Prof. S. M. P. Senanayake – ‘He was always a simple and humble man’

by Dr. Rohan M. Fernando

It was on Tuesday the 23rd of August that I received the sad news from Prof Senanayake’s daughter that he had passed away in Melbourne. I learnt that he and his wife had been living in Melbourne with one of his daughters for the last few months. This sad news came as a great shock to me as his daughter called on Professor Senanayake’s phone number which I had with me for many years.

I came to know Professor Senanayake in the late 1980s at the University of Colombo when I was pursuing my Postgraduate studies where he was one of the lecturers in Economics. However, it was in later years that I got to know him better when I had enrolled myself to pursue my Doctoral studies at the University of Colombo. He was appointed as my supervisor for my PhD research from the University together with Dr. Anura Ekanayake who was the external supervisor.

I could confidently say that I owe my PhD to these two eminent personalities who were a tower of strength to me and guided my PhD research over the years until I received my Doctorate in 2004. It was during this time that I got to know Professor Senanayake personally, as I used to meet him often at his office at the University. At that time, he was the Professor of Economics, then Head of the Department of Economics and later the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Colombo.

I met him regularly at his office, both in connection with my research and on matters of mutual interest mainly connected with Agriculture and related areas. I was often enriched by his insight on these subjects. Despite the eminent positions he held, he was a very humble person who had very simple needs and walked in simplicity and humility. He was always soft spoken and very sincere.

Anyone who set his eyes on him would never have realized or known what senior positions he held at the university and the wealth of knowledge that he had, specially in agricultural economics and agricultural marketing. He shared his knowledge very freely with his students and with anybody who sought his advice or ideas.

As far as I knew, several international organizations called on his knowledge and experience and offered him many consultancies and these included the World Bank the Asian Development Bank and USAID.

Unfortunately, my interaction with him after I completed my PhD was not as frequent as I hoped it would be, and that’s one of my great regrets. I last saw him around 3 years ago when I visited him at his home. He was the ever smiling, humble man as always, and on that occasion, I had the pleasure of meeting not only his wife but also his daughter and son-in-law who reside in Melbourne.

He was extremely proud of his two daughters who were as clever as him and had achieved much in their chosen academic fields. He was a contended man and very proud of his family. I know that his wife was a tower of strength to him, specially during times of his sickness and I know that all of them will truly miss this genial human being.

I will always be ever grateful for all the help he gave me to complete my doctorate and for the guidance and advice imparted to me through the years. I will truly miss him. Helping others was one of the key qualities he practised in full measure, without expecting anything in return. Our prayers are with his family in this time of grief.

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