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Monday, November 30, 2015

Remembering Prof. Dayasiri Fernando

By Dr. Philip G. Veerasingham (Retired Consultant Surgeon, General Hospital, Colombo)

 I met Dayasiri for the first time at the Medical Faculty, Colombo. 

He had entered the Faculty from St.Thoma’s College, Mt. Lavinia. Remembering his school days he told me that he had played the part of Portia, in the all male school production of, Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’. He recalled how G. L. Pieris was the ‘prompter’, waiting behind the curtain to help out the young actors, if they ‘missed a line’. G.L. Pieris became a Professor in the Law Faculty and later took up to politics.

He also recalled a night, the year before he entered Medical College when he was about to go to sleep in his bed-room. He overheard his parents discussing about any financial constraints they might have, to support Dayasiri through his years as a Medical student. They had concluded that somehow they would make it. Dayasiri told me, that this made him work hard throughout his medical career. He did his Surgical Internship with Prof. Nawaratne and became a close friend of him.

He was boarded as a medical student, with the famous Obstetrician Dr.Prince Rajaratnam. He related how Prince had told him that one must live a life, where even the undertaker would feel sorry for one’s death. This came true for Prince. After the funeral of Prince Rajaratnam, his wife got a note from Raymonds the undertakers, that there was no bill to be settled as that was the least that they could do, for this wonderful doctor.

In 1972 I met Dayasiri in Sheffield. He was working with a famous Gastro-enterologist then. He told me that at the interview where he was selected, he had produced the letter of reference from Prof Nawaratne. ‘Nawa’ was then in the editorial board of the magazine of the British Surgical Society. Prof. Hughes (if my memory is correct) had told him why he did not send Prof. Nawaratne’s letter with the application for the job. Then there would have been no need for the interview.

In 1974 he returned to Sri Lanka and was Resident Surgeon at Panadura. Subsequently he went on a scholarship to do Gastro-enterology as a speciality. He was appointed the Gastro-enterologist at Kalubowila Hospital, on his return to Sri Lanka. He resigned from his post in the Health Department and joined the Medical Faculty, Colombo, under Prof. Nawaratne.

When I was appointed Consultant Surgeon, GH, Colombo in 1991, we became colleagues and used to have operating sessions, in adjoining operating suites. I remember an incident relating to the medical students clerking with me. When examining patient’s abdomen, I would use as ‘control subject’ a medical student in the batch, doing the appointment at that time. The patient with an abdominal lump would be lying on the bed for the examination. On the adjacent bed I would make a medical student lie down and expose his abdomen. The students would examine both subjects and get a first-hand knowledge of pathological anatomy of the abdomen. Apart from occasional giggles there were no protests. I have a sneaky feeling that the boys who acted as ‘controls’ would have felt thrilled when the female colleagues, palpated their abdomen. One day a male student refused to act as a ‘control’. I told him ‘How can I teach you if you refuse to take part in this’ and sent him out. A few days later the Professor of Surgery met me in the Consultants Lounge and told me that the student was wearing torn underwear (‘banian’) and that was the reason, he refused to expose his abdomen. I told the Professor that now I understood his predicament and took him back. A few years later I heard that this student had gone to see Dayasiri. Dayasiri had listened to him and told him to go with this cooked up story to the Professor. I had a hearty laugh on hearing this. Dayasiri was very close to the Medical students who would take their troubles to him.

Dayasiri was the family surgeon for Madame Sirimavo Bandaranaike. He moved in the highest political circles of Sri Lanka.

He became Dean of the Sri Jayawardenapura Medical Faculty. His last post was as President of the Public Service Commision.

He often quoted a poem we learned at school which goes as follows:-
‘Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us,

He was a practicing Christian and understood the impermanence of things.

I salute him and his life


  1. What a wonderful tribute! Thanks Philip.

  2. Thank you for this lovely tribute. I think the story about the torn banyan was rather characteristic of him!

  3. Dayasiri was one of Sri Lanka’s leading surgeons and academics with special expertise in Gastroenterology. He was down to earth and showed tremendous warmth and sympathy to his patients. I will always remember the kindness and courtesy he showed my parents during my father's life threatening illness. His humour and kindly smile will be a memory for us all.
    May your Soul Rest in Peace.

  4. Dayasiri Fernando was a Thomian at least five years my senior. I first met him when he was a registrar to ATS Paul, during an admission to his ward the year before I entered medical school in 1966. He decided to act as elder brother to me when he learnt I was intending to study medicine and was a reassuring and formative influence until I left for the UK in 1977.
    I kind of hero worshipped him.
    He was the surgeon at the accident service, when I was in in later years at medical school and I remember going there to learn how to suture injuries. Later he worked for Professor Navaratne and became a Gastroenterological surgeon.
    He had an outstanding bed-side manner at a time this was not de-rigueur, and he treated patients with empathy and respect.
    He introduced me to the poem "IF" by Kipling. He was the embodiment of "IF".
    His life was gentle; and the elements
    So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up
    And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!
    I miss him very much. Sleep well sweet knight.