By Palitha Pelpola –
“Many a surviving spouse has erected many a statue in memory of her husband, in bronze, cement or steel. Srima Dissanayake erected a monument that no other spouse could dream of; she erected the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation in memory of her slain husband. That monument is not a mere statue where people come and pay their respects; what she built was one where young men and women, our successive generations learn the skills for the uplift of their lives, English language and computer skills”. That is how the late Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria paid his tribute to the then living Srima Dissanayake, before he, Wickrema passed away. That gentle lady, Srima Dissanayake, passed away in the twilight hours of March 29, 2019.
It is not easy to imitate the life of such a gracious lady. Born to Mr. and Mrs. Piyasena Lenaduwa from Galle, Srima was educated at Ladies’ College and then passed out from Law College, Colombo and practised as an advocate. She met her future husband, Gamini Dissanayake, at the Law College and the romance that began in the nineteen sixties ended up in a happy, joyous and eventful marriage. Gamini and Srima were one of the few couples that dominated the political scene in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
Srima’s contribution to Gamini’s success cannot be understated. Her eternal vigil on the prevalent political and social milieu was sharp and piercing. The results she derived from that vigil were a consistent source of strength to her husband. Her judgment on those who were around Gamini Dissanayake, who was then a powerful Cabinet Minister in the JR Jayewardene Government, was not only accurate and sometimes bordering on being clairvoyant, it was cuttingly decisive and helped the Minister of Mahweli Development to a great extent in his day-to-day political dealings. Known for her personal charm and tact, she once related quite a unique story.
After JR became President in 1978, he organized a private dinner party to celebrate his birthday. One person JR wanted to invite to the party was Dr NM Perera. But JR was hesitant to make the call. When he discussed his dilemma with some of his friends, among who were Gamini and Srima, JR looked at Srima. Srima being well known to Dr NM, got the hint that JR wanted her to take the initiative. Srima said, ‘Mr. Jayewardene, I’ll invite him on your behalf’. JR gave her the nod and NM most willingly came for the dinner party, after accepting Srima’s invitation on behalf of JR.
Being a devout Buddhist, her faith in the Dhamma was never ever in question; her devotion to her husband and his cause in politics knew no bounds. We used to meet at breakfast each morning and her far-sighted contributions at these strategy-discussions were far more important than one could learn at a forum attended and lectured to by university academics.
Yet, her interference in the running of her husband’s Ministries was zero. Never ever did I receive a call from her, to transfer this guy or promote this girl or for that matter, even consider anyone for recruitment. She dealt with her husband on all those matters. A personification of grace, stoicism and courage, she had the determination and foresight to continue what her husband could not do, by devoting her fullest possible strength and time to the cause of Gamini Dissanayake Foundation and Gamini Dissanayake Institute of Technology and Vocational Studies. The students at the Institute must be feeling the loss of their matriarch. But in their tears dwell, not a sense of loss, but the flow of life that is eternal and inspirational.
And Navin, Mayantha and Varuni have lost their mother. It’s no easy void to fill.
May Srima Dissanayake attain Nibbana