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Monday, September 4, 2017

An Honoured Sri Lankan Passes Away

Young "Ras"
Dr. N. Rasalingam

Achievements at a glance (click on picture to enlarge)

Dr. N. Rasalingam
By Rohini Anandaraja

Dr. Nagalingam Rasalingam - born in Sri Lanka on 3rd May 1936, passed away peacefully  in Auckland, New Zealand, on 26th August 2017.

He had arrived in NZ in 1969 to begin work as a Houseman in the Public Hospital in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.  Here he impressed his consultants and colleagues with his knowledge of medicine as well as his dedication to work, his cooperation, and his charming personality, to the extent that other Sri Lankan medical professionals were enthusiastically recruited to Wellington Hospital on his recommendation.

In 1974 , he moved to Auckland, to establish his own General Practice- not in a plush elitist area, but in an area of 'special need' where he offered free health care for children under 6 yrs of age, as well as the disadvantaged, long before government funded schemes became available. Known to his patients as Dr.Ras, he served this community with great dedication and compassion.

During the Sri Lankan ethnic conflicts , his own family suffered tremendous loss. He was not only instrumental in helping his own family, but many others who were at risk of losing their lives, to migrate to New Zealand..
During his time in Auckland, there were many other refugees groups who arrived in NZ from Cambodia, Vietnam, Kosovo, Zimbabwe etc, fleeing persecution in their mother lands. His great empathy saw him dedicated to helping these traumatized people settle into their new homes, ensuring they have accessible and affordable health care.

He established interpreter services for them , became Chairperson of the "English for speakers of other languages " Advisory Board at the Auckland University of Technology. In 1991 he served as the inaugural President of the Auckland Refugee Council , continuing in this role for 10 years. In 2006 he became the inaugural President of the Refugee Council of NewZealand, ensuring that New Zealand met its legal and humanitarian obligations under the United Nations Convention on Refugees (UNCR). He was also President of the Ethnic Voice of New Zealand, and spent countless hours being an inspirational and vocal leader, assisting refugees and migrants assimilate into NZ society. Many were the lives he touched.

Making an impact on government and departmental policies and procedures has always been a difficult task. However, Dr. Ras' persistence resulted in many changes for the better management of refugee and migrant issues at the highest levels of government. In recognition of his  dictated service , he was awarded a Queen's Service Medal (QSM) in 1990, and was conferred " Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM)" in the Queen's Birthday Honours in year 2000. His awards and accolades have been many, a list of which appears at the beginning of this article.

Dr. Rasalingam has been a very loved and respected member of the NewZealand community that Sri Lanka can be proud of.

His funeral took place on 3rd September, the proceedings commencing to the strains of " Disce Aut Discede" the Royal College anthem, as Ras had been head prefect of RC in 1956. It was attended by over a thousand mourners, with eulogies by a past Governor General of NZ, and past minister and incumbent Mayor of Auckland with whom Dr. Ras had worked closely. They enlightened us further on what a great, yet humble man he was, and made the point that it was unusual for one person to be conferred two honours- but that Dr. Ras  was an extraordinary  human being that they were very privileged to know.

He leaves behind,  his wife Malar, his son Ravi-a cardiologist in Boston, and daughter- a lawyer in NewYork.

His great humanitarian work now behind him  - May his kind soul Rest in Peace.

Blog Administrator's note: "Ras" was a few years senior to us in Medical School. But most of us knew him at least as a "Common Room Acquaintance".


  1. I am deeply saddened by the news of passing away of Rasas.
    I am sure this is the same Ras,I new while at Blom hostel.
    I knew RAS as a champion Badmiton player,who won all- Island Badmiton championship.
    He related a story about going to Ambalangoda,to take part in a Badminton tournament and the warm welcome he received from the girls and boys from that town.
    He never expected the Sinhala community to welcome him cordially.He was very moved by the unexpected. That was a few years after the communal riots.Tamil community feared the worst from people from the South,during that time.
    Even as a Sinhalese,hearing the name Kosgoda-Balapitiya,gave me shudders.

    May he enjoy the bliss of emancipation

    1. Yes Sumathi,this is the Ras you knew at Bloemfontein.
      He did have a winning way wherever he went .

  2. Rohini
    Thank you for that most comprehensive and elegant tribute for such a fine doctor and a wonderful human being. Seeing him as a young sportsman in the photo with his many trophies I do remember him as a pillar of the common room, always with a smile.
    It never fails to amaze me how so very differently life has panned out for each one of us after leaving the hallowed precincts of the Faculty. Although Much to the chagrin of some of our philosophers in our batch I still prefer to call it the awesome force of destiny.
    Rohini you have much to offer this blog of ours. Keep writing

    When I read about the lives of great people like Ras what comes to mind are the words of HW Longfellow

    Lives of great men all remind us
    We can make our lives sublime
    And, departing, leave behind us
    Foot prints on the sands of time

    1. Nihal, Iam delighted you brought in the words of HWL and effectively
      completed my tribute to Ras. This verse came into my mind as soon as I had emailed my tribute to Lucky,and regretted not having included it,but didn't want to harass Lucky by making amendments.
      I had already taken liberties with his kindness by sending the photos and article in dribs and drabs during a busy working day!
      Thank you so much!

    2. Lucky, following on the above, I am thankful to you for putting it all together the way you did. At one point I even thought it would be only the photos in the blog !!

  3. Rohini,
    I was much moved by your heartfelt tribute.You obviously thought very highly of him.His contributions to community and migrant welfare appear to outweigh his impressive sporting achievements.
    Although he was in the Bloemfontein hostel during my time,I didn't get to know him.
    May he rest in peace.

    1. Kumar, I also came to know Ras only on our move to Auckland in 2004. His accomplishments were not known to us until we attended a farewell for him at retirement a few years ago, but his sincerity and genuine friendship was one we have always cherished .

  4. Rohini,
    Thank you for taking the time to write this beautiful piece on Dr. Rasalingam. You probably knew him personally. I grew up in Wellawatte and knew him only slightly.But i have met him a few times and know his brother Dr. Suntharalingam very well.
    I will forward your eulogy to him.
    Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.
    Abraham Lincoln

    1. Indra, the tree is indeed the real thing, and I was fortunate to come to know "it" personally.
      His humility, sincerity , and genuine friendship is something we will miss.

  5. Dr. Suntharalingam lives in New Jersey, USA, about 80 miles south of NY.

  6. Thanks Rohini. I knew him as Head prefect at Royal and as Sumathi pointed out, he was a top class Badminton Player. To become Head Prefect at Royal is not easy and he clearly showed great promise then. I also remember him at the Medical faculty but did not know him personally. The unfortunate ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka clearly made a huge impression on him, quite understandably. I knew he was in NZ but did not know of his special talents and work. He is a truly great human being and we should all be proud of him.

    1. I gathered that it was no small feat to have been head prefect of RC.
      He did "learn of books and men,and learn to play the game " very well while there !

    2. At Royal or for that matter in any school!

  7. I have been following Ras' sports career closely during his undergrad days. There was a time when Ceylon was represented in Basketball by Rasalingam, Sri Skandarajah, Jesudasan, Wilson et al. It was virtually the University team of that year which won the Exeter Shield. Most of them were outstanding Badminton players as well.

    Probably due to his involvement in sports, Ras didn't do that well in his medical studies in Medical School.

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  9. Lucky, the distractions had been many, as his lovely wife Malar and I could laugh about in happier times. He probably considered other attributes more important than academic success- quite rightly.
    The poem " What Matters" comes to mind.
    He had once said " One does not qualify in medicine to become a millionaire, but to serve the people", and the latter he did magnificently until it was time to meet his maker. May his soul be blessed !

  10. Rohini, that phrase " One does not qualify in medicine to become a millionaire, but to serve the people", is something so true and sadly missed by a lot of people in our profession.

    1. Yes Mahen- it is very unfortunate, and even sadder when some of the present day Sri Lankan consultants seem to be the worst offenders.The horror stories of some of them seeing 60 to 80 patients during an evening clinic as private patients is frightening to say the least.

  11. Hi;Rohini,
    I am sure you have heard of the famous Sinhalese saying "Rajakam nethnum Vedakam"Medicine is a Noble profession and is meant to serve humanity.That is exactly what our friend Ras did.He will certainly have a better afterlife to serve humanity to a greater extent.


    1. Sumathi, I hadn't heard the saying previously, but managed to figure out what is meant. Thank you for adding to my Sinhala.

  12. Rohini, thank you for this account of a Sri Lankan doctor and humanitarian, a person who we can be all proud of. Such people are hard to come by and he should be given the highest honour and marked by our appreciation and that of all those people he helped throughout his life. Rarely do we come across people of such dedication to the needy and it is not too late to give him the honour he deserves. It is sad to hear of his passing. You have done well to bring us his life story through the medium of our Blog. Thanks, from Zita

  13. Thank you Rohini for your superb appreciation of Ras. My belated contribution is for two main reasons.Firstly I have been travelling a lot,. I became a grandfather for the first time on the 21st of June,when our daughter delivered a baby boy in Norwich and I spent a month there. It was the longest day of the year and the hottest day in England when the temperatures reached 35 C. Later I embarked on a Baltic cruise, which was really enjoyable.This Baltic cruise is being serialised in the Travel Magazine of the Sunday Times ,from last Sunday.
    The second reason is that I was appointed as the Consultant for the establishment of a Medical Faculty in the Sabaragamuwa University, which would be based in Ratnapura. Seventy five students from last month's A level examination would be admitted in December 2018. I am kept very busy drawing up rules and regulations for the course and examinations, curricula, lecture topics etc, etc.
    Ras was an exceptional sportsman at Royal. He was the head prefect in 1956 when we were in the 3rd form. Once he detained us for a couple of hours after school for a minor misdemeanor. Such was the level of discipline at that time. S Veeravagu has written a very comprehensive appreciation about Ras in the sports page of the Sunday Island of the 10th of September 2017. Here are some abstracts. Ras lived at Fernando Road ,Wellawatte and he entered RC in 1947. The famous Cosmopolitan Badminton Club was located down Fernando Road. Around 1947, N. Rasa, C Thurairaja, V Sri Skandaraja,C Vivekanadan PV Nadarasar (all Royalists) ,Sam Chandrasena and R Saravanabhavan(both Peterites) played badminton in this club. Ras represented RC in badminton from 1953 to 1956,having captained the team in 1954 and 1956. The RC badminton team were the inter school champions.. At RC, Ras won colours in badminton, basketball,boxing and hockey.He was the Natonal badminton champion in 1955,1957 ,1960 and 1962.He was a schoolboy when he won the National Title at 19 years of age. He represented the country in Thomas Cup matches against, India, Malaysia,Pakistan and Japan.He was very tough cookie and I have seen him in the boxing ring knocking out his opponents.
    However when he was the Head Cop at RC, he failed at the interview in the University entrance examination!

  14. Sanath, Thank you for alerting me to this comment.
    Firstly, let me congratulate you on becoming a first time grand-dad.
    You must be so delighted. I can see you tripping back and forth between SL and Norwich from now on !
    It's good you've relaxed on a cruise before getting back to your enormous responsibilities in SL. Organizing codes of ethics and curricula for a
    Medical Faculty is an enormous task certainly needing someone of your calibre. I wish this project every success and wish you the very best in all you do.
    The further info on Ras was interesting.
    I know he had great determination when it came to helping others , but it appears he didn't do much for himself except in sport !
    I can empathize with this ! Some are born this way !!
    Thank you for the time you've taken from your busy work schedules to comment on this post- I do appreciate it . Cheers