer and as captain of Wesley. Whether batting in a crisis or dominating bowling, Radley’s steely resolve never wavered. Although I used to watch Radley play cricket bewitchingly at Campbell Park in the early Fifties, I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to him until 57 years later in Adelaide, South Australia. At Wesley he was recognised to the point of adulation for his immense contribution to the game.


The most successful and entertaining period in Wesley’s cricket history to date, the 1950s , has entered the folklore as the Claessen, Adhihetty and Fuard era. They were at the heart of all their most glorious triumphs under the inspirational guidance of coach and manager Mr AV Fernando. Humour and imaginative motivational ploys were typical of his management style which oversaw the most sensational and productive years of cricket for Wesley. The name Claessen became a house hold name in Ceylon during those years when his brothers Bryan and Herman too played cricket for the school with much success.

Radley seemed a batsman without flaw, impeccable in defence, and classically elegant in attack, especially on the off side.  At his best Radley could make any attack seem ordinary. He was always an exceptionally fine fielder.  As captain his genial ways brought the best out of many players. Radley’s record as captain is impressive.  Strongly built, with broad shoulders Radley was a fine and effective fast bowler.  He had a front-on action of classical perfection  and a most beautiful, rhythmical run-up and delivery.  He bowled beautifully with the new ball and he was often genuinely fast.  He could also employ a vicious bouncer, ferocious enough to embarrass even the best batsmen.  He was amiable and polite on and  off the field. At school he will always be remembered as an outstanding cricketer.

In that same year, 1952,  he was appointed the Senior Prefect when he showed a resolute seriousness to do his job well. One of my firmest memories of him from that time is the charisma and respect he brought to his job as the” top cop”. He was also a kind man; and understanding of other people’s shortcomings and had perfect rapport with the students. Despite his iconic status he had his feet firmly on the ground. His rather distant, enigmatic personal manner was a part of him. Radley was a leader of men and had the drive and self-confidence even as a teenager and earned the respect of his teachers and fellow students. He had a no nonsense attitude to discipline at Wesley and beyond. He made a tremendous contribution to life at Wesley College and as such takes his place in the history of the school. We certainly felt a sense of loss when he left.

After he emigrated  in 1958 he had a remarkably successful career in Public Service in Adelaide where he enjoyed great prominence among highly influential people in South Australia. His immense talents and energies had not been wasted. He had always won the admiration and respect of those who worked closely with him. Perhaps, some thought that he had the touches of greatness about him and he did. He eloquently defended what he thought was right. Radley held the responsible position as Hon. Consul for Sri Lanka in South Australia when his work was greatly appreciated. For his services to the public Radley was appointed a JP and continues to serve the community. Despite his high profile work he has an overriding, quiet modesty which the public respects and appreciates enormously.

He remains essentially a family man close to his four children and grandchildren. Sadly his wife, Angela, passed away and he feels the loss deeply. He was gracious enough to phone me at my hotel when I was in Adelaide in  March 2009 when we spoke about our schooldays and mutual friends. Despite a few health issues he leads a relatively active life.

Radley remains a loyal old boy of the school. He must be warmed by the esteem in which he is still held by former cricketers and Wesleyites worldwide. He still retains the poise and coolness he possesed as a schoolboy. As a fitting tribute it would suffice to say Radley epitomised in his working life what was good about Wesley’s fine ideals and those of post-independent Ceylon. On behalf of the Brotherhood of past students I wish him a long and happy retirement.


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