Appreciations | Daily News


Deshamanya Cyril Herath:

The Peerless Leader

The 10th death anniversary of Deshamanya Cyril Herath fell yesterday (September 8). It is my view that he was a peerless leader who deserves to be remembered, emulated, and revered.

I was the General Manager, Director, and Executive Director of National Savings Bank when Mr. Herath was Chairman. While I am deeply grateful to Mr Herath for appointing me to these positions, I must say that it was the most rewarding, productive, and life changing period of my banking career that gave me immense pleasure, satisfaction, and pride to work under a great leader of the calibre of Mr. Herath.

Despite the fact that he was my boss and his eminent standing in this country, he was like an elder brother with whom I maintained a very intimate relationship until his death.

Deshamanya Cyril Herath studied at St. John’s College, Nugegoda and Royal College,and graduated from University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. In 1957 he joined the Police service as an ASP and in 1985 he was appointed as Inspector General of Police. He was Chairman of National Savings Bank from 1994 to 2002 and 2004 to 2005.

He also held the following positions: Director General of Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII) at the Ministry of Defence, Defence Secretary, and National Security Advisor.

Most of the new generation in the Sri Lanka Police service and the banking sector may not know about this peerless leader who was responsible for the phenomenal transformation of NSB.

•He possessed leadership qualities such as integrity, humility, intellect, pragmatism, communication ability, and empathy. Above all, he walked the talk and was fearless; he was every inch a leader.

•Believe it or not, he queued up with other employees (including the lowest grade of employees) every morning and waited for his turn to enter the lift to proceed to his office which was on the sixth floor. This shows his humility, and it is unthinkable for Chairman, NSB to do so.

•He was humble, approachable, and any employee could meet him on Wednesdays without an appointment to have their grievances redressed.

•He believed in empowering staff and gave them a great deal of freedom

•He never raised his voice when speaking to subordinates and was always conscious of their self-respect.

•At bank parties, he and his wife went round and spoke to each and every staff member and sang and danced with them.

•Ostentation, which is now the order of the day, was anathema to him. His official vehicle was an unostentatious car (Mitsubishi Lancer and later a Honda Civic). And when travelling abroad, he travelled Economy class (unless of course it was upgraded by the airline at no extra cost.)

•He could effectively communicate both in English and Sinhalese, and he always conducted himself with dignity and decorum.

•His humane qualities motivated the staff to contribute towards taking the bank forward. One good example is that he reinstated several employees who were unfairly dismissed or victimized as well as those who were deprived of their pensions. Like most other heads of organisations, he never washed his hands off saying that they happened before his tenure and therefore he was not responsible.

• He took up the challenge posed by the World Bank in their report to the Sri Lanka Government in the mid nineties stating that there is no justification for continuing the operations of NSB, and therefore its branches should be sold by auction to private and foreign banks. Mr. Herath, the top management, and staff were infuriated by these unwarranted, imbecilic, and humiliating remarks. However, he with the support of the CEBU and the top management proved the World Bank wrong and transformed the bank as a stable, profitable, and customer-oriented modern bank. The secret was his singular leadership. (I wrote about this in detail in my tribute published in the newspapers on his 5th death anniversary)

Deshamanya Cyril Herath will therefore go down in history as the epitome of a great leader who was responsible for the dramatic and stupendous transformation of NSB. The only way I can describe him is by saying that he was a great, noble human being, and a peerless leader. This is not only my opinion but universal as you would see from a few sentences I quote from the The Retired Senior Police Officers Association in a statement issued following his death, with due acknowledgement.

“He was a role model for his honesty, and integrity. This was a valiant attempt, firing the first shot to maintain the independence of the Police and retired prematurely at the age 54 years and 10 months against undue political interference. He was known for clear thinking and a knack of presenting his ideas forcefully and convincingly and was fearless in expressing his opinion and most of all had a very strong backbone. He never feared to do what he thought was right and he never avoided or neglected his duty. He was also very forthright in his views and never hesitated to push them forward. He was quite open in trying stamp out corruption in any form. An absolute gentleman in all his dealings, he was an excellent brother officer and companion. No one could ask for a better friend, and to all others he was an officer and a Gentleman. He stood for justice and fair play and had the courage to stand by his convictions. He was a source of encouragement and inspiration to the offices and the subordinates. He was always held in high esteem among his superiors, peers, junior, and subordinates.”

I would also like to quote from a letter sent by Mr. Tilak Fernando of Colombo 6 (I don’t know him) to a newspaper which endorses my views on Mr. Herath

PROMPT ACTION BY NSB CHAIRMAN: A few days ago, I wrote to Chairman, National Savings Bank (NSB) Cyril Herath to bring to his notice certain shortcomings at the NSB.

The letter was posted by me during the weekend and to my surprise on Tuesday morning around 9 a.m. I received a telephone call from Chairman Herath.

The Chairman thanked me for bringing the shortcomings to his notice which he said would be taken up with the senior managers. I am happy that there are persons such as Herath at the top of these Government institutions. Usually when some shortcoming is pointed out the management either finds excuses or justifies what was done. I wish there are at least a few more officers such as Herath in the state and corporation sector.

Another point I wish to make is that the Chairman is at his desk by 9 a.m whereas some heads of Corporations are having breakfast in their homes, at this time.

(With due respect to Mr Fernando, I need to correct the time as 8.30 am)I have no doubts that Mr Herath’s children, Arjuna, Sanjaya, Priyanthika, and Dishan will follow in the footsteps of their beloved father. Furthermore, on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, I wish to express our gratitude to Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for appointing the ideal leader to head the National Savings Bank.

I think it is appropriate to mention about his beloved wife, Mrs Ranee Herath who passed away within one year of his death. She was a gracious and virtuous lady who made it possible for Mr. Herath to fully concentrate on coping with challenges of his job. She graced all events and ceremonies of the bank, mixed with the staff who adored her. Her presence created a great deal of goodwill among staff that was a significant factor which made it possible for NSB to move to greater heights.

I am deeply grateful to you dear Sir, for your affection, the lessons I learnt from you, and for changing my life. Beloved Sir, on behalf of all the employees of NSB, past and present, I wish you and Mrs Herath peace and serenity in your sojourn in Samsara.

- N.B.S.B. Balalle 

Clinton Rodrigo:

A man with many accomplishments

My father hailed from a family, being the youngest of three brothers, he has virtually no recollection of his father who passed away when he was just 2 years old. His mother had to take over responsibility of managing the huge ancestral estate in Eheliyagoda comprising over 1,000 acres of rubber plantation, subsequently the family retained no more than 200 acres with nationalization that took place following the land reclamation act in the 1970s.

My father joined his brothers at boarding school at Wesley College where he completed both his primary and secondary education. He has fond memories of boarding school life and used to relate many funny and interesting tales of his experiences to my kids. It was just a week before his demise that he asked my daughter to read his school leaving certificate which he had proudly laminated and retained on the mantelpiece at home. Quote ‘Clinton has been a student of Wesley College from January 1946 and throughout this period, he has been in the school hostel. He was an ideal hosteller, who contributed a very large share to the spirit and tone of the place.

There was no activity in the school or hostel in which Clinton was not in. He represented us in more or less all the spheres of activity - in games Athletics, Cricket, Tennis, Hockey, Volley Ball and Table Tennis, he excelled; in the latter games he was both school and hostel captain. His record of activities can rarely be equalled. He has held the post of secretary in the following clubs and unions: Hostel Literary Union, Indoor games club and house sports club. As an amateur actor he is a class by himself and in all school and hostel dramas, Clinton had a main part to play”.....the certificate ends with the comment ‘with the greatest confidence I recommend him as one of our very best products’

He joined the prestigious profession of planting at the time after completing a degree in agriculture from the university of Peradeniya, in the immediate post-colonial era just as the country regained independence. He was a member of the Finlays agency house and built a strong network among the upcountry plantation fraternity over the years. As a child I remember moving residence from sprawling plantation bungalows in Nuwara Eliya to Hatton to Kandy finally to the Head Office in Colombo as he steadily rose from the ranks to ultimately becoming Chairman and Board Director of JEDB and a member of the Tea Board. He went through many setbacks, from a molten cocktail thrown in to the master bedroom in the middle of the night at Watagoda which miraculously didn’t explode when I was apparently just a year old to prematurely having to retire at the prime of his career due to political reasons. In his early fifties he commenced his own plantation management consultancy practice whilst taking an active interest in managing our own ancestral properties in Eheliyagoda.

He was extremely diligent in his work and took pride in the many accomplishments he gained along the way. As a kid I have memories of his tea tasting, listening to his many speeches over the years being equally adept at communicating in English, Sinhala and Tamil and comfortable with people from all walks of life at different strata of society.

He took great pride in the fact that plantations under his oversight were consistently top of the league in performance rankings and retained all his records in a separate cabinet to this day diligently filed and indexed over the years. He represented the country in many international tea forums and presented many papers on agriculture. He was a regular contributor to newspapers sharing his technical knowledge well in to his retirement. He was highly respected by the upcountry planting fraternity and would often follow the progress of his contemporaries and juniors with great interest.

I remember when a group of senior planters invited him to dinner soon after his 80th birthday and awarded him with a plaque recognizing his contribution to their careers, how much he was overcome with emotion! His crowning moment, however was when he was awarded a special plaque for his outstanding contribution to the tea industry by the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka at the international tea conference in 2017.

He took great pains in educating me and introducing me to many of his relatives based in Colombo in the area of accounting and finance who were my mentors. As a kid despite his busy schedule he made time for me, he made a great effort in knowing my circle of influence at work, my superiors, teachers and friends. He would make an effort to cultivate friendships with everyone that mattered both in his as well as my life. He had a vision for me, outside his comfort zone to excel in the corporate world and left no stone unturned to make it happen. Being a govt servant almost all his life, with meager savings he was able to somehow ensure my sister and I got the very best of education locally and overseas. In the latter years his devotion to family extended to his grandchildren, cousins, relations and his neighbors taking a personal interest in their lives and was a constant source of encouragement and advise.

He was an active member of both the Rodrigo Friend in Need Society Panadura and UJ family Moratuwa and participated in all their activities and get togethers. He took great pride in presenting the vote of thanks every year making an effort to research and recognize all the family accomplishments at these annual events.

Although he was a Methodist by birth he was a close devotee of Mother Mary. My mother was a Roman Catholic and both my sister and I were baptized Catholics. When he was asked by a close friend to assist Gonapinawala Convent in Hikkaduwa a school for mentally challenged children, well in to his retirement, he took on the project with great zeal to cultivate cinnamon in their lands which ensured their financial independence for years to come. He built a great relationship with the mother superior of this institution and made numerous visits with the family participating as a guest in their many events and activities for well over two decades.

His greatest disappointment by far was losing my mother 8 years back. She was his erstwhile companion, the wind beneath his wings. It was sad to see how the lion lost his roar after her demise and would often say he would trade all he had if he could bring her back.

My father was a unique personality, a visionary, who rose from the ranks to reach the top of his profession through integrity, hardwork, discipline, exceptional commitment and a genuine commitment to people he interacted with. I am happy to knowing that whilst there are numerous challenges and setbacks which he overcame, he was blessed with a loving family, travelled widely, enjoyed the best of food and drink, a massive network of relatives and friends, and undoubtedly lived a good and productive life. His mind was active until the very end and I was privileged to be by his side when died peacefully at his home in Colombo 5, at the ripe old age of 87. Thank you Thathi for being a wonderful role model, you may be gone from my sight but you are never gone my heart.

- Dilshan Rodrigo

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