Hema Jayasinghe - A Principal to be Emulated by All

Extracted from the The Island, May 16th 2015.

Hema Jayasinghe - A Principal to be Emulated by All



HemaJayasinghe, respected and loved by all Visakhians young and old, gave her dedicated services as Principal, VisakhaVidyalaya for 17 long years and thereafter as well, until her untimely death on February 26, 2015. She graced all important occasions of the school without fail. We cannot believe that she is no more.

Since Nanda Pethiyagoda a past pupil of Kandy GHS has already published an appreciation giving an accurate account of Hema Jayasinghe’s family, education and services in and around Kandy I would like to touch on my observations of her services at Visakha Vidyalaya and thereafter.

Mrs. Jayasinghe took over the reins of Visakha Vidyalaya at a crucial time to replace Susan George Pulimood, who had brought up Visakha to super grade level -the only girls school to reach such status at the time. She was Visakha’s first Sinhala Buddhist Principal. The charming young lady coming from a family of illustrious parents of the hill capital G.D.A.Abayaratna and V.E.Seneviratne, both educationists, walked into the portals of Visakha with confidence and glamour. She was dressed in her traditional Kandyan attire, a young beauty. When Mrs. Pulimood’s retirement was nearing, speculation was galore regards a replacement. Everybody expected the new Principal to be one from Colombo, though there did not seem to be anyone on par with Mrs. Pulimood. The minister of education at the time, I.M.R.A. Iriyagolla, may have done a survey of all Principals outside Colombo and found the appropriate Principal for Visakha, Hema Jayasinghe, then Principal of Kandy Girls High School. All Visakhians are most grateful for this decision of his taken with much foresight. Everybody at Visakha gave her a very warm welcome and thereafter she did her utmost to develop the school even further all round. The entire staff assembled in the Old School Hall and Mrs. Pulimood led the new Principal introducing every single member of the Staff with their performing duties including the minor staff. Hema Jayasinghe,the dignified cultured lady grasped the entire picture with great ease and earned the respect and love of all at Visakha from day one. Perhaps it was difficult for her to leave Kandy and Girls High School, her alma mater where she was comfortably settled with her young family of three kids at the time and her husband Dr K.H. Jayasinghe, a senior lecturer at the University of Peradeniya.

She started off her administrative work at Visakha with the support of Chandra de Zoysa the then vice principal and a very efficient and dutiful staff. At the time, the Principal of Visakha was all powerful and did not have to pay heed to any unfair requests from the politicians or education department officials. She was able to scrutinize the suitability of any new appointee according to the requirements of the school and select the best. Admissions to grade one was meticulously done with no attention to political lists or any other. The school did not have a principal’s bungalow nor vehicles, hence she had to spend for all these on her own which she did ungrudgingly. The school general assembly had to be held in the large quadrangle near the main gate, where Jeremias Dias Hall stands today. She used to march up to the dais gracefully to address the staff and students. Once she happened to mention while relaxing, a comment made by her little daughter, Dulsiri, "Amma, you walk up to assembly like a peacock with pride and have a full glance of all the students" - very correct. I was the class teacher of both her daughters, Malathi and Dulsiri, in their ordinary level grades. They were well disciplined and clever. Dulsiri ended up as the Head Prefect during the tenure of Principal Eileen Siriwardhana, her successor.

There was no "madam" talk at Visakha all along and she was simply Mrs. Jayasinghe to all students, teachers and parents. The minor staff addressed her as "loku nonamahattaya". It was the same during her predecessor Mrs. Pulimood’s time. Hence there was more respect, sisterhood, closeness, it was one family. Hema Jaysinghe was pleasant to work with, always greeting everyone with a smile but yet she was firm. When Badiudeen Mohamed was Minister of Education, a circular was received by all government schools that teachers should curtail all mass private tuition classes or retire from government service. This was presented to the staff immediately. Two staff members opted to retire and the others, just a few at the time, gave up conducting private tuition altogether. Hema Jayasinghe was very pleased with the circular as it ensured that the students got the best of attention from all teachers even after school. There was no hurry for the teachers to get home. They were relaxed and gave their best to the students in school. The merit they gained was immense though there was no monetary gain. Enforcing this order of the minister was a great deed of the Principal, which was much appreciated by all parents. Will there be such an era ever again?

The hostellers at the time were mainly children of planters and government servants stationed away from Colombo with the grade five scholarship yet to be introduced. It was customary at the time to take the hostellers on a three day trip. The matrons had to organize and the Principal kept a close eye on the arrangements. Once the trip was to Anuradhapura and Jaffna. Three matrons and self were in charge with one parent accompanied by old Jinasena, a hostel employee. Arrangements in A’pura were looked after by a parent, Minister K.B. Ratnayake. In Jaffna it was the Principal’s choice -Chundikuli Girls College where the Principal was her good friend and her elder brother’s sister-in-law, Mrs. G.E.S.Chelliah. Oh what a warm welcome that was! It happened to be their sports meet and she had even arranged events for our Visakhians to participate in, followed by a musical evening. We all enjoyed their hospitality and culture very much. The regard Mrs.Chelliah had for Mrs.Jayasinghe was immense.

The annual Founder’s Day Pirith and Dana pinkama has been an important event in the school calendar. After a few years at Visakha she showed a desire to invite the Most Venerable Malwathu-Asigiri priests with permission from Venerable Narada Thero of the Vajiraramaya. The venerable priests, drummers and other requirements were brought down from Kandy. All at Visakha were very appreciative of this deed of hers as it was a rare opportunity and honour for Mother Visakha. By this action she displayed to the Venerable Sangha from the Hill Capital the great Buddhist culture at Visakha which is unique.

The past pupils extended their fullest cooperation to Mrs. Jayasinghe at all times. Even with her busy schedule she never failed to grace all occasions of the Visakha Vidyalaya Old Girls’ Association. I had the pleasure of being the Joint Secretary and thereafter the Vice President of the VVOGA under her for one term and her support was unlimited, other members being Dr. Nanda Gamage Joint Secretary and Clodagh Fernando, Treasurer (the first science graduate produced by Visakha) and Padmini Karunaratne, Vice President, a senior member.

It was during her tenure that the three storied massive building complex was erected replacing all the temporary prefabs with the serene precincts of the Bomaluwa neatly incorporated at its western end. Construction of the Jeremias Dias Hall came to completion at the tail end of her tenure and inaugurated during her successor Eileen Siriwardhana’s time with much pageantry and glory. Hema Jayasinghe, Susan George Pulimood and Clara Motwani, three great past Principals, graced the occasion. By this time Hema Jayasinghe the model Principal was the deputy director general at the Ministry of Education along with Mrs. Thilokasundari Kariyawasam. No doubt their invaluable experience and foresight was a great asset to the ministry officials. It is heartening to see Visakha Vidyalaya yet maintaining high standards at all examinations and always in the lead in numerous fields under the stewardship of Sandamali Aviruppola.

She had her second son, Sanjaya, the youngest of her four children, whilst at Visakha. She had the great joy of seeing five lovely adorable grandchildren blossoming in their youth. The void created by the sudden demise of their doting grandmother, they’re bound to experience in the years ahead. She was a dutiful wife and mother whilst managing her duties as Principal. After retirement, her husband who was seriously ill was nursed and looked after by her with much care to the very end.

The last time Mrs. Jayasinghe attended a school function was a felicitation ceremony organized by the past teachers where she addressed the gathering. Little did we know about her imminent demise and it is sad to believe that she is no more. Hema Jayasinghe got the best of attention from the doctors who were her students and many others who rallied around to bring her back to normalcy. Her honourable services at Visakha and thereafter did not give her any material benefits of any form, nonetheless she collected much merit for her samsaric journey.

May she attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana in the shortest time.

Rukmani Raddalgoda

nee Seneviratne