A tribute to Professor Carlo Fonseka

Manjari Peiris, Sri Lanka
The world recently lost a man in a million! Yes, I am talking of none other than Professor Carlo Fonseka - a superlative human being of our times who left for his heavenly abode on September 2, 2019 at the age of 86 years. Many articles and newspaper editorials have appeared in the press during the last few days paying tribute to this great Sri Lankan, whose sad demise has left a void that is difficult to fill.

A physician, academic and political activist, Carlo is well-known as an extra ordinary academic, an incomparable intellectual, and an administrator par excellence. He was a former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, and a former President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council. He was an ardent campaigner against alcohol and tobacco use and was instrumental in the drafting of many laws that sought to prevent such substance abuse. His immense contribution to promoting tobacco control in Sri Lanka was acknowledged by the World Health Organisation by conferring on him WHO’s World No Tobacco Day 2012 award. His tenure as the Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco Control (NATA) during the period 2006-2014 could be described as NATA’s golden age. Some of the tobacco control policies implemented under his leadership included ban on access to cigarettes for youth below 16 years of age; comprehensive ban on cigarette adverting, promotion and sponsorship, ban on smoking in enclosed public places, introduction of a Quit Line and Pictorial Health Warnings on cigarette packs covering 80% of the area.

A lesser known fact about Carlo is that he was also an artist par excellence and served as President of the Arts Council of Sri Lanka. He was an outstanding lyricist and composer and produced many albums-the last one in 2015. But despite all these accomplishments, he was steeped in humility and shunned publicity. His life mirrored great human qualities of love, kindness, understanding, equanimity and simplicity. Though born a Catholic, he was a true follower of Buddhism, and in a sense he lived the Dhamma in full measure.

I had the privilege to know him, talk to him, and seek his guidance often over many years. His was a personality who could walk with kings, yet remain rooted to the ground and not lose contact with the common people. He had the humility, kindness and patience to give an attentive ear to anyone who would call on him seeking his help or advice. I had, on numerous occasions, taken the advantage of his easy accessibility to talk to him and the good professor always listened to me with patience. I treasure the memories of those brief meetings with him. What I learnt from him has contributed, in no small measure, towards my worldly and spiritual upliftment.

His complete disinterest in personal fame is evident from his desire to have no ceremonies or rituals after his death. His remains were handed over to the Ragama Medical Faculty as per his will.

Go well sir, I hope we will meet again during our journey in Samsara!

Manjari Peiris, Citizen News Service - CNS
September 12, 2019