MR. E. R. DE SILVA, BA (LONDON) (1923 – 1957)
When speaking of Richmond there are few eras that stands out and referred to by the name of the head of the school who was at the helm. These references are to the glorious periods of Richmond. One such era is “ER’s period”.
Egodage Richard de Silva but popularly referred to as “ER” was born on 7th May, 1901 in Ambalangoda. He had his education first at the Wesleyan Mission Boys’ High School at Ambalangoda. In 1914 he and his elder brother joined Richmond. In 1918 he went from Richmond to Wesley in Colombo to pursue his higher studies.
During the time he spent at Richmond he made a name for himself in many spheres. ER was an all-rounder, and was soon making a mark for himself both in academic sphere and in the varied life of the College. Latin, Mathematics and English were his favourite subjects, and he became the Secretary of the Literary Association. After a short period as day scholars, the brothers joined the hostel. Here ER blossomed out, becoming the life and soul of Winchester House. He became a First Class Scout, Sergeant of the Junior Cadet Corps, and later a member of the platoon which won the Ceylon Shooting Cup for Senior Cadets. His greatest prowess, however, was as centre forward at Soccer. He was in the 1917 team that beat All Saints’, Mahinda and St. Aloysius College in Galle and held St. Thomas’ College which was the champion Colombo, to the small advantage of one goal.
In 1918 ER joined Wesley for higher studies. Wesley was, then under Henry Highfield, P. T. Cash and C. P. Dias — some of the finest teachers of their day. Incidentially Rev. Cash was also the Principal of Richmond from 1914 to 1915 the first year of life of ER at Richmond. Later he joined the Staff of Trinity where A. G. Fraser was Principal.
Mr. ER obtained the Bachelor of Arts degree of the University of London in 1925. The same year saw the ‘wanderer’ back at his old school, Richmond by which time he was well equipped, with the traditions of such schools as he had known to draw upon.
Mr. ER plunged into his new assignment with his wonted enthusiasm, devotion and skill. As a teacher of Mathematics and Latin he was clear, patient and hardworking. The slowest of his pupils received the greatest attention and in the junior forms he laid for them a firm foundation for higher studies in these subjects. It was work of this sort and the influence of the Head Master E. F. C. Ludowyk that produced scholars.
On the playing field ER was soon a dynamic coach of Soccer, Cricket and Athletics. A keen student of the games himself he demanded discipline, hard training and meticulous concentration from his pupils. You had to learn to kick with both feet, to make a really good start in a sprint and develop a good stride, bat, bowl and field with precision. The trier always won his praise but he was not slow to use hard words on the slacker, driving him on to greater endeavour.
Very soon ER made his mark as a keen educationalist. He became president of the Southern Province Teachers’ Association and championed the rights of teachers all over Ceylon, particularly those in the vernacular schools. He was a member of the Board of Education from 1939 and President of the All-Ceylon Teachers’ Union in 1941. As Secretary and later President of the Headmasters’ Conference, his views on all matters relating to education were much sought after. His evidence before the Kannangara Education Commission was of great value and he championed the cause of Free Education which was achieved in 1944. It was greatly owing to his persuasion that the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka handed over all her schools except Methodist College and Wesley College to the State. ER was honured by the government and awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his services to education.
The appointment of Mr. E. R. de Silva as Richmond’s first Ceylonese Principal was hailed by all who had the interests of the school at heart. To follow after men like Darrell, Small, Sneath and Dalby was no small undertaking, but ER entered into his task with humility and confidence in the co-operation of the staff and pupils of Richmond. Under him the school experienced a new period of growth. The establishment of University Entrance and Inter Arts classes created a need for new teachers and ER found for his pupils the very best available. The school now needed more classrooms and wider accommodation for the extra-curricular programmes that were introduced. The Principal’s excellent relations with the Old Boys of Richmond soon helped him to give the school an extended Kindergarten, a fine new block of five class rooms above the tennis court, a new Biology Laboratory and Junior Common Room furnished in the finest taste, add a Staff Room, Audio Visual Room and a special room for Woodwork. All the buildings had a simple dignity of their own which harmonised with the beautiful landscape that is Richmond. Girls were admitted to the higher classes, and special recognition given in the prize list to Art, Handicraft, Drama and Progress, the last so that weaker students too could share in the honours on Prize Day. The Common Room afforded pupils facilities for quiet reading and in the evenings served for meetings like those of the Wednesday Evening Club which in later days took the place of Alec Sneath’s Sathya Visandana Samithiya.
Though not a singer himself, how much he enjoyed the College Hymn, the Song and the new Richmond Song in Sinhala that was introduced during his period as Principal. Those of his pupils who came to know him best found in him a warm and close friend. He was always available to those who needed him, taking joy in their success and helping them in their moments of sorrow and failure. He would rarely miss the wedding of a pupil and there would be light banter and words of good advice to those who were starting a new chapter in their lives. If ever there was a death in one’s family ER was there with his sympathy and his quiet friendliness. It was his deep humanity one remembered in the end.
In 1957 ER retired from his position as Head of Richmond to move to Colombo and be with his family. He was a great husband and father as his wife Hilda and children Ranjan, Chitrani and Nayeni so well know. He worked for a while as Secretary of Steuart Agencies Ltd. with the same efficiency and devotion that he had shown as Principal of Richmond. Even now he tried his best to be present in Galle for the Big Match each year. As he approached his seventies, however, his health began to fail. Perhaps he had remained in harness too long, but retirement in the normal sense of that word was quite impossible for a man like him. He passed awaya on 11th November 1970.