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Sunday, December 3, 2023

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Honesty and Loyalty - noble qualities of late Harry Goonatilleke

GREAT SPORTSMAN: The inter-club rugby season has ended with Kandy Sports Club taking the major trophies.

But amongst all the merry-making by one and all there was a touch of sadness too, as on the field there was a missing link in the matches - the absence of that very knowledgeable referee - Air Chief Marshall Harry Goonatilleke, N.D.C., P.S.C.


The late Harry Goonatilleke - the Commander who didn’t lose the common touch.

The Air Chief Marshall Harry Goonatilleke, despite the high office he held in the Air Force, was a most lovable personality on and off the field and his untimely death on April 11th this year at 3 a.m., took away a great lover of sport.

On that day, he had a sudden heart-attack and passed away while watching the exciting West Indies vs Sri Lanka cricket match on television and Sri Lanka lost a noble gentleman, a top Air Force Commander, a very knowledgeable rugger referee and above all a true gentleman.

So, Sri Lanka rugby lost a very knowledgable referee.

Air Chief Marshall never breached his powers. A person in a million noble soul, epitome of honesty, integrity, loyalty and a stern disciplinarian, legendary rugby coach, esteemed referee and administrator. His contribution to Air Force rugby and to Sri Lanka was immense, to develop and reach greater heights. He was a true patriotic son of Sri Lanka. He was Founder-Member of ex-Air Force Association and rendered yeoman service from a humble beginning. He took a personal keen interest to bring up the association from limited resources infrastructure to reach greater heights and provide help to the needy and sickly members and families of the association. We owe our sincere thanks to the Air Chief for all his motivation to start this association.

After his retirement, “ACM” contributed his valuable time to Ranaviru War Widows’ and Orphans’ counselling, socially and voluntarily. He was dedicated to his chosen profession. He maintained a sterling reputation for his honesty and integrity. What I admired in him was that he resolutely followed the dictates of his consciousness and lived by his principles. He was never ambitious or avaricious to enrich himself. He was quite contended with what he had and got.

He was quite outspoken irrespective of the consequences, sometimes to his own detriment. He was never an envious person. He was equally at home with the high and mightily as well as the low and meek.

He was the only Commander of Sri Lankan Forces who never owned a house to move in after his retirement nor a car. This should go down in the history of the armed services. Even the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa could not believe his eyes and offered a flat at Elvitigala Mawatha after observing the Air Chief’s unblemished record of service. Air Chief Goonatilleke never lost the common humanitarian touch. My family and I were greatly touched when he came all the way to Kandy to pay me a visit when I was seriously sick.

History was created when Air Chief’s son Air Marshall Roshan became the Air Force Commander. This is the first occasion in the armed services in Sri Lanka that a son followed his father to command a service.

Good coach

Besides his enormous duties as the Air Chief, Harry Goonatilleke enjoyed coaching the Air Force ruggerites and it was a great achievement that his coaching brought up the Airmen to meet the CR and FC in the Clifford Cup final in 1965. At that time, the Air Force were in the ‘B’ division and the coaching of Harry Goonatilleke was such he was able to get the best out of the players under him.

At the start the Airmen had only seven to eight players who had a rugby background and the rest of the players learnt the game under his tutelage and guidance. There were few potential soccer players, basketball players and they were taught how to play rugby football. At practices the players were moulded to become complete rugby players.

The names that come to mind are Lofty Perera, Rohan Gunaratne - both of whom never played or hardly played rugby seriously. These two are good examples for the coaching of Harry Goonatilleke and they went on to play for Sri Lanka. As followers of rugby football know Rohan Gunaratne and Lofty Perera were two good lineout jumpers. Rohan Gunaratne joined the Police force and went on to captain Sri Lanka. All credit to Air Chief Harry for all the hard work to make them complete rugger players.

When the late Charles Wijewardene joined the Air Force with his Vidyartha College rugby background and started as a centre three-quarter in the Air Force, coach Harry Goonatilleke, after studying Wijewardene’s potential, his calmness, changed Wijewardene’s position from centre to fullback and what a match-winner Wijewardene turned out to be as a fullback.

The Air Chief’s significant achievement as a coach was in shaping two Sri Lanka captains who went through from the Air Force. They were Jeff Ratnam and Rohan Gunaratne. There were three others—Mohan Balasooriya (Trinity and CR), Tikiri Marambe (Trinity and CR) and Nalin de Silva with club experience were moulded to become top class players. Along with Harry Goonatilleke, there were three other coaches-late Archibald Perera, late Berty Diaz and late Quentin Israel who did a fine job in coaching rugby players.

M. Maheswaran - ex-Air Force rugby player

 

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