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Old 07-03-14, 08:27 AM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default J.H.S.Peiris: Stalwart, giant, gentleman

Stalwart, giant, gentleman
March 6, 2014, 12:00 pm

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Remembering a great Thomian Teacher on his Birthday- 7th March

The excitement of "big school" was tangible. I'd been well prepared, having been born into and bread in a "Thomian" family. Reverend Billimoria, in his excellent 'History' of STC notes that the Arndt (my mother's side) family's ties to the College go back to its foundation in 1851!

Yes: I was ready.

Oozing confidence, I sailed through those 'first days' which to many were traumatic. Until...that is...I heard a whack! Dread! The entire lower school seemed suddenly silent. The man who had wielded the rattan, strode past 1B to his little 'space' under the stairs leading up to the Lower 3rd classrooms. He puffed twice on an inhaler...the old pump-action ones. Having reached his corner, he took out a cigarette, lit up and strolled to the top of the steps leading to the yard outside. There he breathed the fresh, sea air, between puffs. I had 'met' my Headmaster, Mr. J H S Peiris.

Mr Peiris addressed the regular assembly from his elevated position - a verandah of sorts. The students assembled in the yard. He spoke without amplification and was heard to a distance of 50 yards or more, over the roar of the Mt Lavinia surf! Mr Peiris spoke audibly and with clarity and authority. He was not to be trifled with. Just as our parents did, he subscribed to the age-old adage: "spare the rod and spoil the child". The debate over the pros and cons is for another forum…

Mr Peiris was completely immersed in the life of the lower school. On his staff were women and men of exemplary character and a plethora of skills. He respected them and never lost an opportunity to express his regard and appreciation, publicly. I recall many an instance when he would pause at the door of a classroom as something within caught his attention. Never one to intrude, he would nod his approval, smile and move on. He loved music and was a regular visitor to the ‘Singing Class’.

Given the experience of the "whack" earlier described, I had decided to maintain a low profile. Anonymity seemed like a good option. In 2B (1961) my thespian inclination surfaced and, in the theatrical presentation entitled "Storyland", I crossed swords with Aruldasan, a revered senior. I fancied myself the "Best Actor" –what cheek!! Aruldasan won! Yet, I must have impressed…for in 1963 (in the Upper 3rd), Mr Peiris appointed me Head Prefect of the lower school! My heroes had been N De Abrew and D L De Saram. To walk where they’d walked before, was a rare privilege.

JHSP was a fair man. In 1963, there was a health-scare and the Warden issued an edict that ‘street-vendors’ (Gal Siyambala, Veralu Achchaaru, VADDEY!!) were not to be patronized. The Vaddey man used to sell his wares at our home so I decided it was in order to buy an Isso Vaddey from him at school. I was spotted and reported! Mr Peiris spoke to me sternly but kindly. He acknowledged what we did at home but stressed it had no bearing on conduct in the College environs.

He said, "If I report this to the Warden, he will demand your immediate sacking. I do not desire this. So, consider this a warning."

Mr Peiris was famous for his "Speed-Test" in ‘Simple Arithmetic’. I well remember the Upper 3rd Arithmetic period. He’d enter the room, order us to "turn and face the sea" and proceed to lay out on the blackboard, a "Speed-Test". "Turn round and start!". I failed miserably in many-a test. Mr Peiris was concerned and had a word in the ear of my Uncle L A H Arndt. He addressed me in serious tone, in the presence of my parents and my sister. The latter was commissioned to get me up to speed. And she did! Mr Peiris was elated with my next result. "Mr Arndt ticked you off, didn’t he?", quizzed the Headmaster. "No Sir! I didn’t copy!" (…like "kohedha yanne / malle pol"!!!). Mr Peiris patiently clarified his statement and I was enlightened.

The very fact that these memories are so clear…50-plus years down the track(!), surely speaks for the stature of this extraordinary man.

I was amazed to learn that Mr Peiris had joined the staff of STC in 1927! (…a significant year for the College – the dedication of the Chapel of the Transfiguration…). This was 5 years before Canon R S de Saram was appointed Warden! He succeeded Rev. Barnabas as Headmaster, Lower School, in 1959 and retired in 1964.

Celebrating the Jubilee of Canon de Saram, the following comment was made by senior students:

"When I congratulated him I knew how really kind he is…not as ‘bad’ as our first impression!" And could not this same remark be applied to Mr J H S Peiris? "Aye", say I.

On the occasion of his retirement (1964 – after 38 years service), Warden Davidson said: "STC was fortunate to have had a man in its History who has given his whole life in her service."

I would like to conclude this brief tribute, by quoting Ronnie Peiris, JHS’s son. Ronnie, I have not sort your permission for this liberty. I trust you will forgive me. Ronnie had discovered a faded ‘memo’ in his father’s Bible. The text is evidence of a deep sensitivity – rarely, if EVER on display – that was the essence of the character of Mr J H S Peiris. The memo read:

"My heart is singing this morning…a miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind…and behold, all things are changed."

Mr Peiris passed away in 1967 and a memorial service was held on 18th September of that year. His life-long friend and successor, Mr D F David, paid personal tribute to this ‘faithful servant’.

David Sansoni

STC Mt. Lavinia: 1960-1971; Stone House
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Old 07-03-14, 04:04 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default J.H.S.Peiris: Stalwart, giant, gentleman

From: Dr. Narmmasena Wickremesinghe <nwosh1@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 9:51 AM
Subject: Re: J.H.S.Peiris: Stalwart, giant, gentleman

Dear Sriyan,
Appreciate very much David's piece on tho one we called 'Black Tie'. We feared but loved him and now revere JHS. He was like no other.
Ex animo,

Sent from my iPad

From: Mohan Mendis <mendismohan1@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 10:19 AM
Subject: Re: J.H.S.Peiris: Stalwart, giant, gentleman

Brilliant tribute. Reading this I almost started to write myself but duty calls my immediate attention elsewhere. The memory of JHSP has been lingering in my mind these last few weeks as well so perhaps not by accident that another Thomian stalwart puts pen to paper (should I merely say fingers to the keyboard!) at this time on this remarkable human being our revered teacher.

From: Rajiva Wijesinha <rajiva.wijesinha@googlemail.com>

Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 2:13 PM
Subject: Re: J.H.S.Peiris: Stalwart, giant, gentleman

Yes, very nice article

From: davidaldo <davidaldo@optusnet.com.au>
Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 5:34 PM
Subject: Re: J.H.S.Peiris: Stalwart, giant, gentleman

Dear Sriyan,
Thank you. I am amazed that my simple memoir, written a few years ago for a souvenir...was it for the "Guru Felicitation" that you organised...?...would be published.
Some lovely comments from Thomians of distinction. Ajit Jayasekera wrote early this morning, upon reading his newspaper.
Blessings to all.
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Last edited by sriyanj; 18-05-15 at 12:33 AM.
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