A COLOSSUS IN OUT MIDST
Canon R S de Saram, Warden of S. Thomas’ College for over quarter of a century from 1932-1958 was truly a colossus who was in our midst. Besides being warden of a great school, he was an educationist par excellence whose fame spread beyond the portals of his alma master which he loved so dearly He was venerated not only by students of S. Thomas’ but also by those of Royal College. (In 1986) a distinguished delegation from the Royal College old Boys’ Union approached his family and sought the honour of carrying the casket at his funeral. In the annals of the history of Royal College never have we honoured anybody from another school in this manner.
Reginald Steuart de Saram was born in 1898 and was admitted to S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal in 1904. At S. Thomas’ he epitomized the concept of mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body). He was a good student, played in the Royal-Thomain cricket matches from 1915-1917, captained the football team, won his colours in boxing and had a natural flair for leadership. Besides, he was a devout Christian who a a young age showed an inclination towards the priesthood.
All these attributes resulted in his admission to Keble College in Oxford university, a time-honoured nursery for priests. There he read for a degree in Classics, earned his Blue in boxing and indicated his desire to take the holy orders. He was duly ordained a deacon at Cuddesdon Theological College in Oxford in 1924 and ordained a priest in 1925. Thereafter, he returned to the land of his birth with his bride. in 1926, he was appointed sub-warden of S Thomas’, acting warden in 1930, and warden in 1932. He was the first Ceylonese to be so honoured in all those appointments.
The outstanding features of Warden de Saram were his strong leadership and an even stronger concept of discipline which cannot conceivably be enforced in this day and age. His leadership was a one-man rule, the exact opposite of what Royal College was during that period of time. As a Christian priest he perceived that any talent to its full potential. However, such development had to be done within specific parameters.
According to us at Royal, the hallmark of a Thomian is firstly being, a gentleman in the true sense of the word. Indeed, S. Thomas’ has produced such refined gentleman year in and year out since 1851. Warden de Saram ensured that in a fast changing world, those cherished concepts remained intact at S. Thomas’. He also ensured that S. Thomas’ retained its identity as a Christian school but welcomed boys who were Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. The warden showed the highest respect to those great religions and ensured that none of those boys were induced to become Christian.
According to us at Royal, being humble in victory and gracious in defeat is part and parcel of being aThomian. That characteristic feature of S. Thomas’ was enhanced in the era of Warden de Sram. To quote just one example; at the Royal-Thomian match of 1946, Royal was winning easily but it was a matter of opinion whether a victory for Royal or the rain would come first. The light was fadingfas. In the meantime with the drinks and with new gloves which were sent periodically, the warden himself sent instructions to the batsman not to appeal for bad light. according to Ronnie Weerakoon, he could barely see the bowler let alone the ball. Royal won by 84 runs. It was basically an example of ‘well done Royal; well played S. Thomas’.
The de Saram era (also) produced scholars in every conceivable discipline. In the traditional disciplines such as the Classics, English History , Mathematics and the Sciences, Thomian scholars excelled periodically. However, few know that S. Thomas’ also produced scholars in the oriental languages. For example, Ediweera Sarathchandra, Professorof Sinhala at the university of Ceylon and producer of the famed Maname, was a distinguished product of the de Saram era. Bernard Tilakaratnalater a foreign secretary, was also a scholar in Sinhala. Warden de Saram introduced classical Sinhala, hela bhasa, in to the curriculum.
Through the good offices of the Church Missionary Society in London, he obtained the services of dedicated British teachers. They included Rev. A.J. Foster, Ray J. G. Elliot, and W.T. Kele – all fresh from Oxford. Simultaneously, he exhorted his Ceylonese staff to treat teaching not merely as a livelihood but as a calling. He himself was a supreme example of such dedication. Accordingly, the roll of honour for those who taught for more tha 25 years has a large number from the de Saram era. They were S J Anandanayagam, Ruth Anthnisz, Mrs C M Bandaratilaka, Miss A E Bay, the Rev A J Banabas, V P Cooke, D F David, C H Davidson, B C D Silva, O P Gunaratna, Mrs Dora Janz, Harold Janz, B E W Jehoratnam, J H S peiris, E L Perera, C B Paulick pulle, J P Manickasingham, W I Muttiah, A J Scgafter, C S Weerasinha and C R Wise.
The parable of the lost sheep as enunciated by Jesus Christ Himself, was part and parcel on the the thinking of Warden de Saram. As such he was horrified by the tradition of rigorously implementing our motto: Disce aut Discede.
Warden de Saram placed much importance of the concept of mens sna in corpore sano. He was delighted when W A Wijesingha who had a match bag of 10 wickets in the Royal-Thomian of 1933 and scored a century in the match of 1934, entered the Colombo University College on an exhibhtion; when S J Thambiah who captained the cricket team in 1948 and was also the head prefect, went on to take a first in Sociology; when P T Shantikumar who captained the same team in 1949, came first in the Ceylon Civil Service. However, Warden de Saram publicly acknowledged at the centenary celebrations in 1951, that Manickam Saravanamuttu of the ‘Stone era’ was the finest all round product of S Thomas’ in her first 100 years.
Indeed, Warden de Saram showed courage during the ugly racial riots of 1958 when he saw a mob of hooligans on Hotel Road about to a lynch a victim. Te warden stopped his car, exhibited his skills in boxing and rescued the victim at great peril to himself. He was bleeding and his cassock was torn. Such was the measure of this great man.
IN 1949, Prime Minister D S Senanayake appointed him to the National Education Commission. In 1950, he was awarded the OBE for his services to education. In 1955,, Professor Nicholas Atygalla, vice chancellor of the then University of Ceylon invited him to serve on the Board of Residence and Discipline. In that capacity he was a frequent visitor to the University of Ceylon. Those visits could be looked upon wit a mixture of amazement and amusement. Undergraduates from Royal indulged in animated concersation with their warden. We from Royal were amused that undergraduates from S Thomas’, trembled with fear at the sight of their warden! Some even burnt their palms in hiding the cigarettes they were smoking!
The question now arises: who produced this great and good man Warden Reginald Stewart de Saram? The answer is simple. It was S Thomas’ itself. For having produced such a distinguished son of Lanka, we of Royal can honetly say: Well done S Thomas’.
-Experts from an article by T D S A Dissanayaka (a member of the Royal College class of 1949), Captioned ‘A Colossus in our midst,’ that appeared in the Sunday Times of March 9, 2003.