By Dayan Jayatilleka –
I woke this morning in Moscow with the news from my cousin Shehan de Tissera that one of the cleverest and perhaps the most outstanding member, and almost certainly the highest achiever of my family had died in Canada– my mother Lakshmi Sylvia’s younger brother, my Athula maama. He indubitably rose to the highest possible level in his profession, globally: Professor Athula Fernando (or Prof AJ Fernando as he was internationally known), former Dean of the School of Medical Rehabilitation, University of Manitoba, was President of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) 1991-1995.
The three messages for the Centenary Year of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, UK, published in the Physiotherapy Journal, Jan 1994 Vol. 80, bore the names and signatures of the Prince of Wales, Baroness Robson and Prof AJ Fernando. Athula maama’s message was typically laconic and from a lofty perch. It read:
“Congratulations on your centenary: The work of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is a record of achievement. On behalf of the World Confederation of Physical Therapy, please accept warm and sincere good wishes for continued success”—(signed) Prof AJ Fernando, President WCPT.
AJ Fernando was the first ever President of the Confederation with Third World roots, being born and educated in Ceylon.
Prof Fernando graduated from the Medical College of the University of Colombo and obtained his doctorate from the University of Manchester. Athula maama was a scintillating public speaker and a cool dude who wore his hair long, dressed stylishly and drove the latest model Porsche into his 80s. Highly literate (like his very widely read father—my maternal grandfather, TR Fernando) Athula was a widely traveled and cultured man, a superb conversationalist and sophisticated wit. My father Mervyn de Silva and Athula had an easy, natural rapport.
As a hobby in retirement he pressed grapes into wine. He was the son of TR Fernando and Annie Fernando of Moratuwa. He leaves behind his sister (my aunt) Chitra as the sole survivor of my mother’s family, his wife Nadja, and two sons by Auntie Monica– my cousins, Parakrama and Naresh.