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Old 06-03-17, 03:01 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Wing Commander Noel Fernando

Wing Commander Noel Fernando

Estimable friend


Wing Commander Noel Fernando, an exemplary Air Force Officer and a gentleman par excellence, passed away peacefully on January 27. It is with profound grief that I write a few lines on my dear and lifelong friend whom I have closely associated with for over six decades.

Noel had his education at St. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia. He played Cricket and “fives” at College. He loved his school as he was very proud of it.

His name will go down in the history of sports as the man who officially formed the Squash Federation in Sri Lanka and promoted the game of squash.

He was a fine squash player of yesteryear, and excelled in the Masters Game. He was the founding President of squash in Sri Lanka, and in 1981, he was bestowed the title 'Father of Squash' during the Asian Squash championships in Sri Lanka. He was the 63rd President of the Rotary Club, Chairman of the Mission of Seafarers, President of the Travel Trade Association. Noel was elected twice as the President of SKAL.

I first met Noel In January, 1955, when we were undergraduates at Aquinas University. Our friendship continued until his demise. Noel was the second son of a very respectable and devout Buddhist family of four brothers and three sisters.

With the demise of his father very early in life, Noel admirably took over the responsibility of looking after the family with exemplary care, dedication, and affection. In 1955, when the Air Force advertised officer vacancies in the Air Traffic branch, together, we applied to the Air Force also making applications for officer vacancies in the Sri Lankan Army and Sri Lankan Navy. We were fortunate to be selected as Pilot Officers to the Air Traffic Branch of the Sri Lankan Air Force, and were commissioned on 15th June, 1957.

In October, 1957, we were proceeded to the U.K. for training. We received our training with the late N. Sangarapillai and Joe Abeykoon, initially with the Royal Air Force in the Isle of Man and subsequently at Grantham-Derbyshire. Returning to Sri Lanka in December, 1957, we were deployed on Air Traffic duties at Katunayake. Apart from excelling in his primary duties, Noel made a tremendous impact in activities, participating in all social, religious, sports, and other extra-mural activities.

In 1960, when I got married, he was my best man and performed the formalities with precision and affection.

Being a multi-faceted personality with varied interests, he actively participated in all these. My contemporaries found it difficult to understand how he had the energy and capacity to do it. In the mid 1960’s, the development and expansion of the Sri Lankan Air Force was restrained by the lack of foreign exchange.

Development and expansion was inextricably interwoven. With the availability of foreign exchange, Noel, after intensive feasibility studies on his own initiative, and in consultation with Air Chief Marshall P.H. Mendis, made a proposal of an establishment of a commercial wing specially to fly tourists and others in Air Force Helicopters in a view to earn foreign exchange. Ably supported and guided by Air Chief Marshall Paddy Mendis, this project was a tremendous success and helped the country earn much-needed foreign exchange.

Noel was constantly commended for his initiative and dedication to duty. He was endowed with rare personal qualities. Noel made a tremendous contribution in every human activity he undertook. Being a fine conversationalist with a flair for public relations, he was a great asset to the Air Force and private organizations he served. After an impressive and distinguished service of 22 years, Noel retired from the Air Force on September 6, 1979.

He joined Thomas Cook as the Managing Director, and he completely restructured the company, enhancing the business image of it. Subsequently, as General Manager of Finlays Travels, he made a significant impact on this variegated career in the private sector and earning a reputation as a distinguished and respected personality in the Travel Trade.

Noel married Hyacinth, who was a great strength to him in his challenging duties, and looked after him with admirable care and affection. Noel was a very domesticated person. His love, affection, and dedication to his family was admirable.

A devout Buddhist, he practiced his religion unobtrusively, observing the four “Sathara Brahma” love, kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity.

He gave generously to places of religious worship. Throughout his life, he epitomized kindness, love, and compassion for the poor and marginalized. Noel was a wonderful friend who reached out to his friends particularly in times of distress. He was steadfast in his loyalty to his friends.

He was my friend and guide up-to his demise. I have lost my irreplaceable dear friend, and an emptiness remains in me that I cannot seem to fill.

I realize how real the immortal words of Charles Colton “True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it is lost." I thank God for his life. I will not say farewell because I know we will meet again.

- J.T. REX FERNANDO
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