Monday, December 15, 2008

Sheila Obeysekera

Extraordinary in her quiet, dignified way

Sheila de Alwis

We are constantly reminded of the lives of the great and famous, but not often do we remember ordinary people who led extraordinary lives. Such a person was Sheila de Alwis, née Obeysekera.
She was married to Leslie de Alwis, a prominent scholar and former head of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Sri Lanka. She was indeed a lady by every measure. She was born to wealth but lived humbly. She died the way she lived, with neither fuss nor excitement, but in a quiet and dignified manner.

Her son Lalith (Lalla) and I became friends at Trinity College, Kandy. Subsequently, I came to know and love all his sisters – Shanti, Nilanthi and Ione. Lalla lived in Colombo and I in Kandy. To our teen hormones, Colombo was a far greater attraction than Kandy.

Lalla’s house became a home away from home to me and many others from Trinity and Kandy. But it was a home because his mother, Aunty Sheila, as we all called her, made it so.

Better than anyone else, she understood our wild gyrations and oscillating personalities. She was pragmatic and understanding in every way. There was food for the hungry and counselling for the eternal teen problems, mainly related to girls, that would invariably crop up. Many a romance originated in her home. We tested the limits for our age late Saturday nights at Colombo nightclubs and rugby clubs – but there was never any censure for forsaking discipline for fun.

In essence, she was a mother to me and all of Lalla’s friends who enjoyed a kind of freedom at her home at an age that many did not. She was a lady beyond her time.
For all the love and affection she gave me and those of us who were not her children, I feel compelled to write this, so that she would smile, as she often did for our transgressions, while reading this in heaven.

Roy Balasuriya

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