Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sir Cyril de Zoysa

A great philanthropist, visionary and entrepreneur

Sir Cyril de Zoysa

At the mere mention of “Sir Cyril”, Sri Lankan people of all races and religions remember with respect and gratitude the great philanthropist and visionary Sir Cyril de Zoysa. A highly respected lawyer who was best known for his acts of charity, Sir Cyril made a tremendous contribution to Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

I remember him once telling me: “Had I remained a practising lawyer, I would not have had the opportunity or the good fortune to be of service to humanity and be involved in meritorious acts such as these.”

Aside from his successful legal practice, Sir Cyril’s entrepreneurial instincts prompted him to found a bus company, called “South Western”. Through sheer hard work and commitment, he began to build his businesses, gaining in confidence and acumen, and developing himself and his organisation in the process.

Powered by this success, he began to expand the business into related fields, especially the manufacture of rubber-based goods and other ancillary products for motor vehicles. These business ventures marked a milestone in his life and heralded a new chapter in the vibrant industrial growth of the nation.

Had Sir Cyril’s dream of a local automotive industry been fulfilled, Sri Lanka would be probably on a par today with India, which is experiencing an automotive industry boom. Decades ago, Sir Cyril endeavoured to make Sri Lanka a motor manufacturing powerhouse. Unfortunately, his efforts to help and support local manufacturers were often thwarted by certain elements with vested interests.

As a leading businessman and head of one of Sri Lanka’s most successful companies, Sir Cyril was determined to maximise employment opportunities for our people. Associated Motorways Ltd and its many subsidiary companies provided thousands with a livelihood, and gave their families a chance to build a better life.

Sir Cyril was the first private sector entrepreneur to introduce the concept of community housing. The construction of private apartment complexes in the city was his brainchild, something the people of Sri Lanka and the country’s successive governments should be ever grateful for.

Although he was a highly successful businessman, Sir Cyril did not forget his religious upbringing. Before embarking on any new venture, he would perform the required religious rites and seek the blessings of the clergy.

He identified the sacred Kalutara Bodhiya for his special attention, and helped maintain this sacred site with his generous donations. What began as a gesture of goodwill and charity “during the operation of the South Western Bus Company” has grown into a sizeable regular contribution. The Kalutara Bodhiya is a landmark religious site, where thousands of travellers and commuters stop daily to seek blessings as they make their way to the south along the Galle Road.

The Sir Cyril de Zoysa Trust was created with the vision of protecting and developing the Kalutara Bodhiya. The trustees include Shelly Wickramasinghe; the late Kingsley Wickramsinghe; his daughter Rashantha de Alwis Seneviratne and son-in-law Dr. Sarathchandra de Alwis Seneviratne.


Today, on Sir Cyril de Zoysa’s 112th birth anniversary, Rs. 100 million and land worth Rs. 75 million are available through the trust. The funds are used to develop and maintain the Bodhiya and shrine and also help the residents of Kalutara.

The Kalutara Bodhi Trust has been headed by different people at different points in time. The present chairman, Ajita de Zoysa, is the second son of V. T. de Zoysa, brother of Sir Cyril. We can be sure the current chairman will keep Sir Cyril’s vision alive for the benefit of the people of Sri Lanka.

As chairman of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust, Ajita de Zoysa, with the assistance of his relatives, continue to make private donations for the upkeep and development of the Kalutara Bodhiya. These contributions are also used to develop temples, construct halls for Sunday schools, and build schools and homes for the elderly in different parts of the country. These are just a few of the good works the family is engaged in to fulfil the vision of the late Sir Cyril.

The Sir Cyril de Zoysa charity is not limited to one area of the country. Sir Cyril also made a big contribution towards establishing Young Men’s Buddhist Association centres around the island, as well as rebuilding the pilgrims’ rests in Kataragama and Anuradhapura. He was also chairman of the Kiri Vehera restoration project.

Sir Cyril played a prominent role in a number of important projects. He helped to develop the Gangaramaya Viharaya; found the Shri Jinarathana Industrial College, and construct the border walls of the Beira Lake. He also played a key role in the Navam Perahera.

Sir Cyril was appointed chairman of the Senate, and during his tenure a motion was raised in Parliament to turn both Vidyodaya and Vidyalanka Maha Pirivenas into universities. Sir Cyril vehemently opposed the idea, sensing the move would be damaging to the Buddhist clergy. However, the motion was approved by Parliament. What was the fate of Vidyodaya and Vidyalanka Universities? The universities do not even bear their original names, and the Buddhist clergy were distanced from their vice-chancellorship. What was the logic behind this move?

A giant among men, Sir Cyril de Zoysa worked with passion and compassion to help others and share what he had to benefit this nation and its future generations.

To honour the memory of this great man and recognise his magnanimous contributions to Sri Lanka society and Buddhism, a proposal has been made to erect a statue of Sri Cyril de Zoysa in the city of Kataragama. The project has been initiated by Ajita de Zoysa, who is being advised by the Most Rev. Aluthwewa Soratha Thera, chief incumbent of the Rajamaha Viharaya Kiri Vehera; the Most Ven. Kapugama Saranatissa Thera, chief incumbent of the Kataragama Sri Abhinawaramaya, and Rev. Hille Gnananda Thera, chief incumbent of Dhamnikethana Pirivena, Sellakataragama.

Like a seedling that grows into a plant and then into a giant tree, the good work of Sir Cyril continues to grow and spread its branches. His life and good works have touched thousands of lives, blessing them with love, life and opportunity.

We are deeply grateful to the late Sir Cyril – and to his family, for keeping his noble vision alive.May Sir Cyril be born among us again.

Ven. Galaboda Sri Gnanissara Maha Thera

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