September 17th, a day to remember one of the greatest leaders of our time, the first Executive President of the country, Junius Richard Jayawardena - fondly known as JR.
Undoubtedly, he is my hero in politics. Clever, cunning and shrewd as a leader, kind and compassionate as a human being. He was a man who saw the future, and had a vision. A vision – had it worked the way he imagined and planned – that could have propelled this island in to the future.
I was too small to understand his politics then, but I remember him visiting our school, often. Receiving the class-prize from this great man is a memory I cherish, and so is the fond memory of him making a surprise visit and offering the whole school a treat of ice-cream. Nothing was impossible for him, except, in his own words, "turning a man in to a woman."
Once, we – the Royal College Cadets – were at a guard-of-honour to the President. He had this habit of spotting the students from his college and pausing for a chat. The cadets knew the protocol by heart – the drill, the salute and the whole works – and to reply beginning with a specific salutation Uthumaneni..!
So there we were, a few batallions of cadets, at the parade. JR, inspecting the guard of honour, passes me and my colleague, and, then pauses. He looks at the young cadet in front, and asks, "What is your name, son?"
Tap, tap, tap... after a perfect drill and a salute, and my fellow cadet screams, "Uthumanenie... My name is Ranasinghe, G. H. K...!" (not the correct name, for obvious reasons)
The whole parade had to grit their teeth to stop the laughter - my dear friend didn't realise "Uthumaneni" (Your Excellency) wasn't English!
JR nodded his head, patted my collegue's shoulder and continued with a grin on his face.
September 17th was declared the national tree-planting day to commemorate his birthday.
The Japanese erected a golden statue in his honour, for saving Japan and enabling her freedom from the allied forces after the war.
We issued a coin. And also plastered posters and painted graffiti all over the country: "JR maramu!" (Let's Kill JR!).