We are gathered here today, as children, relatives and friends to bid adieu, to a lovable father, trusted relative and a treasured friend.
I arrived in Melbourne almost a decade ago, armed merely with a student visa, an enrolment to University, the few dollars that my parents could spare after paying my fees for the first semester and most importantly, two letters, one to my father’s guru and mentor and now friend, Mr. Hilary Abeyaratne and the other to his friend from Matron’s Dormitory, Errol Fernando, and a long list of addresses and telephone numbers of his friends and contemporaries at School. Lost in a new world, I did not waste time in contacting as many as possible. The words of encouragement and moral support I received gave me the confidence to adjust to Melbourne , and needless to say, its unpredictable weather . It did not take long for me to be introduced to the Trinity Family in Melbourne.
It was not long after, that I had the privilege of being introduced to one of the pioneers of the Trinity Family Foundation and by then, the undisputed doyen of Trinitians, the others, Harry Geddes and Philip Buultjens, having departed for a further shore. It was Errol Fernando who introduced me to a handsome, stately, elegantly attired person of gentle manner who greeted me with his hallmark introduction “Hello, I am Percy”. That was the beginning of a long , stimulating association which despite the huge difference of generations, I would only call a friendship in its noblest sense.
There was no debate whatsoever about his passion for Trinity. He was the father figure to generations of Trinitians in Melbourne in particular, and Australia, in general . Since the inception of the TCK Family Foundation, of which he was a Founder Member, he has been a leader in all its activities. Most notable of which, were the Student Exchange Programs between Wesley College, Melbourne and Trinity and the launch of the Valesca Reimann Scholarships through the Dust to Dust Fund. It maybe a little known fact, that Dr. Percy would register the Trinitians who came from Sri Lanka under his private health insurance at his own cost and would act as the official guardian of these students during their stay in Australia and most of these students were still in touch with him long after they had left Australia. His passion for Trinity was particularly evident to Trinitians living in Melbourne. His attendance at events held by the TCK Family Foundation was exceptional, to say the least, and he was always seen walking up to the younger Trinitians and introducing himself and getting to know them. He had the unique combination of knowledge, wisdom and humility that was able to accommodate diverse opinions and different generations. The regard and respect that he earned by his labours of love, sincerity and steadfast purpose, were richly deserved. This was no more apparent that I , his junior by almost 3 score and ten, could fashion and maintain such a cordial and mutually beneficial friendship, all these years , is a tribute to Dr Percy’s character than any virtues of mine. To all us Trinitians, there can be no greater inspiration and role model than that of Dr. Percy De Zilwa.
Dr Percy De Zilwa came from the top drawer of the Burgher community, and was heir to the historical Saint Andrew’s Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, whose walls still carry photographs of the young Percy De Zilwa, on horseback and bicycle , hanging alongside portraits of his forebears. His vintage is so ancient, even the oldest Trinity Old Boys have only the faintest memories of his school career. But there is ample evidence that he had a most distinguished and illustrious school career, participating in all school activities and excelling in his studies and sport. Having imbibed the musical talents of his parents he was a also an enthusiastic member of the School Choir, then in its infancy, and the Glee Club, under the tutelage of the legendary Valesca Reimann, whose versatility and enthusiasm greatly influenced the young Percy. He makes no secret of his affection and admiration for the teacher from Adelaide and her contributions to Trinity.
Dr. Percy shared a memorable story with many of us Trinitians about his very first meeting with his Professor at Medical College. Percy was a teenager who had just entered Medical College and his Professor introduced himself, and started a conversation. After they had chatted for a while the Professor said, “Percy, I am sure you must be a Trinitian”. Percy replied, “Yes Sir, I am a Trinitian but how did you know?” The Professor made his classic answer, “I can always tell a Trinitian!”
The implication is that Percy embodied the best of Trinity values. Of course, Percy himself would be the first to acknowledge his debt and gratitude to Trinity, which we all know, he has repaid with more than abundance. May I put it this way, Percy was a great human being who happened to go to Trinity.
He was academically so gifted that he entered Medical School at 17, depriving him of representing the School at rugby, a distinction he shares with the late Dr Willie Ratnavale. However, his exploits and brilliance on the rugby field thereafter have been more than adequately covered in the sporting pages of Sri Lanka. Clippings from the thirties to the present day reveal that he was arguably the best centre three quarter of the thirties. Yet he carried these distinctions with grace and humility.
His departure from Sri Lanka was with a heavy heart forced by emerging socio-political changes. The only time that my parents and I saw Dr Percy reveal a sense of pride, was whenever he entertained us for lunch at the local RSL Club, immaculately dressed in his Regimental Blazer and Cravat.
To David, Carole, Jennifer and Wendy and to all of us gathered here, Dr Percy may no longer live at 14 Riddle Street. Yet, we are all reassured that he will long live in the collective hearts and minds of all, whose privilege it was, to have known and loved this noble and humble soul.
May his soul rest in peace
Eulogy to Dr. Percy De Zilwa
16th March 2011
St. Johns Anglican Church, Bentleigh
By Kusal Halpe
Published 8 years ago