Don Simon W Samarakone:
The reclusive philanthropist
Simon Samarakone traversed the social milieu then existing like a
colossus neither hesitating nor wavering in the face of obstacles, which
were nearly insurmountable. Trained under British scholars he ended his
academic career by becoming a qualified civil engineer. His specialty
was drainage and his services were eagerly sought by the British
administration at a time when qualified civil engineers were few and far
between. His material wealth consisting of nearly five hundred acres of
land strewn across the Western Province plus a sizable amount of cash
deposits part inherited and part earned was entrusted to the Public
Trustee as was specified in his last will.
Samarakone Trust Fund
Most of the public institutions established around Piliyandala at
present, such as the Multi-Purpose Co-op Bokundara, CEB Technical
Training Centre previously Ceramic Corporation, YMBA Piliyandala and
Woodwork and Handloom Training Centre at Piliyandala Town, all playing
an indispensable role in the public life of people around Piliyandala
today remain everlasting monuments to his memory. His kindness and
generosity penetrated every aspect of public life thus the Government
School Wewala, Bimbarama Temple at Kolamunna, the International Buddhist
Centre at Kahapola Madapatha, (still at the initial stages of
development) Thumbowila Gangaramaya Temple and Asokaramaya at
Thimbirigasyaya are also public institutions, which have immensely
benefitted by his munificence.
Don Simon Samarakone
It is highly regrettable to note that most of his resources initially
meant to be used for the welfare of people around Piliyandala have been
squandered and self-seeking individual have grabbed a sizeable part of
it for their benefit. Case in point is the construction of the Hall
built in his memory in the Public Cemetery ground and handed over to the
Urban Council on Feb 16, 2002 to be used as a resting place for the
people who accompany their dear departed ones in their final journey.
Even at present, almost sixty two years after his death grants are made
using the funds from Samarakone Trust Fund to build temples around the
island and award scholarships to students who are unable to pursue their
education due to poverty.
Perhaps only few of us now among the living are aware that he
allocated a portion of the Samarakone Trust Fund to provide dowry to the
unmarried daughters of low income families living around Piliyandala.
It is regrettably noted that although he had allocated Rs. 20,000 in
1950 as per his last will for a ward to be built in the Piliyandala
Hospital premises in memory of his mother, the late Mrs. D.C.W.
Samarakone, it has not gone beyond the initial stages.
Thus if somebody in authority takes an interest in this regard and
helps fulfil one of his ardent desires, the endeavour will immensely
benefit the people around Piliyandala.
The closest town to Wewala, where Simon Samarakone was born and
raised was Piliyandala, a small town developed during colonial times.
Then, it consisted of a market, Village Council Hall, Police Station and
the Post Office. Buggy carts for passenger travelling, bullock carts for
carrying goods, company owned buses for long distance travelling, were
the only modes of conveyance.
Piliyandala played the role of a small market town, which supplied
the consumer needs of the inhabitants of Mampe, Thumbowila, Kolamunna,
Suwarapola and Wawala. Located in a vital intersection, where the road
leading from Colombo to Horana is criss-crossed by the road leading from
Katubadda to Maharagama, Piliyandala town rose to prominence owing its
importance to its public market where consumers could buy provisions
conveyed from Colombo, as well as vegetable and a variety of yams
supplied by farmers from around Piliyandala at bargain prices.
People living around Piliyandala at the time when Samarakone walked
across the landscape like a giant were still steeped in a value system
begot by many years of subjugations to colonialism.
It was during the latter part of the post-independence period that
the people were able to emerge free from this colonial mindset and
realise the true value of philanthropists like Samarakone who did
everything they could do to uplift the living standards of the people.
The clock tower
This will remain a lasting monument to his generosity for a long
period to come. It was at the request if Somaweera Chandrasiri, then MP
for Moratuwa, that Samarakone undertook to build the clock tower in
memory of his departed parents. Built at a time when wrist -watches were
a luxury and only few of the local populace could afford them, and clock
towers were a rare phenomenon among the rural masses - he might have had
the twin objective of showing exact time of the day to a passerby as
well as raise the image of Piliyandala in the public eye.
The foundation stone was laid by the then Minister of Local
Government C. W. W Kannangara and the work had been completed in just
seven months. The entire expense for this project had been borne by
The machine inside is entirely assembled using British technology and
the complex engineering concepts used in the making still pose a
challenge for mechanics who undertake to repair it even today.
The foundation is believed to be around 15 feet or 20 feet deep and
there is a set of steps leading from the ground to the basement .The
structure is built of brick, with the walls nearly 12 inches thick. The
roof is of thick concrete cover and the structure measuring nearly
eighty feet in height is built in three storeys.
The summit of the tower could be reached by using a stair-case
consisting of seventy two steps. A person gaining access to the top most
floor could see ships sailing in the distant sea on one side and hills
and dales covered with thick mist on the other side.
When reaching the top through the interior, the machine that gives
life to the clock faces could also be seen, installed in a 4ft high, 5ft
wide wooden box.
The three bells keep ringing, one at the passage of every fifteen and
thirty minutes, the other at every forty five minutes and the third bell
at the passage of every hour. Although the chimes of the clock were
heard several miles in the days gone by, the sound is at present heard
only few miles around, owing to the congested urban living.
Winding is done once a week, the big pendulum made in proportion to
the strength and make of the machine is nearly one-foot in width.
The other remarkable feature of the machine is that it is operated by
a cable system instead of springs.
The Samarakone Brothers, the business establishment owned by the
members of his family who equally shares on the estate of Don Simon W.
Samarakone have been regrettably deprived of their lawful share of the
estate since it is now vested with the Public Trustee.
At a time when information technology was still at the initial stages
of development and the modern devices such as computers and fax machines
were not even heard of, the vital details of his life and surroundings
to remain hidden in mystery is no matter to be wondered at. Individuals
of his nature are very rare today.
- K.D. Jayathissa of Piliyandala