'He is unique, that's why I love
'Sri Lanka Cricket', 'Telecom', 'Mobitel', Sumathi Group of
Companies, Remand Prison and now in Politics ....oops...what a web, all
woven around one man...? Exciting, as people like him, of course quite
rare and unique. "He is unique.
That's why I love him. Marrying Thilanga is the best thing that
happened to me," claims Samadara Samamala Wimalaratne Sumathipala, wife
of Thilanga Sumathipala, one of the most dynamic men in the business
field, the cricket board and politics.
Helping myself to a delicious piece of butter cake made by her, I
began my interview at their residence at Punchi Borella. Samadara began
to recollect the past. "It was a proposal. And I was just 18 years. He
was eight years senior.
Well, when I saw him, I thought he was the right man though my
parents didn't insist on it," she smiles. "It was the first proposal
brought for both of us," she claims. "I wanted to get to know him. So we
did for about two years and then got married on June 11 in 1992," says
Samadara is the youngest of two brothers and the daughter of Victor
and Chandra Wimalaratne, a third generation of famous 'ice cream
businessmen' - Alerics. "Aleric Wimalaratne was my paternal grand
father. My brothers are abroad since their early twenties, and now the
business is run by my father's younger brother," she says.
"My father died three years ago of a stroke. Thatha held on until
Thilanga came home from the Remand prison. He loved his son-in-law that
much. Everybody was shocked and Thatha couldn't bear Thilanga's
situation which occurred as a result of internal politics.
When Thilanga was in the Remand prison we used to hide the newspapers
in order to keep Thatha away from gathering news about Thilanga. He died
two weeks after Thilanga came home. Thilanga returned after a five and
half month term in the Remand Prison. During this time he was admitted
to the National Hospital twice for treatment for a back pain ailment,"
Samadara studied at the Overseas Children's School up to Grade 6, as
her parents were planning to settle down abroad. But, they changed their
mind and decided to stay back. Along with that Samadara had to change
schools too. Her conservative parents wanted her to grow up in a more
orthodox background. "I was sent to Visakha Vidyalaya.
Pix : Chinthaka Kumarasinghe
Changing the medium of studies put me in trouble, but I managed
somehow as I was a quick learner. However, I was not allowed to do any
extra circular activities at school as most of it was held after school.
It was a great set back for me as Visakha had many extra curricular
activities. Though I protested about this to my mother at that time,
today looking back I think it was 'o.k.' Parents do things in the best
interest of their children," she says.
After O/Ls Samadara did a one year Diploma Course in Home Science.
The delicious pieces of cakes she served me was evidence of her
expertise in the field. And then it was a case of getting married. Her
new life with Thilanga has been full of excitement as she is married to
a dynamic man.
Uduwatuwage Janapriya Thilanga Sumathipala was born on May 3, 1964 to
U.W.Sumathipala and Milina Sumathipala whose family business was first
in jewellery and secondly in sporting race.
His closely knitted family consists of five sisters and two brothers
including himself. "His family has been a blessing to us in good times
and in bad. His brother has been like a father especially during the
crisis we went through," says Samadara.
Thilanga was the most boisterous of the Sumathipala children. His
mother didn't know that her 14-year-old son had been pushing the car
(parked in the garage) out into the corner of the lane in order to avoid
her hearing him start it. And then he would drive off which he later
mischievously confessed after many years. "That was Thilanga," laughs
Cricket, chess and swimming were Thilanga's forte. Out of them
cricket gave him the highest scores. He was the Vice Captain of the
Nalanda Cricket team from 1981 to 1983. The team was selected as the
Best School's Cricket team in 1983.
Though Thilanga fared well at school cricket he had little intention
of pursuing it. Instead, he stepped into family business. Roshan
Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinghe and Gamini Wickramasinghe were his school
team mates who later represented national cricket.
Thilanga was the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri
Lanka from 1997-1998, 2000-2001 and 2003-2004; Director of the
International Cricket Council in 1998-2000; President of the Asian
Cricket Council in 1997-1998 and Chairman of the Asian Cricket Committee
Thilanga headed the launch of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri
Lanka's new logo and name change as 'Sri Lanka Cricket' in 2004. Leading
the development of the Rangiri Dambulla International Cricket Stadium
and completing the stadium in 167 days were some of the targets he
"Cricket was his life. He put his heart and soul to it. But....,"
pauses Samadara. "I feel peaceful now as the phase he went through due
to his passion for cricket was too much. He even ended up in Remand for
an alleged racket over sending somebody abroad through the Cricket
I personally feel everything was set through jealousy to sabotage his
success. It was not only he who suffered, but the whole family. He never
let his mother, sisters, kids or me see him in jail. It was only his
brother and brother-in-law who visited him. We only saw him when he was
admitted to the National Hospital, Colombo," stresses Samadara.
After sitting for the A/Ls in the Commerce stream at Nalanda College,
Colombo, Thilanga went to UK to follow a Diploma in printing. Later, he
enhanced his horizons entering many institutions of higher studies in
Sri Lanka, USA and Japan.
Thilanga has put all that with his inborn talent into business
intuitions and thus became the Managing Director of the Sumathi Group of
Companies, one of the largest private corporate groups in Sri Lanka -
Sumathi Global Consolidated, Sumathi Book Printing, Sumathi Publishers,
Sumathi Films, Great Wall Restaurant, ISP Lanka, Sumathi Trading,
Sumathi Sports and Lifeserve.... Thilanga is the Chairman of Napco, a
company specialising in large scale printing operations with an emphasis
on telephone directories, BPO Services, a company specialising in
medical transcription as well as a call centre.
He is one of the Directors of the Ingrin Institute of Printing and
Graphics and Hotel Hilltop, Kandy. Thilanga chaired two
telecommunication companies, Sri Lanka Telecom and Mobitel (Pvt) Ltd
from 2002 to 2004.
Question: He has been handling many positions. The above
stated were the most prominent jobs among many others. How did he find
time and energy for all that?
Samadara: He is a very enthusiastic person. He loves to work.
He has faith in his ability and is over confident by nature.
Question: What kind of support does he expect from you, and how is he
as a husband?
Samadara: I mainly look after the home front. Our three boys
keep me occupied through out the day. Udantha is 14 years, Dulantha and
Sajantha are 10 and 8. They go to Royal College. Thilanga wants the boys
to mingle with people of all walks of life. He is worried about our
security. He is cautious. He doesn't like to see me even driving.
If I take the wheel in an emergency, he would remain silent. He knows
I cannot be without talking all the time. That's how he shows his anger.
He does get angry when things are not in order.
With the boys he is strict when required. Unlike with me, they just
want the father to say whether something should be done or not. They are
very obedient. Thilanga is very close to the children. Amidst his busy
schedule he makes it a point to spend time with the family too. He stays
in his office upstairs at home two days of the week.
The other two days he goes to the office at Sumathi Court,
Bambalapitiya (Great Wall Restaurant). He spends another day at Sumathi
Publishers at Grandpas. He is available at Napco during the weekend.
However, neither he nor any other family member misses the lunch at
their mother's place on Sunday. I don't physically get involved in his
business. But, I give him my fullest support as I believe, a wife should
back her husband always.
Question: Your mother-in-law, Milina Sumathipala is a
prominent figure in society who has been in business and social service
work. If we talk about your family life she too plays a great role.
Samadara: Very true. She is a straight forward woman, and I
like that quality a lot. Thilanga was 14 years when his father died.
Since then, it was his mother who had raised the family and the
This is their ancestral home. Amma was with us quite for sometime,
and there she built another place close by and decided to move. I didn't
like the idea, but she insisted that she should have her own place. She
has been instrumental in the children's success and the pillar of
success of the family business.
She is quite an open minded person. A lot of people have asked me how
I get on with her as she looks tough. I say 'I have never had so called
'problems' with her though we stayed under one roof for a long time'.
Question: Is there any other especial quality you would like
to highlight? Samadara: Thilanga is really good in the spoken word,
which I'm not (laughs). He can express himself very well. I have a
strong belief that he won't do wrong. Even if he makes a mistake he
takes others' advice. He handles things very well.
He is far sighted. A lot of people in many walks society seek his
advice and opinion all the time. He is really good at it. He is
target-oriented and works hard until he achieves his goals.
Even when Muralitharan was sidelined over his bowling technique while
Arjuna was the Captain of the Sri Lanka team, it was Thilanga who fought
back with the Australians and arranged medical tests and certificates
for Murali and even got the lawyers to handle the case. He gets devoted
to whatever he does. But I feel sad when he is pushed around.
Question: Him getting into politics?
Samadara: Hmmm.... that's the very thing I'm not that keen on
him doing. But whatever he does he gets my blessings and support. I
respects his views. Also I think he has good leadership qualities, so
whatever he puts his hands to he will be successful especially politics.
But, still it's a risk to be a politician nowadays.