Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Henry Perera

My Very Personal Tribute to Henry Perera.

Henry was one of life's rare 'gentlemen'. Quiet, always unassuming, never pushy and ever prepared to help anyone in whatever way he could. Like so many of my lifelong friends we grew up together under the stern tutelage of Mr.Guy Thiedeman in the College Swimming Pool. No-one had the faintest idea of how to swim back in 1953 - except that is for one Desmond T. - who as anyone will tell you, was the only one blessed with God given natural talent. You either worked hard…or drowned! The choice was all yours.

We spent more time in the water than in the classroom probably. As a result none of us really 'shone' academically. Our early lives were devoted entirely to the College Swimming Team. Henry would surely accept that he was not one of the so called 'stars', but always in the very next row like so many other stalwarts that made the Josephian Swimming Team second to none - always giving 110% and then some more, to bring in those vital points that contributed to making the 'whole far greater than the sum of it's parts'. However, we learnt much more than just how to swim well, although none of us realised it at the time……..what we were instilled with was, the will to succeed, determination whatever the odds, never ever to give up…..giving up is as easy as 'falling of a log', sticking at it is what's really hard, and that 'lesson' above all else, is what we all took away from the College Pool.

We all swam for the one and only Kinross Swimming and Life Saving Club (naturally, with Mr.Thiedeman as our mentor, and I would say, actually our ,'saviour'….) and once again Henry was always there giving his utmost to contribute to the great success that Kinross enjoyed, due in no small part to the army of Josephian swimmers that swelled the ranks of the Club in the early 50's.

Henry joined the Police as a fledgling 'S.I.' and rose right the way to the top, up to the rank of D.I.G. Many thought that he could have gone on to be the I.G., however he suffered a heart attack whilst on horseback as part of his duties as personal bodyguard to the President and came to London for a by-pass operation. Despite being advised not to ride again it was not long before he resumed his former police duties but family pressures and constant advice from friends did eventually(some years later) make him see reason. Due largely to changing political circumstances and having seen enough bitter bloodshed and utter misery in the line of duty to last a lifetime he wisely decided to call it a day and moved away quietly to a much more peaceful life at the Peoples Bank. He was asked to take up his Commission again when the UNP was returned to power a few years ago. He gracefully declined and carried on his work for the Peoples Bank. In addition to his work he acted as Hon. Sec. in his younger years for the C.A.S.A. for 2, if not 3+ years then moved over into the Sri Lankan Olympic Association. He was helping Hamsa (Abdulhussien), who had been chasing Henry for years, to come and work with him at MSH Packaging in Gampaha, when he became unwell.

My wife Margaret and I returned home after a lapse of 25 years in 1985. Petha and Henry were the only two team-mates that had not either 'Burghered Off' to Australia or 'Hit the Trail' to the West…..Petha met us at Katunayake and Henry was our first visitor at the Holiday Inn Hotel that same evening. The next morning a car and chauffeur were at our disposal for a whole fortnight. Two weeks just sped by, visits to College, the Club, Kanate for the 'rellies' etc., etc., and etc., On our last evening Henry suddenly produced an autograph album! Would I please make an entry for him ……Oh Dear! Something profound was called for…..nothing was coming through….Old Captains are supposed to be able to do this sort of thing…..'think…think'! Some 15 years later Henry reminded me of that evening when I had signed his autograph album. Yes of-course I remembered, but no, I did not remember what inspirational 'gem' I had managed to conjure up. He told me that he had fallen back on it many many times, often in tense and demanding situations and had found a deep empathy with the words that had helped sustain him so often. He had even passed it on to younger officers. I felt good….rewarded. Suddenly I knew the quotation before he could enunciate it himself. I too had drawn immense help from it so many times during my own lifetime…..it had said,

"when you can't get the best……..make the best of what you've got".
(Rudyard K)

Then more recently in 2000 Vino his wife, Margaret, Henry and I, were whizzing through the Fort by taxi. Sitting in the front I suddenly asked the driver to swing into Chatham Street so that we could take a last look at the Clock Tower. We were pulled up abruptly at the barrier by an irate looking policeman…….a flow of abuse was heard….Ado! Yakko, cohethe bung yune? This is where we lose our manhood I thought! All those wicked looking guns. All that blood! …..What a waste! Henry then lent casually out of the back window and passed over his old I.D.( he had in fact left the Police Force some 5+ years or more earlier)…..the young policeman looked it over and passed it over to his Sergeant ……both men immediately sprang to attention…….stiff as a poker…..both of them ……..arched slightly backwards with rigidity…..their simultaneous salutes were text book stuff….the barrier was raised and we were waved through……..and all this long after Henry had long left the Force. Here was the perfect example of how well remembered, respected, even revered he was…….and……… by all of us as well …..

In my lifetime there have been just 5, well maybe 6, fine and irreplaceable men to whom I owe a debt I know I can never ever repay. Henry was one of those few………

Farewell dear friend……but not Goodbye.

Tony W. SJC., K.S & L.S.C.,

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