Lakshman Kadirgamar: One of the rare individuals honoured by the University of Oxford in its 183 years’ history

Speech delivered at the unveiling of the portrait of Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar

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Speech delivered by Prof Chandrika Jayasinghe at the unveiling of the portrait of Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar at the University of Peradeniya

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Hon State Minister of Higher Education, Prof Athula Senaratne, Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya, Mrs Suganthie Kadirgamar and distinguished invitees, Deans of Faculties, academic staff members , non academic staff members, ladies and gentlemen

On the March 18, 2005 a similar ceremony was held in the United Kingdom at the University of Oxford to unveil the portrait of a great son of mother Lanka, Lakshman Kadirgamar, who had been a student at the Oxford University almost 50 years before. This was a singular honour bestowed by the Oxford Union on only 15 others in its 183- year long history. At that ceremony he (Kadirgamar) amply demonstrated his love and loyalty to his country saying “I would like to, if I may, to assume that I could share the honour with the people of my country. I had my schooling there, my first university was there , I went to law college there and by the time I came to Oxford as a postgraduate student , well, I was relatively a mature person. Oxford was the icing on the cake but the cake was baked at home”

Ladies and gentlemen, exactly 10 years after that event , today February 18, 2015, we are gathered here at this august assembly to unveil his portrait at the very same place in Kandy, University of Peradeniya, his home, where as he had said “the cake was baked.” This is a memorable and a historical occasion as this is the first time that a portrait of an illustrious alumnus of the University of Peradeniya is unveiled at the University.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was born on April 12, 1932 to Samuel J.C.Kadirgamar and Edith Rosemand Parimalam Mather as the youngest of six children. His father was the founder President of the Law Society of Ceylon. While all his brothers were educated at Royal College, he was the only boy in his family who was educated at Trinity College, Kandy from 1942 to 1950. Through out his college history, he had been an academically brilliant, athletically celebrated multi-talented youth. He has captained his school’s first eleven cricket team while also competing in the college athletic and rugby teams. He was a rugby coloursman, an athletics Lion and the winner of the first Duncan White Challenge Trophy. He culminated his trail blazing school career being appointed as the Senior Prefect and the winner of the much coveted Ryde Gold Medal for the best all round student.

He entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya Campus to study law in 1950 and graduated in 1953 from Peradeniya with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons.) degree. After his spell at the Ceylon Law College he won a scholarship to the Balliol College, at the University of Oxford in 1956 as a postgraduate student and received the B.Lit degree. There he became the Treasurer of the Union in 1958 and the President in 1959. It was here that he acquired the Balliol traditions at its best. Language in his speeches began to show a mental precision. Every word plain, lucid, terse, direct and with no frills, had its mark. The eloquence was sharpened in the debating chamber of the Oxford Union. He was remembered at Oxford as one of the best speakers ever.

He practiced law for many years in the Sri Lanka Bar and before the Privy Council in London. Later he became a President’s Counsel and a Member of the Parliament. The crowning glory of his legal career was when he was elected as an Honorary Master of Inner Temple of Great Britain in 1995. In its 496 year history, Kadirgamar was the second Asian to achieve this status after the former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahaman in 1974.

Mr. Kadirgamar was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka from 1994-2000, 2001 and then again for the third time in 2004.

Lakshman Kadirgamar became the Foreign Minister during one of the most difficult periods of our recent history. His presence raised the image of the Government in the rest of the world as he was already acknowledged internationally. Since assuming office in 1994 he worked tirelessly to bring back dignity and recognition to our country. He projected his vision for a new Sri Lanka which went far beyond the parochial boundaries of race, caste, creed and religion. During his tenure as the foreign minister he undertook with much enthusiasm to restore the Jaffna Public Library. He was instrumental in establishing the Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies to create an independent, multidisciplinary research institute capable of analyzing Sri Lanka’s strategic interests in the contemporary global environment. It was renamed Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies after his demise. It was a decision taken in recognition of the unparalleled contribution made by late Lakshman Kadirgamar to safeguard the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Though he was a born Christian, he respected all religions. He brought a proposal to the UN to make the Vesak day an international celebration day. He was a firm follower of all that is good and meaningful in other religious philosophies.

While being proud of his Tamil origins, he spoke of a Sri Lankan identity and fought on behalf of a country where all sections of our communities could think of themselves as Sri Lankans while maintaining their own ethnic identity. He believed in unity through diversity.

In recognition of his astute advocacy of Sri Lanka’s case in international fora and his undaunted valour and indomitable courage in the pursuit of a united Sri Lanka, he was appointed to the rank and dignity of Sri Lankabhimanya posthumously

Ladies and gentlemen , I am certain that the portrait of this extraordinary alumnus that we unveil today, 65 years after he graduated from this University, will inspire many students of the University of Peradeniya to emulate his noble journey of serving mother Lanka.

Hon Minister , Ladies and Gentlemen , now I would wish to enlighten you about the string of events which happened before this, and my involvement with these cascade of events culminating in today’s historic occasion.

In 2012 during my tenure of presidency at the Kandy Society of Medicine, which is the second oldest and the largest Medical association of Sri Lanka, accepting a proposal by Prof Ananda Jayasinghe , the council of the Kandy Society of Medicine honoured the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar as the symbolic Chief Guest at the society’s 34th annual academic sessions held on February 9, 2012. In response to the act of honour bestowed on the late Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar , Mrs Suganthie Kadirgamar and the members of the Kadirgamar foundation decided to offer a medal to a medical student of the faculty of medicine to honour the medical profession in reciprocation. This news was declared at the annual sessions in 2012, followed by the letter of offer to the Dean Faculty of Medicine. Criteria were laid down, title of the medal was decided and it went through the usual university procedure and got the approval .

The award shall be called ‘The Sri Lankabhimanya, Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar Gold Medal for excellence awarded to the highest achiever in the final MBBS examination for Medical degrees’. Given annually to the student who has recorded the best performance and obtained a First Class Honours at the final MBBS Examination and has shown commendable performance in extra curricular activities during his /her undergraduate medical career. The first medal will be awarded at the General Convocation of the University of Peradeniya in the year 2015.

On August 15, 2014 at a ceremony held in the Faculty of Medicine Mrs Suganthi Kadirgamar donated the medal money of Sri Lankan rupees one million to Prof Athula Senaratne , the Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya in the presence of the academic staff members of the Faculty of Medicine and the members of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Foundation, at the board room of the Faculty of Medicine .

As a response to a request made by the Vice Chancellor during that ceremony, Mrs Kadigamar is donating this portrait of the late Hon Minister to the University of Peradeniya today.

I thank Mrs Kadirgamar for her generous gift ; the valuable portrait of late hon Lakshman Kadirgamar to the University of Peradeniya , his alma mater. I appreciate all invited guests for their participation.

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