Monday, December 15, 2008

Colvin Sirimanne

The country needs more men like him

Colvin Sirimanne

The date July 25, 1983 brings back sad memories to many of us, for various reasons. To the extended family of Colvin Sirimanne, it was a tragic day for more reasons than one. That day, on which many died, was also Colvin’s last day on earth. He was called home by Our Lord that night. We are certain of his happiness in the near presence of God, but cannot help being sorry for ourselves, those he left behind. We miss him very much and his presence in our lives.
On the morning of July 23, on his way to the cardiology unit of the General Hospital, Colvin witnessed some shocking, tragic sights that no doubt contributed to the massive heart attack he suffered that day. The late Dr. Ernie Pieris, my husband and Colvin’s nephew, lived with Colvin and his family when he was a medical student, and even after that, until we got married. The love and care Colvin and his wife Lucky extended to Ernie most certainly contributed to Ernie’s success at his final MBBS examination. Even after our marriage, the couple was always there for us. Ernie never forgot the love and support they gave us, and neither will I.

Our close association with Colvin’s family, even after our marriage, contributed towards our postgraduate scholastic and professional achievements.

Colvin was a brilliant old boy of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, and he was on the school board of governors for more than 20 years. He graduated from University College Colombo with first-class honours. Apart from his academic achievements, Colvin was a keen sportsman, his favourite sports being rugby and rowing. On his return from England, after a four-year training, he was elected as the first Ceylonese president of the Colombo Rowing Club, where he was an active oarsman and won many awards.

He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Chemists of Great Britain and Ireland on May, 21, 1948. Colvin was a colossus in his chosen field, Ballistics and Forensic Studies, and he brought out the best in those who worked under him. He was a strict disciplinarian, and on account of this a few may have failed to understand him. He always strove to maintain the high standard of the Government Analysts’ Department, and faithfully carry out government policy.
He sustained mutually trusting and supportive friendships with his staff, including the late Mr. Chanmugam, from whom he took over, and senior assistants like the late Tom Nagendra, the late Newton Weerasinghe, the late Ben Dissanaike, and the late Noel Jayatunga. They made a very efficient and loyal team.

I must mention three cases in which Colvin was professionally involved. Soon after the assassination of Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, on September 26, 1959, Colvin was summoned to Tintagel by the premier’s widow, the late Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Colvin was the first person on the scene from the Government Analysts’ Department, taking measurements and making notes. He earned accolades in court for his painstakingly collected evidence.
Colvin also earned international recognition when he was invited by Scotland Yard, London, to work with them in solving a difficult case.

Then there was that baffling case in Matale, in which a female domestic helper was found dead from a gunshot wound in a toilet in the home of a wealthy and influential family. Colvin received a call from a young ASP, who had appealed to the Government Analysts’ Department for help. The ASP expected Colvin to send a junior to investigate. To his surprise, Colvin himself turned up in Matale.

The chief occupant of the house where the death had occurred happened to be in political power at the time. His political opponents in the village were making capital of the murder and trying to discredit him. A rumour started to spread in Matale that the politician had committed the murder.

After a meticulous study of the evidence, Colvin proved that this was a case of suicide, not murder. He persuaded court that the deceased had taken a loaded shotgun belonging to the family, placed it at an angle, and from a kneeling position bent over the mouth of the barrel and pulled the trigger herself. The junior ASP was highly impressed that the Government Analyst had taken the trouble to come all the way to Matale. The young ASP, incidentally, was none other than Cyril Herath, who rose to be IGP. Shakespeare wrote: “Men’s evil manners live in brass/Their virtues we write in water”.

That is why I am writing this, 25 years after Colvin’s demise. Our country needs more men and women of his calibre. Colvin was a remarkable man. He was the embodiment of honesty, integrity and energy, ready to take on any job that arose, and he never compromised his principles.

He was a deeply loved and respected husband and father to his beloved wife, Lucky, and their five children, Lakshman, Dharshini, Mohini, Gehan and Ruvani.

We thank God for two lives well lived.

Dr. Philine Pieris


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