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Sunday, 11 January 2009





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Joan de Mel, Founder of Sri Lanka Sumithrayo

Joan is no more. It is difficult to imagine Sumithrayo without her at the helm. Joan steered us through for 34 years in her own inimitable style, never one for fanfare and positions she tried to instil in us that the caller (distressed person) is the most important person at Sumithrayo and the volunteer in the room with the caller next.

The legacy she has left behind is priceless. It is our prerogative to carry forward our banner of hope for the distressed and suicidal. In one of her last memos to our centre in Colombo she said she was especially glad that the younger and newer volunteers played a large part in outreach projects and awareness programmes.

That was so typical of Joan, though frail in body her astute mind saw the importance of giving over to the young to carry on the work done with such dedication and commitment by the old pillars of Sumithrayo.

Many a time I likened her to be the admiral of our ‘ship’. She knew every rule in our book, she inspired us and illustrated by example to do what was right and expected us to do the same. Joan was not in favour of having social events and annual picnics. She believed we could spend that time in a more fruitful way, like organising our annual sale for which she gave her fullest support.

The only event we celebrate once a year is our anniversary. Joan graced the occasion each year, the picture of elegance in a beautiful saree and in later years in a striking salwa kameez.

Her silver white hair styled to perfection she would gracefully cut the cake amidst thunderous applause. She enjoyed the event so enthusiastically organised by the newest recruits and she made it a point to speak to each one of them before leaving the party.

My first recollection of Joan was fourteen years ago-her stately presence and the quiet dignity in which she carried out her duties as the founder of Sri Lanka Sumithrayo kept me secretly in awe of her.

I was a new recruit then and I had just begun my journey with Sumithrayo. It was perhaps, in the last five years that I grew close to Joan. We had a mutual passion for books which kept us in constant contact and we revelled in discussing the contents of different books.

She loved reading about India, her home for some years in the past. She tried to master the intricacies of the computer and many a time was irritated and fed up when the ‘machine’ did not comply to her command! She liked playing Scrabble but I was no match for her.

Her vast vocabulary of the English language floored me and I faltered every single time! She loved flowers, growing them and receiving them. Her room and sitting room overflowed with bunches and bouquets of flowers on her birthday in April sent by loving volunteers and friends. Joan’s first fall took her to hospital for a few days.

The first thing she wanted me to do was to set the sports channel on TV so she would not miss watching the tennis matches! Her positive attitude to perhaps months of being confined to bed amazed me. Her grit and determination to start walking again was a lesson to us all.

She attended a council meeting in the national building by being ‘air lifted’ in a chair. Such was her dedication. Joan astounded us by walking to the centre to do her Wednesday afternoon shift with the aid of a stick!! Rather than be held like an invalid she preferred us to walk beside her while taking her home.

She was delighted that she was kept informed of the activities going on at the centre and was eager to help and listen to the young volunteers. With a definite twinkle in her eye she gleefully told me one day that she had climbed the stairs on her own.

She had purchased a bookshelf and her next chore was to fill it with books. Sadly this was not to happen. Joan’s second fall was more serious and her stay in hospital much longer and yet as the pain got better she spoke of the delicious roast chicken the chef had made especially for her.

Back at her home despite all the love, care and concern by everyone around her she must have come to terms with the fact that she was not going to walk again. Joan slipped away peacefully early on Saturday morning just after Christmas.

Joan leaves behind her daughter Penny and son Nick and us all at Sumithrayo.

May her soul rest in peace.

Mela, Sri Lan



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