An appreciation – Prof. Samantha Hettiarachchi : Bidding adieu to a professor and a gentleman

Published : 9:00 am  July 25, 2018 | No comments so far |  |  (158) reads | 

Prof. Hettiarachchi

 

The touching tributes and appreciations for Prof. Hettiarachchi, both in the print media and social media since 24th April this year, bear testimony to the lives he impacted in many ways; as an academic, a teacher and a friend.   

Three months since his passing away, I pen these words of appreciation and admiration more from the perspective of knowing him and growing up with him for almost forty years, as my eldest brother-in-law. I was just nine years young when he connected with our family as a ‘dear friend’ of my eldest sister Premini. I believe our first acquaintance was through the telephone. In an era when the ring tones of our land phones were like clanging cymbals and no CLI, my efficiency as the telephone operator was appreciated by Aiya and to this year he would enjoy mimicking my responses to him over the phone.   

 

 

I believe his greatest achievement in University and life’s reward was when he conquered the strongest ‘wave of love’ in meeting my sister Premini and spending two thirds of his life with her

 

 

Aiya was my sister’s ‘world’ for almost four decades. In the early years of marriage they were overseas on postgraduate studies, diligently pursuing their academic fields of interest. Imperial College London and the UK were their second homes until about 2005 when, after the Tsunami struck, he was consulted by many countries. This was because he served as a key member of the Advisory Committee of the Disaster Management Centre. Their travels took them to the other continents as well. Prof. Hettiarachchi’s name is synonymous with the University of Moratuwa and the field of Coastal Engineering worldwide.   

The tributes paid by students on Facebook, the appreciations by his University colleagues and friends spoke clearly of his personality and character. He was a close friend to many, be it during his college days at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, when he was at the campus or among his students. When one needed simple advice, a brush up in subjects or a patient listener if he would be there. He earned much respect from people from all walks of life for displaying a pleasing manner. He lived a principled life. He spoke out when it really mattered  and never let something wrong go unchallenged. Perhaps that’s what earned him a warm welcome to our family.   

Samantha Aiya led by example as he mentored not only the many students, who walked through the corridors of the Civil Engineering Department for thirty eight years, but also mentored and was a great inspiration to his nephews and nieces. He was a dutiful son and a beloved caring youngest brother to his four siblings.   

 

 

Though his crowning qualities were his thirst for intellect and academic knowledge, his collection of miniature cars, trains, houses, and wrist watches among other interesting items, were hobbies he cherished

 

On a personal note I am appreciative of an elder brother who admired my various talents and positive outlook on life. He endorsed my professions and offered support, despite me being the non-academic in the family. Being a keen fan of my travels and experiences he would encourage me to diversify my skill in whichever field I pursued. Perhaps one thing we both had in common was that we were ‘spoilt youngest’. If there was anything I had which he fancied for his collection of items, his claims on them got the better of me, as I just couldn’t say ‘no’ to him. In turn, he was sensitive to my point of view in discussions we had with Akka. He had a great memory for insignificant details of events or conversations and years later he would refer to them vividly. He kept track of my closest friends and acquired some ‘fans’ in them too. Wherever people exchanged greetings with Samantha Aiya, they became fond of him, as he possessed a unique charm and exceptional charisma in addition to a good sense of humour. The past few years he would enjoy posing for a ‘click’ on my camera as he knew the outcome would be exceptional.   

I believe his greatest achievement in University and life’s reward was when he conquered the strongest ‘wave of love’ in meeting my sister Premini and spending two thirds of his life with her. He couldn’t have asked for more in receiving such devoted care and unconditional love especially in the latter stages of his life while he bravely endured his illness. Akka dedicated all her time to take care of him, while juggling her academic career and house work. Even on his sick bed he would share his knowledge and expertise via email and telephone and mentor a few students who visited him. I recall a few times when I accompanied him for treatment he would enumerate emotionally in detail, the many students and colleagues who showed their gratitude in numerous ways in the last few months of his life. This only bears testimony to the valued legacy he left behind which no wealth can quantify. I can imagine how much more he could have accomplished in his life were it not for his illness.   

His avid interest in and valued collection of fountain pens earned him recognition even in other nations through his writings in pen magazines as well. Though his crowning qualities were his thirst for intellect and academic knowledge, his collection of miniature cars, trains, houses, and wrist watches among other interesting items, were hobbies he cherished.   

Aiya was not really a ‘religious person’; rather he preached a better sermon with his life than with his lips. Whenever I visited them at home during the last year, I was privileged to encourage him with prayer and praise. The night before he passed away, together with a dear friend of mine, by his bedside in hospital, we prayed and sang the famous chorus ‘because He lives I can face tomorrow’, little knowing that truly he was ready to face his tomorrow in eternal rest. Thus, till we meet again, a professor and gentleman bade us good bye.   

Nimmi Gunewardena