True icon in advertising field
Malville Joseph Assauw, passed away on June 23. I had known for some
time that Mel had been seriously ill and the news of his demise should
not have been a surprise. But it was. The sad news cast a shadow of
gloom and carved a deep niche of sorrow in the hearts of those, such as
myself, who loved and respected him.
I often met Mel at Jonathan Studio where in the company Mervyn
Wijeratne (my wife's cousin) we had many a pleasant and jovial chat.
This was many decades ago. Mervyn had given Mel a small area to do his
art work and from such small beginnings he progressed to be a true icon
in the field of advertising in an era which saw the likes of radio and
media personalities. Tim Horshington, Greg Roskowski, and others.
Mel was educated at St Peter's College, Colombo. He took to
advertising firstly as Director of International Advertising Services
(IAS) and later as its Creative Director, in addition to being the
Creative Director of Prachards, a subsidiary of IAS. The natural outcome
of all these early endeavours was for Melville to form his own Company -
Mel Ads Ltd. - a family business which now counts 40 years in the field
of advertising. Mel's initiative and rive and, most importantly, the
goodwill that the engendered, made him expand into other fields. He
initiated the first ever Teledrama in Sri Lanka: 'DIMUTHU MUTHU', in
addition to producing many other publications for the local and public
sector. Melville became President of the Four "A" in Sri Lanka during
the year 1986 - 1988, and headed the International Advertising
Association (IAA - Sri Lanka Chapter) in 1999 -2001.
Being the man that he was, ever willing to help those less fortunate,
he became a Rotarian and was President of his Club in 1987 - 1988, and
subsequently became District Governor for Sri Lanka in 1994 - 1995. All
the above commitments took up much of his time, but of course he also
had to direct his energies to his own firm.
There is something of a paradox here in that Mel Ads was a great
success and at times also a failure. There were those who joined him as
raw beginners, worked hard and later went on to do their own things. He
had no problem with these people. Sadly, however, there were also a few
unscrupulous opportunists who sought his help, joined his firm,
virtually sucked his brains and lift him surreptitiously in an underhand
manner taking some Mel Ads accounts. Mel certainly had business acumen.
His kindly disposition also had with it a degree of naivete which
prevented him from quickly identifying those who would use him solely to
further their own agendas. These events cause him untold anguish and
further exacerbated his failing health. Mercifully, with the help of his
wife Bernie and daughter Maryse, who became Managing Director, and also
with the invaluable administrative expertise of a lifelong friend who
stepped into work full time more as a labour of love, there was a
turnaround and Mel lived to see his Mel Ads (Pvt) Ltd on a firm footing
If one took his accomplishments in the pioneering field of
advertising to be the high watermark in his life and his only
achievement, this would be a mistake.
Melville was a man of many talents. He was an oil painter of
considerable repute, a landscape artist, a man interested in the
culinary arts and immune to the overwhelming influence of TV, much
preferring to read a good book. Mel's abiding interest was painting. He
admired the works of David Paynter, Ivor Baptist, and Donald Ramanayake,
among others, but would not imitate them. He often lamented that his
other commitments left him with little time to indulge in his passion
for painting but nonetheless managed to have four solo Exhibitions of
his work. He generously donated several of his paintings for relief work
in Indonesia. Above everything else, Melville Assauw was a deeply
We all grieve his passing, but more importantly rejoice in having had
the opportunity of knowing such a good, decent and accomplished man.