By Harindrini Corea –
My paternal grandfather Sir George Claude Stanley Corea devoted his life in service to Sri Lanka. His inspiring career in diplomacy is remembered and respected. He was a humble and charismatic Christian gentleman who chose his words wisely and was a patient listener.
Sir Claude was born on the 29th of January 1894 in Chilaw, a seaside town situated on the North Western coast of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). An old boy of Wesley College, he entered politics as a representative from Chilaw and was elected to the State Council in 1931. He served as Minister of Labour, Industry and Commerce from 1936 until 1946. He was elected to the presidency of the Ceylon National Congress in 1932, 1939 and 1941. During the Second World War, Sir Claude Corea insisted that the Ceylon National Congress should not be lobbying for “mere constitutional reforms”, but should seek transfer of sovereignty to the people of Ceylon. After 1945, Sir Claude served as Chairman of the Board of Ministers Sub Committee with the mandate of resolving post-war problems. He was viewed as a potential first prime minister of Ceylon but chose a diplomatic career instead and accepted the post of Ceylonese Representative in the United Kingdom in 1946. He was appointed as the first Ceylonese Ambassador to the United States in 1948. He attended the 5th session of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Washington DC from 21st November to 6th December 1949. On the 8th of September 1951, J. R Jayewardene (later President Jayewardene), Sir Claude Corea and R. G. Senanayake signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan, on behalf of Ceylon, in San Francisco.
It was in 1952 at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace that Queen Elizabeth II bestowed a Knighthood upon Sir Claude Corea. He was appointed High Commissioner of Ceylon to the United Kingdom in 1954. He was given concurrent accreditation to France and the Netherlands in January 1956. He served as High Commissioner at the Court of St. James until 1958.
As he had been associated with GATT from its inception in Geneva and Havana, Sir Claude was appointed as Chairman of the UN Interim Committee on International Commodity Arrangements of GATT at its 10th session in 1955. In August 1956 he participated in the 22-power London conference that discussed the anticipated Suez Crisis. On the 8th of September 1956, he arrived in Beijing as Special Ambassador to China, leading a Government Delegation from Ceylon that was to have preliminary discussions with the Government of the People’s Republic of China regarding the establishment of diplomatic relations, trade expansion, economic co-operation and cultural exchanges. He chaired the 12th session of GATT in October 1957 in the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Ceylon became a member of the United Nations on December 14th 1955. In June 1958 Sir Claude was appointed as Representative to the United Nations. Sir Claude Corea became the first ever President of the United Nations Security Council from Ceylon in May 1960. On the first day of his presidency, Francis Gary Power’s Lockheed U-2 plane was forced down into Soviet territory and he was captured. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic Party presidential candidate at that time, visited Sir Claude in his apartment, for consultation.
My grandfather passed away on the 2nd of September 1962 but the memory of his kindness, integrity, and skillful diplomacy will remain.