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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Outgoing Dean Prof. Rohan W. Jayasekara

A Valedictory Academic Meeting in honour of Prof. Rohan W. Jayasekara on his retirement was held on Thursday September 17, 2015 at the New Lecture Theatre of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. He had served as Chair and Senior Professor of Anatomy (2000-2015), Founder Director of the Human Genetics Unit (1983-2014) and as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo from 2011 to 2014. Prof. Mohan de Silva, Chairman of the University Grants Commission was the Chief Guest and Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake, Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo was the Guest of Honour.

Prof. Rohan W. Jayasekara

The meeting was organised by the Department of Anatomy of the Colombo Medical Faculty which had also compiled and published the Rohan W. Jayasekara Felicitation Volume which was presented to him.

Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake VC presenting a token of appreciation to Prof. Jayasekara

Felicitation Volume being presented to Prof. Jayasekara by Consultant Paediatrician  Dr. B.J.C. Perera who is President of CoMSAA.


On a request made by Dr. Ajith P. Malalasekara, Head, Department of Anatomy, I contributed an article to the Felicitation Volume. It is published below.

Prof. Rohan Jayasekara as I Know Him
I was routinely checking my e-mail when I came across a message from Dr. Ajith Malalasekara requesting me to contribute an article to be included in the “Proceedings of the Valedictory Academic Meeting to be held on 17th September, 2015 to honour Prof. Rohan W. Jayasekara. My wife and I were visiting our daughter in Virginia Beach, VA in the US at the time. But I lost no time in responding immediately as I did not want to miss out on a grand opportunity to pay tribute to a dear friend who is still among us. As a matter of principle, I have refrained thus far from writing Appreciations of our dear departed relatives, colleagues and friends!
I am not by any means an academic, clinician, colleague or teacher of the most distinguished person under the spotlight. I have dabbled to some extent in research in my own specialty, but that’s nothing much to write home about! My only qualification to pen my thoughts for the occasion is as a friend of Rohan. In this article, I will touch briefly on the more important (to me) encounters between Rohan and myself.
Although we were both born in Sri Lanka (with at least a decade in time separating the two events) and had entered the same profession, our paths crossed for the first time in 1982. It happened thousands of miles away from our country of birth when we were “Paying Guests” at Petra Guest House in Jakarta, Indonesia. Rohan who I believe was a Lecturer in Anatomy at that time, was on a WHO sponsored study tour, while I had arrived in Jakarta for briefing by the WHO Representative prior to undertaking a Short Term Consultancy in West Timor. For company, we had two other Sri Lankan colleagues - Palitha Abeykoon who is well known in WHO circles and Kamini Alahakoon, formerly of the Family Health Bureau. As it often happens, this small group of four Sri Lankans who were far away from their own homes developed a craving for a meal of Rice and Curry. The closest to that was a Padang style Indonesian meal and none of us is likely to forget the dinner we enjoyed in a restaurant in Sabang on the eve of my departure to my Duty Station Kupang in West Timor.
It was a very brief first meeting in Jakarta, but our friendship has continued for 33 years since then. After our return to Sri Lanka, we met occasionally either at my work place which was the Health Education Bureau or in Rohan's office in the Anatomy Block of the Colombo Medical Faculty.
When a close relative of mine passed away some years ago, I had to seek Rohan's help as my relative had requested me when he was ailing, to arrange for his body to be donated to the Medical Faculty. As Professor and Head of the Department of Anatomy, Rohan made a moving speech on the steps at the entrance to the age old Anatomy Block, formally accepting the remains in the presence of relatives and friends who had assembled on Francis Road. The last rites were thus completed without any hitch and Rohan's kind gesture is still etched in my memory.
We lost touch with each other temporarily when I was out of the country for 13 years. However, on my return to Sri Lanka on a permanent basis in 2009, we were able to renew contact. I was happy when Rohan was elevated to the high office of Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo.

The highlight of our long friendship came in 2011 when I started a blog for 1962 entrants (just one of two such blogs, the other being that of 1960 entrants started by Dr. Philip Veerasingham) to the Colombo Medical Faculty. It was initially launched as part of a build up to our Batch Reunion held in 2012 to commemorate 50 years of our entry to the Colombo Medical Faculty. However, it has remained active to this day as a work in progress. To begin with, I had used a photograph that I myself had taken of the Faculty’s Main Administration Building for the Header Image. On seeing this, Rohan was not quite happy and soon enough, I received a beautiful photograph of the building which had been completely renovated under his own supervision and direction.

Another such episode was when I requested Rohan to give me permission to take a series of photographs of the Faculty premises for publication on the blog. Not only was the required permission granted so readily, but he went out of his way to provide a Faculty employee to assist me and take me around to all sections of the Faculty. As a former Committee Member of CoMSAA, I am personally aware of the assistance Rohan provided as the Dean in getting CoMSAA off the ground. Anyone interested in visiting the blog can do so by using the link:
Instead of rambling on and in order to keep it short, I wish to conclude this article by striking a more personal note. My daughter Dilushi and granddaughter Anisha have both studied English Elocution as pupils under Rohan's wife Varuni. Dilushi who is now a grown adult and well employed in the US, recalls with gratitude even now, that she owes a lot to her former elocution teacher. As parents, my wife and I were happy that Rohan and Varuni were there to share the joy with us at our son’s wedding in 2002.

My very best wishes go out to both Rohan and Varuni who have many more years to achieve their life’s desires, particularly in their professional careers.

 Dr. Lakshman Abeyagunawardene
MBBS (Ceylon), MPH (California), MD (Colombo), FCCPSL (Honorary)
Consultant Community Physician


  1. We wish the Prof a long and happy retirement. It is wonderful as you say to write about the living for them to know how much we appreciate their contribution to society. We must also remember those who have made enormous contributions in their fields and are now no more. They have become part of our history and heritage and should never be forgotten. In such posthumous tributes the author has the ability to be truly honest. I could never have written about Prof Rajasuriya in those terms if he was alive.
    I have made it a point to write a few words about our batchmates who have now passed away for their contribution to our lives during those difficult but magical 5 years. We cannot allow those years and memories to be lost in the mist of time.
    It doesn't really matter if a person is alive or gone to the great beyond if he/she deserves a mention.

  2. Clearly a very distinguished career and although I don't know him and never ha the pleasure of meeting him, I like to wish him a happy and fulfilling retirement. Being in the ranks of the retirees, I know what a great time it is! Your comments are very warm and the family connections make it even more personal.

    My first "exposure" to him as through exposure to his superb photo which is now the signature of our blog and thanks to him for that too.