Upali Wijewardena: Memories of the unforgettable tycoon

By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

If Philip Upali Wijewardena was among the living he would have reached the Seventy-two today. (February 17). Alas, this was not to be as he disappeared 27 years ago, just four days before his 45th birthday. This article is written as tribute to the man in this eventful week of significant anniversaries.

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Philip Upali Wijewardena (1938–1983)

Legally, Wijewardena is presumed dead though his body was never found. He was traveling in his own Lear jet from Malaysia to Sri Lanka when the plane disappeared. The disappearance continues to linger in the collective memory of the nation as an unresolved mystery. There are people who ask me even now, “I say, what really happened to Upali? Don’t know, no?”

Indigenous tycoon

Wijewardena was a man who achieved much in the short period of his life. He was perhaps Sri Lanka’s first indigenous tycoon who captured the imagination of the masses. Despite his privileged background, Upali was basically a self-made man who reached the pinnacle through his own efforts.

The nation at large recognised this and was proud of him. Though he hardly ever visited Jaffna, the people of the peninsula appreciated him greatly. They admired his commercial success. Needless to say the south was proud of him too. The flamboyant business magnate was, to many, a symbol of success and a role model to be emulated.

The name Upali Wijewardena became familiar to the country in the early ’70s. Yet, it was in the late ’70s that he was really well-known when he assumed duties as director general of Sri Lanka’s first ‘Free Trade Zone,’ the popular name for the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC). The GCEC has transformed into BOI nowadays.

I first came to know Wijewardena personally after he became head of the GCEC. I was then a journalist on the Tamil daily Virakesari, run by Express Newspapers Ceylon Ltd.

Our Chairman then was the well-known industrialist, A.Y.S. Gnanam. When the GCEC was formed, Gnanam was made a deputy director general by President Junius Richard Jayewardene.

Chairman Gnanam apparently did not inform his newspaper company of the appointment. When news of the GCEC appeared in other papers, Virakesari ‘missed’ it.

When the GCEC held its first press conference at the Upali Group premises on Bloemendhal Road, I was assigned to cover it. I was also asked by my editors to get an exclusive interview with Wijewardena.

When I approached Wijewardena for the interview, he agreed immediately. When I went to see him the following day his greeting was, “So you missed the story about your Chairman being in the GCEC and now you are trying to make amends by doing a belated write-up.” He then guffawed! I warmed to him immediately.

GCEC

He was a wonderful subject to interview. He answered each question informatively and at times wittily. He did not bullshit! Pelee Muhandhiram, who disappeared along with Wijewardena, was present throughout, as a silent observer.

The interview turned out well and my editors were pleased. Wijewardena got it translated and was happy too. Thereafter, I was assigned the GCEC as one of my regular beats.

The GCEC was something new and controversial. The ‘Shannon’ experiment was catching on in many parts of the world. The leftists were firmly opposed to the concept.

The idea of providing massive tax concessions and financial incentives to foreign ‘capitalists’ to come and invest in Sri Lanka was a novel project at that time.

One of the attractions was our skilled yet cheap labour. “Exploitation,” thundered the left. JR’s famous comment, “Let the robber barons come,” did not help either.

The fact that a well known ‘dhanapathi’ was heading the GCEC aided the ‘vahamanse sahodharayo’ to attack the project.

It was a difficult time for the pioneering venture. Looking back I think Wijewardena was the ideal man for the job at that time. The GCEC went about its task methodically and diligently.

It was my duty then to record its progress regularly in the columns of Virakesari. Because of the Gnanam connection, the GCEC received top billing in the paper.

Easily accessible

I interacted a lot with Wijewardena while covering the GCEC. When working for a Tamil newspaper I have come across many Sinhala persons who simply did not care a hoot about the Tamil media.

I have also come across many Sinhalese who were extremely concerned about what appeared in the Tamil newspapers. Wijewardena belonged to the latter group.

I met him on more than one occasion then. Also, he was always ready to answer my questions whenever I telephoned him. Sometimes I pestered him but he didn’t seem to mind.

I remember Mrs. Wijewardena once gently admonishing me on the phone, “He is a busy man you know and you shouldn’t disturb him like this.”

Little did I realise then that one day I would be working on Wijewardena’s newspaper, The Island, and that someday Mrs. Wijewardena would become my chairperson.

The opposition papers used to regularly publish negative stories about the GCEC. I remember one particular news item in the Communist Party’s Forward, and I asked him some questions based on the news item.

He started chuckling and said, “You have read Forward.” Sheepishly I said, “Yes.” He then proceeded to answer. This demonstrated that Wijewardena was keeping abreast of all the media reports on the GCEC.

Though he could not read Tamil he got his Tamil employees at Upali Group to inform him about what was appearing in Virakesari. Thus he was happy with my work and perhaps due to that made himself easily accessible.

Inimitable style

The much-travelled Wijewardena undertook many foreign trips to promote the FTZ. On one such occasion he was in Singapore. At a press conference Upali was asked about the Tamil minority being discriminated against in Sri Lanka. Wijewardena responded to it in his inimitable style.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “Seated on my right is Deputy Director General Raju Coomaraswamy. On my left is Treasury Secretary Chandi Chanmugam. Further down is our High Commissioner to Singapore, C. Gunasingham. I am the minority here.” Everyone laughed. That was Wijewardena!

As I stated before, the GCEC was a novel project and there were no Lanka-based precedents to go by in writing about it. Still I managed to write regularly on various aspects concerning the GCEC.

There was very little about the GCEC in the Tamil language then. However, the GCEC became a question at the GCE Advanced Level Economics paper. I was immensely gratified when many teachers and students from Tamil schools wrote to me and the paper saying that they had only relied on articles and news in the Virakesari about the GCEC for the exams. Such incidents make journalists feel that they are doing something worthwhile.

Vijitha Yapa, who later became the pioneering editor of The Island, was media liaison officer at the GCEC. Ranjan Perera was Wijewardena’s secretary and was very helpful. As most journalists know, the secretaries can cut you off literally and metaphorically.

One of the biggest criticisms against the GCEC then was that our workers were being exploited by the global capitalists. Being somewhat left of centre in my political beliefs during the days of my youth, I felt this charge was perfectly valid.

My perspective changed when I interviewed many of the girls employed at the FTZ. Though factory workers, many of them were well educated in the Sinhala medium and were politically conscious. But they were realists.

One of them observed pithily in Sinhala that she knew she was getting only half a plate, but if she agitated for a full plate, then she may lose even this half a plate and go hungry. Their families depended on them.

For some reason Wijewardena used to talk freely on many matters with me. Perhaps he was at ease with me, a young journalist on a Tamil newspaper.

Political ambition

There was much speculation then in the media about his political ambition. I thought then that he would focus on Kelaniya but I was surprised when he said, “No, the south.”

It was then that I came to know of his southern roots from his mother’s side and the Sarath Wijesinghe relationship. Later he earmarked the Kamburupitiya electoral division and began nursing it.

When I was working at Virakesari, I once asked Wijewardena how he would resolve the ethnic crisis if he became Sri Lanka’s head. Of course the problem was not as bad it is today.

He thought a while and said that all people should be able to study and communicate with the government in their own language, that official administration should be done in all three languages and that no person should be discriminated against on grounds of race or religion.

Subsequently I left Virakesari and joined The Island. Wijewardena had nothing to do with my entry into English journalism. My joining The Island was due to Ajith Samaranayake, Ravindran Casinader, Gamini Weerakoon and Vijitha Yapa. Wijewardena did not interfere with recruitment of personnel for the editorial.

My interaction with Wijewardena ceased after I became his employee. I was put on the ‘Tamil’ round by Vijitha Yapa. I ran across ‘Mr. Wijewardena’ a few times. We simply smiled. He seldom visited the editorial then.

Last chat

I remember Wijewardena speaking to me only once after I started working at The Island. After a trip to Jaffna I began a series of articles for The Sunday Island. Vijitha Yapa then made it a permanent column. That was the ‘Behind the Cadjan Curtain’ column. It was quite popular then.

Vijitha Yapa’s instructions to me about the column were simple. “Remember that you are writing for a pre-dominantly Sinhala readership in English,” he said. “Explain the problems of the Tamils to them. Think of it as building a bridge between the communities.”

One day I saw Wijewardena at a distance. He was about to get into the car. Pelee Muhandhiram beckoned to me. When I went near Wijewardena praised my column and said that he liked it.

“Keep it up,” he said. That was all. I was thrilled. A few months later came their fateful ‘end.’

The Island burst upon the media scene then like a burst of fresh air. Wijewardena had undertaken a market survey which indicated there was no room for a new English paper. But Wijewardena being Wijewardena, he simply went ahead. It was indeed a great challenge then working for the paper.

The new kid on the block achieved tremendous success within a short time. Two older kids on the block went out of business gradually. The paper’s plus point in one respect was the colour and modern printing technology.

On another level it was due to its editorial and news content. The paper covered events fearlessly and provided space to all points of view. One of its strong points then was its coverage of the ethnic crisis.

This was both good journalism and good business. In this the paper reflected the world view of both Upali Wijewardena and Vijitha Yapa.

Runaway success

The Island was a runaway success in Jaffna then. One reason was that the Late City Edition was put on Upali Airlines and sent to Jaffna. The Colombo edition was available in Jaffna by noon.

I recall then Jaffna Government Agent Devanesan Nesiah telling me happily, “Thanks to The Island we are able to read the latest sports news without delay.”

The main reason for the paper’s editorial success was the free hand given to Vijitha Yapa. This was possible then only because Wijewardena owned the paper. A lesser man would have interfered unnecessarily.

In those days there was only one sacred cow-Wijewardena’s uncle, President J.R. Jayewardene.

All others were fair game. Open season was declared on Wijewardena’s political rivals, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Ronnie de Mel.

This was a time when Wijewardena was building a circle of supporters in the ranks of the UNP.

But when The Island began its fearless journalism, many shenanigans were exposed. Several of these stories were about Wijewardena’s supporters.

Since the journalists were not told to lay off, we went about our reporting without fear or favour. Those affected complained to Wijewardena. But to Wijewardena’s credit, he never instructed the editorial to adopt a “hands off” approach on any such “crony”.

One exciting night was when Wijewardena himself became a ‘reporter’ for The Island. One day President Jayewardene had taken an important decision about criteria for staging by-elections.

Urged by the Editor, we the reporters contacted all our sources to find out the details. We failed. A desperate Vijitha Yapa appealed to Wijewardena.

The ‘Reporter’

The Upali Newspapers Chairman then went to see his uncle, the President. He got the information from the horse’s mouth about the formula to be adopted for by-elections. It was a scoop.

Wijewardena was pleased with himself, and joked with the Editor that his reporters were useless because he had to personally get the story.
At the initial stages Upali Wijewardena himself wrote the popular ‘A’Pura Diaries.’ Being a Wijewardena, printing ink ran in his veins.

The incredible achievement of the newspaper was symptomatic of the man’s golden touch. Whatever venture he launched became a roaring success within a short time.

Upali Wijewardena, born on February 17, in 1938, was the son of Don Walter and Anula Kalyanawathie Wijewardena. He studied initially at Ladies’ College and then Royal College, where he captained the Cricket Second 11. He then went on to England and graduated from Cambridge.

Upon his return Wijewardena began working at Lever Brothers as a management trainee. He quit in disgust when his expatriate boss accused him unfairly of lies and deception over preparing a report.

Wijewardena started out on his own with Rs. 15,000 as capital and an old house as asset.

That was the time of a state-controlled economy but incentives were provided in some areas, including confectionaries. Wijewardena ventured into what was derisively referred to as the ‘seeni bola’ industry. He began manufacturing candy and toffee.

One man who stood by him in those days was R. Murugaiah, an up-country Tamil. It is said that the name ‘Delta’ was adopted for Wijewardena’s sweets because Murugaiah was born on Delta group estate. Murugaiah was responsible for marketing the products then.

Years later Wijewardena was to quip publicly, “Behind every successful man there is a woman but behind every successful Sinhala businessman there is a Tamil,” and point to Murugaiah walking behind him.

Business concerns

Embarking on a career as industrialist, Wijewardena never looked back. The confectionaries developed and soon he acquired ‘Kandos’ chocolates from his maternal uncle, Sarath Wijesinghe.

Then came consumer products like ‘Sikuru’ and ‘Crystal’ soap. Wijewardena also pioneered the assembling of radios, clocks and TVs under the ‘UNIC’ brand name.

He also went into automobiles. The UMC Mazda and Upali Fiat were assembled here. In those days the import duty for cars was 300 % but 100% for motor spares.

Wijewardena brought in automobile parts as motor spares with lesser duty and assembled them.

Later in an interview he was asked about this. Wijewardena replied that he wandered to the edge of legal limits but never crossed them.

Wijewardena also went into aviation and began local helicopter and airplane services. He also bought up estates in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. He also had many business concerns in Singapore and Malaysia.

The ‘Kandos Man’ was hugely popular in Singapore. During Wijewardena’s heyday, more than 33,000 people were employed in his worldwide enterprises.

Wijewardena was married on November 7, 1975, to Lakmini, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Seevali Ratwatte. Dr. Seevali, being Mrs. Bandaranaike’s brother and Wijewardena being JR’s nephew, the marriage was seen then as a dynastic union.

They had no children, but Wijewardena had two nieces and six nephews through his two sisters, Anoka Wijeysundara and Kalyani Attygalle.

Interests

He had a wide range of interests including race horses, pedigreed dogs and motor racing. His horses ran at Aston and Derby winning laurels. Lester Piggot rode some of his winners. His ribbon winning canines were Labradors and retrievers.

As a young man Wijewardena raced his mother’s Opel Kapitan at the Katukurunda Races in early 60s. Later he imported an MGA Sports Twin Cam, which he raced at the Mahagastota Hill Climb.

He also bought a Mitsubishi Lancer to be raced at the Nuwara Eliya Road Races and Mahagastota Hill Climb in 1980. Wijewardena had a luxury S-Class Mercedes Benz 126 from Malaysia. This was the first car of this type in Sri Lanka.

There were also his private Lear jet and helicopter. He would conduct a business meeting in the afternoon in Colombo, helicopter to Nuwara Eliya in the evening for golf and return to Colombo again for dinner.

He would fly in his own plane to England to engage in the sport of kings. Wijewardena had a permanent suite in a prestigious London Hotel.

Wijewardena maintained a flamboyant lifestyle that his countrymen relished. The people were proud that one of their countrymen had really made it and was on par with the best ‘Suddhas.’

When Wijewardena disappeared, the nation was shocked. For many months people believed that he would return dramatically. A song composed in his honour was a popular favourite. Its chorus was ‘Upalee Wijewardena, Upalee Wijewardena.’

Finally the country realised that Wijewardena was not going to return and was gone for ever. The mystery remains still. The Upali Wijewardena mystique will continue to linger in popular imagination for many more years.

(This is a slightly updated version of an article that appeared in “The Nation” of February 17th 2008)

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com

92 Comments

  1. Very nice tribute DBS.Its good of you to remember Upali even after so many years. Quite refreshing to read this as it displays another dimension of your journalistic skill

  2. Very good article Mr.Jeyaraj. Our Tamil people in the Diaspora who are always highlighting only the negative aspects of some Singala people must read this and understand that there were so many important,non-racist Singala people too

    He was planning to start a Tamil paper “Theevagam” (Island/Divaina) in 1983 because of his interest in becoming President after JR. I was one of those who did a feasibility study in Jaffna and found there was lots of support for the ideas among Tamil traders because they were all admirers of Upali

    Sadly that was never to be

  3. Nice article… It’s a shame such an eminent person was taken away from our country before fulfilling his true potential. Maybe Sri Lanka would have been a better place had he been alive…

  4. Very sweet of you to remember your old boss after so many years DBS. Very touching tribute too

    You are right in saying all Sri Lankans regardless of race and religion were proud of him. If he contested for President he would certainly have won hands down

    Our family lived in Singapore for some years. I saw then how respected he was in high finance circles there

    What a great loss to the country

  5. I believe, Capt Anandappa was his pilot who also went missing with him. I agree, he had lots of tamils working for him closely for his success.

    Again, very nice tribute to Upali. How do you keep track of all important SL people and dates associated with them.

    Do you plan to write a tribute to Mr. Kadiragama as well? Cant wait to read that.

  6. What a wonderful article…welldone to you DBS. I can confidently say this is probably the best I have read about the man despite what I have seen in Upali newspapers every year. That is probably the difference betweenn writing from the heart and from facts. Probably none of current UG reporters have had the opportunity you had in meeting the man in person.

    UW was a bit of a child hood hero of ours and I rememebr vividly seeing a civilian helicopter above our house in Matara and being told by my father that was ‘Upali Mahaththaya’ going home to Kamburupitiya.

    After coming to study at Royal I remember seeing his house everyday (often when doing ‘roadsafety duty’ infront of it) and wondering how it must have been to live there. Helipad on top, swimming pool below that and a house that was quite unconventional in its architecture. Of course by then Upali was gone and as I had heard he had stopped landing his helicopter there long before as little Royalists from the kindergarten right across the street were running out to see it everytime it took off or landed.

    Like you correctly said entire country and especially people in South / Matara were very proud of his achivements. He was the icon of self made success and a rolemodel.
    His death was quite a shock and anyperson that came to see my dad after the incident would discuss this at length and mention how there were reports of him living in a remote island ‘Robinson Crusoe’ style.

    While his disappearance will remain as a great mystery in the Sri Lankan mindset, I am sure he has played a substancial role in shaping Sri Lankan Economic History to the better.

  7. What an amazing writer you are?

    I feel you still follow Vijitha Yapa’s instructions in your writings.
    [Vijitha Yapa’s instructions to me about the column were simple. “Remember that you are writing for a pre-dominantly Sinhala readership in English,” he said. “Explain the problems of the Tamils to them. Think of it as building a bridge between the communities.”]

    Keep us refreshed with your wonderful writing.

  8. very nicely written. I remember the controversy surrounding his marriage. A lot of people were trying to justify it based on the Sirimavo Ratwatte, SWRD marriage too. Upali too wanted a similar situation and approached his good friend to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. boy oh boy the family circles were buzzing with excitement and despair and some disgust too because of the massive age gap similar or worse than the SWRD Sirimavo gap. It was an arranged marriage. DBSJ the wedding was at the Oberoi, then Sri Lanka’s fanciest 5-Star hotel. If I recall Mrs. B did not like this idea at all but Upali being Upali had his way because Seevali’s wife was quite excited about marrying into that kind of wealth..

    You have done a superb job. Yes Sri Lanka could have had him as President instead of the Kaalakanni Uncle of his JRJ who ruined Sri Lanka with his absurd constitution.

  9. Dear DBSJ,

    A great article about Upali Wijewardena, I still remember the article you wrote last year went on similar lines, is it the same article or have you added more to it?

    Excellent writing piece which I’ve forwarded via email last year around the same time.

    Thanks

    Thank You.It is the same (Feb 17th 2008)with changes in dates.Hope to enhance later…………DBSJ

  10. Well written article as always. DBSJ

    Upali was a keen horse racing enthusiast and he owned race horses.
    Three or four days before he was lost in the sea, he along with his wife and the horse was shown in Australian TV. . His horse won an important race in Melbourne. Sorry I cannot remember the name of the horse, but it was pretty well known at the time. The news reader said “horse owned by Sri Lankan Tycoon won the race”. I was so proud when I saw that. Unfortunately three/four days later they showed the same footage and said that his private jet left Malaysia
    bound to Colombo and was missing in mid journey and there was an oil slik in the Indian ocean. Since then it is a mysery what happened to him.

  11. Hello DBS

    This is a very good article, as my self a Royalist saw Upali’s house during school days, and wondered if he lived he would have being a great businessman who would have taken Sri Lanka par with Malaysia

  12. DBS, you are very factual and I hate to make a fool of myself correcting you, but my recollection is that he died in 1983.

    The reason I say that is that I was seconded to carry out the feasibility study for the Island newspaper and worked directly with the likes of UW, Murugiah, Pelimuhandirm and co. At the request of Murugiah and Pelimuhandiram I even accompanied them to the Bank of Ceylon to negotiate the loan in 1981 as I was the only person who could interpret the various cash flow statements I had prepared on different scenarios in respect of circulation, price, capital cost, funding mechanism etc. This was long before computers and spreadsheets, I used to stay up late into the night working out all the scenarios on analysis sheets with a “UNIC” calculator !!

    I think the first editor they recruited was Dayananda and a small made gentleman from Lakehouse was head hunted as their Circulation manager.

    I still recollect with interest on one occasion when I explained the analysis sheets saying that the scenario will not work as there is a cash flow problem he looked at my sheets circled the row of tax payments and said “why pay tax ?”. As a budding Accountant I found it strange and then he explained by the time the Inland Revenue comes after and they appeal it would take 2 to 3 yrs if not more and by which time the cash flow would have improved. Such was his “genius”

    At the time of his disappearance in 1983 there was also a rumour that he had landed in Andaman Islands and another that he had fled to South America to start a new life.

    Good old days and good ole memories.

    Yes he died in 1983. The mix-up was due to this being written originally in 2008.Thanks for this……..DBSJ

  13. DBSJ,
    Is there anyone you did not meet and know in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in Sri Lanka? You must be really missing being on the ground these days. But then you will not be able to retrieve and publish freely as you are doing now, if you were to be in Sri Lanka.

  14. Very nice article. I loved the joke about “I am the minority here”

    First time I read something of yours but not the last. Well done.

    It filled me with Nostalgia. I am probably the last generation to remember the great times in SL. When ever I tell my younger sisters about stories of our lives in SL they don’t believe me.

    I know what you mean.Particularly the younger generation abroad simply refuses to believe………………DBSJ

  15. When I read this I feel sad that the talents of DBSJ are wasted by writing on third-grade politics

    This article shows how well you write on any subject

    My request dear DBS is that you should write more on non-political themes

    I have read your earlier articles on films etc

    Why dont you write more of those than these rascals in politics?

  16. DBS congratulation, I was running through your article. it is good.Please write more like this instead of tamil politics and Ltte

  17. More recollections on Upali – someone I admired for his business acumen

    Around 1966 -68 he started the UNIC radio to rival the Vahini put out by St Anthonys. Sony too had its version of a locally produced pocket radio at that time “TR 29″ priced at Rs 110. In 1969 when the first UMC Mazdas rolled down the prodution line they were priced at Rs 31,500 and a year later increased to 39,500. It was a good car and good vaule compared to the Peugeot 404s and Morris Oxfords that were the hall mark of status. I think he donated the first Mazda to a buddhist temple.

    He started Upali Fiat based on Fiat 128 sometime in 1977.

    At the time I was seconded to work on the Island project, he was little concerned about profitability but was keen in getting media access to the public. So long as the rest of the Upali group could carry the cost he was interested in starting the newspaper. The printing press was in Maharagama the old Fiat factory and the editors were to be in Blomendhal Road. So when Iasked how the (printing) “blocks” would be taken to the printers, he said it would be sent by satellite. Back in 81s, such technology was Goddayata magic for me !

    As per the stories and articles circulating at the time he went missing in Feb 83, he and his close friends had been in his palacious house in Malaysia that had a water fountain in the living room. The storey goes as they were heading to fly on their fatal journey a frog in the little pool had croaked and he had commented that its not good luck. He had various plantation interests in Malaysia and Brunei the companies were called Perak River, Perakum River etc.

    Various sightings of the Learjet were claimed at that time, one was from a buddhist monk who said he was sitting facing south east late that night when he saw a ball of flame falling into the ocean. A wheel of the LearJet was found closer to Malaysia and from its identification number they confirmed it belonged to Upali’s jet.

    His light green ?? S class was brought to Sri Lanka sometime in late 1976, it was model W 116 (not 126) and its number was 7 Sri 7500. (closely followed by Kelly Maharajahs S class 7 sri 9090 and his SLC – 6 sri 9090)

    When Upali returned to the country after being appointed DG of GCEC (sometime in 1978), he cut a great figure disembarking from the aircraft dressed in white shirt, white trousers and waving at the public. If I remember right, Lalith Athulathmudali was there to receive him. Raju Coomaraswamy collapsed and died in his office.

    There ends my recollections of little known facts about well known people !!

  18. Thanks DBSJ for this Top Notched article.

    # 7 TCK you not only brought back the Royal Primary memories.- some tears too . Not tears of sorrow. I was one of the 100 kids to run and have a peek of the helicopter & that was the story for my siblings in the evening. Tried many times to work for him , eventually ended up in Blomendhal – With Multi-Packs group

  19. I was somewhat known to Upali and am aware of many of his activities and history.Mr.DBS Jeyaraj has done well to comile interesting details of this great son of Lanka

  20. Hi DBS,
    This really brings out memories of an era gone by for me. As students of Thurstan collage, we always wondered what was behind that 3 (or was it 4?) level white palatial home with the helipad on top that was right in front of our school. Once in a while we would see a helicopter landing on the roof. UNIC radios, Colt cars were the goodies that we all wanted – as there was nothing else to buy in those foreign exchange restricted days.

    Having never seen or met the guy, he was just a name that inspired awe and admiration in us. Your article brings him to life for me. Thanks for the memories.

  21. Just To provoke. Have not seen any comments from the Hema supporters. The Radio commercial for ” Chutta & Chutti ” for the Delta choclates too were amazing

  22. i remember when Upali wijewardena rented my downstair apartment for Peter Harland who started the Island news paper. The type writer was clicking under the fingers of Harland which kept me awake the whole night as my bedroom was above his office. there was a sudden burst of revelry with songs. Next day early morning Harland was at my door with a bunch oif flowers to apologise for the noise but it was a mementous time he had just finished the layout of the ‘island’ it was a shock to hear upali’s death when i was abroad ; the Harland family became our close family friends who once entertained president JR at our residence with a skit, they were both singers at the yearly proms at the Royal Albert hall. Peter harland had many stories about Upali,his boss.Harland passed away 5 years ago.

  23. I worked for Upali group those days.It was male bastion with even the telephone operator a man.
    Women entered only after newspapers were started

    DBS may recall those hectic times

  24. DBS

    I dont know Upali only heard of him.But this article brought him as a real flesh and blood person to me

    God has given you a wonderful talent.Dont waste it on cheap politicians and murderers posing as saviours

  25. I also remember enjoying “Behind the Cadjan Curtain” column in the Island, and it is pleasing to know that editor Yapa thought of it as a bridge-building exercise. But I remember doing an informal, yet systematic, comparison of the coverage in the Island and the Divaina over several months in the late 1982 – early 1983 period. While the Island was catering for the middle class Tamils and the English educated, slightly progressive, Sinhala subscribers, the Divaina was drumming up racial hatred in the way it emphasized and presented news items, acting as a great match for what the Suthanthiran had been doing in the North. So, overall, chocolate or newspapers, UW’s empire was about business. On the media front, just “give them what they want” type irresponsibility to make money, was my conclusion then. Well, I admit that I might have been wrong then, of course, for I was not trained in political science or journalism.

  26. An opposition leader, who is not amongst the living anymore asked me this question. “Do you know who the Sri Lankan High Commisioner in Malaysia was when Upali went missing?”. I said no. He said that it was a S Cooray. There were insinuations in this statement but politicians being politicians I took it with a pinch of salt.

  27. I was introduced to Behind teh cadjan curtains in 1982 (i was 17 years then) by my father…i remember DBSJ’s pic too……Mr DBSJ I tried the web to get on opf those pic of urs and failed……..

  28. Hi! Anna,

    Good old days ! ha!
    Its a shame we lost him too early
    I am sure we will never know what really happened to him,
    That is a shame.
    yet another un-resolved mysteries.!!!

  29. yeah…..i’m so happy to read a good article about a well established, a decent gentleman rather reading articles about 3rd class politicle doctors and prof’essors. thanks DBSJ

  30. When JRJ contested the Great Patriot EWPerera for the seat vacated by Sir DBJ at Kelaniya( when DBJ was kicked upstairs by the then influential circle,) JRJ”s older uncle , DR Wijewardena, without supporting the nephew , supported EWP for good reasons. But Upali’s father Walter – Basnayake Nilame of Kelaniya Saman Dewale supported the nephew JRJ. Sir DBJ did not endorse anybody for the seat to which he was elected 3 times uncontested.

    When Sir DBJ left for Talaimannar by train from Fort (on his way to India as H.C.,) Walter W. sneaked JRJ in to another bogey of the train. It was known that,On the way Sir DBJ wanted the train stopped at Kelaniya Railway Station to go to the Vidyalankara Pirivena to get the blessings of the Sangha and to address the well -wishers of his electorate. It seems that just as Sir DBJ alighted from one compartment, from the adjoining one JRJ alighted with Walter W giving the impression to the people that Sir DB was endorsing JRJ. Some say that JRJ cared for Upali for that reason even after WW died young. This is a story retold in many verandahs of Kelaniya.

  31. I m a frequent reader hardly comment
    But here I would like to jot down a note of appreciation for your amazing journalism !!. This article which proves that your journalism is class A+++ as you have given life back to a star class Sri lankan businessman who was carving out a empire in the national and international business arena. Further it’s wonderful to see allies and admirers of Mr Upali W. has gathered around this article to share there memories and views.
    I request you to post more of this type of articles once in a while. Thank you once again for your borderless contribution. !!!!

  32. re comments 31 & 35 of Surane and Ajith,

    Upali was head and shoulders above those who felt they were next in line for high office. And Upali had the benefit of the right family connections, ability, financial backing and “brand recognition”, therefore he was a threat to the politically aspiring.

    This was long before white vans were invented, Karunas of this world were perhaps not even born and it was not possible to trump up charges as a traitor and lock up Upali. So other creative means had to be used. To pick on Surane’s comment # 31, Sirisena Coorey and Premadasa were close friends from their time serving in the colombo municipality. I say no more !

    There was a race horse called Sherga that either went missing or was found dead days before the Derby and if my memory serves me right, in the absence of Sherga, Upali’s Kandos won. So once again people wondered what happened to Sherga.

    I end by quoting the words of JR. Once some one close to him had gone to complain about another who was very close to JR. JR was quick to realise the real motive and had not wished to discuss the matter but had said “wheels within wheels within wheels”.

    Similarly we will never know who paid for the Learjet to disappear but with 28 years of additional hind sight we can safely say everything is possible in Sri Lanka – and I say this with a heavy heart.

    If I remember correctly Sirisena Cooray was Colombo mayor in 1983 and not envoy to Malaysia………….DBSJ

  33. I m a frequent reader hardly comment
    But here I would like to jot down a note of appreciation for your amazing journalism !!. This article which proves that your journalism is class A+++ as you have given life back to a star class Sri lankan businessman who was carving out a empire in the national and international business arena. Further it’s wonderful to see allies and admirers of Mr Upali W. has gathered around this article to share there memories and views.
    I request you to post this kind of article once in a while to refresh reader’s minds. Thank you once again for your borderless contribution. !!!!

  34. “Wijewardena had a luxury S-Class Mercedes Benz 126 from Malaysia.” It was 280S green which he brought from Malaysia after using it for six month to be within the law here where as I imported custom made 280S red straight from Studgard. When the “horse man” met me he said “Shah you out smarted me” with his usual laugh.

    I shed tears for a true friend – true businessman – true Lankan. M.S.Shah Jahan

  35. Very well written, congragulations on being blessed with the midas touch.

    If only the political situation was different, you and the hundreds of thousands of Burghers, Muslims, Tamils and the Sinhalese themselves would not have abandoned the mother country for greener pastures.

    Upali W, was an unique gentleman, self-made, even though he had a comfortable up-bringing, took Ceylon now called Shri Lanka to great heights with a few others like the Gnanams and the Gunaratnam’s etc etc.

    Even in matrimony, he played his cards well, sad that we do not a little Wijewardana to follow in his footsteps.

    As for Mr. Jeyarajah, keep up the good work, as I have stated before reading your articles was a must on a sunday in whichever newspaper that carried your coloumns in Shri Lanka, New Zealand or Australia, where I had to find solace due to the continuous harrasment of the Police Station situated at Modera, who were obeying the orders of the then Supt of Police Colombo North, all because I was born a Tamil. even though I had a Sinhalese wife, I with my wife and three year old daughter had to leave the island, leaving my Sinhala and Burgher staff along with all my assets, I had to beat a hasty retreat. a j.

  36. I am not sure if Upali W. was with us now the country should have benefited as most of his achievements are blown out of proportions though the only achievement was the newspapers which he started with utirior motives to make him blown up.

  37. Dear DBSJ,

    My group has always tried to write the history of our dear Sri Lanka with true facts. Like Dr James T. Rutnam, Prof S.Arsaratnam, S.A.W. Mattau, J.H.O. Paulaz ,Prof Indrapala, Harish de Silva and Mr D.T.Devendra , to name a very few ,we made every attempt to show concrete facts how some historians distorted Lankan History. If you read the writings of the above Historian -COLOSUSES , you will see how meticulous they were when they relentlessly challenged those writers who tried to distort Lankan History, some of whom were considered as experts on the subject. This is not the forum to expand more. Just read their writings to understand how they exposed the truth!

    As a journalist /writer there is only one thing one has to expose- THE TRUTH.

  38. DBS,

    u r amazing, another home run, coupled with the readers interesting comments, I feel that I can sing better than Tom Jones at this moment “Memories don’t leave like people do, they only stay with you…
    until I read this article, wasn’t aware of the reason behind delta brand name and that Ladies college had boys!, must have been in the kindergarten?
    fascinated with the chuttas and chuttiis in the late 60’s, started calling my little sister Chuti and many todate know her as chutti, and have forgotten her real name.
    Lear jet debris in the straits of Malacca, Ana Seniveratne was the envoy in KL at that time.
    Haven’t forgotten the Raheema buriyani while waiting to get a glimpse of Upali’s chopper.
    Did an Island phtographer go M.I.A in the late 70’s after a swimsuit publication? may be a rumour!

  39. Thank you for writing this. I didn’t know much about Upali Wijewardana, other than what we knew of him through popular media – when we were very young. But, he did have a good impression among the Tamils. I was quite sad when I first heard of the disappearance of his plane.

    He should have lived.

  40. Another great piece!. You have clearly and consistently demonstrated the positive and good qualities of a journalist by your gifted writing. You have also moved with the cream of Sri Lankan writers and philanthropists. This particular tribute stirs the nostalgia in me once more.

    My biggest shopping(much to my wife’s amusement) whenever we visited family in Sri Lanka, which we incidentally did last summer, would always be at Vijitha Yapa’s Book Store in the old Kreme House building in Kollupitiya. I too studied at Ladies College for a couple of years. My mother is a longtime friend and classmate of Upali’s sister and the late Stanley Wijesundera’s wife, Anoja. You also mentioned Ravi Casinader, now domiciled in Australia. He was a few years junior to me at St. John’s College.

    Keep up the good work.

    Cheers!
    Rajan

  41. Thought of adding a few comments to many nice comments that follow the beautiful writeup about Singhalese man by a Tamil man.

    First about late Upali W.: my uncle was working in the Ministry of Industries during the 70-77 period and he knew UW. My father was hell bent on putting his three sons into a Colombo school but he wanted all of us in together. My uncle had spoken to UW and when my father visited him at his residence, in front of the Royal Primary, I still remember that UW had wanted to help but had not promised that all will be put in. He had even offered to keep all of us in his house if he could get everyone in.

    There was a rumour that his nett worth then was greater than the budget deficit of Sri Lanka in the 70-77 period and if he was given the Ministry of Finance, he wanted put in his wealth. But Ronnie and Premadasa were against him. Again there was a strong rumour then that UW was done by Premadasa colluding with the Bhumiputhra movement in Malaysia. Given that Premadasa was done in similar fashion, lends credence to that theory too.

    DBSJ, come to think of it, the real division between Singhalese and Tamils was not done by SWRD, really it was by JRJ Govt. and Cyril Mathew. I have seen that with my own eyes. It was a real shame. I hope you would have the reason to come back as much as the whole diaspora because we, ordinary Singhalese, people are not racist. We do not live our life to marginalise a Tamil or another human being from a different community.

    You should really come back to Sri Lanka, to write to bring all communities together. I hope the President is reading your writeups and also comments. Hope he will see you as an Ambassador of Goodwill.

  42. Nice one. I was pretty young when Upali disappeared, I remember there was so much talk back then. I didn’t know much about him as a person, from what I’ve read now, he was, and is an inspiration.

    Peace.

    -Fauzer.

  43. REF. NO. 26 OF RUPA MONARAWELA:

    WE KNEW THAT THEY HAD CLOSE CONTACTS WITH UW’S FAMILY. AS A MATTER OF FACT MRS MONARAWELA’S B-I-L A UNDP EXPERT LANEROLLE WAS KEEPING VIGIL FOR DAYS WITH UW’S FATHER -IN LAW DR SEEVALI RATWATTE & FAMILY AWAITING NEWS OF THE TRAGIC LOSS. CHANDRA MONARAWELA WAS PROBABLY THE H.C. IN LONDON THEN.

  44. Monerawela family is highly respected in London. I hve seen photos of them with the Queen. They are direct descendents of the Weera Keppittipola Maha Disawa of Uwa. I did not know they were releated to Upali! Rupa has done so much for the tsunami victims

  45. I have worked at Upali Group since the establishment in mid 60s. First with Delta toffees then with Upali Electronics. Upali was a Great Boss. He was not uppish or arrogant. I was a very small man in the Upali Group, but Upali was always kind to me and had waived to me when he had seen me on the premises at Blomendhal Street. When he got married (I think it was in 1974 ) he doubled the salary for all of us – just for the occasion, he threw a separate party for the staff where we danced til late night, then he invited some of us to the main wedding held at Oberoi (I was only a technician!) where the President and Mrs Sirimavo were the signatories. Even his wedding cake had the Upali Logo – “U” letter surrounded by the rising son. Each employee was picked up by a Rolls Royce or a Limousine in true Upali fashion from their place of residence to go to the company party, and those who did not have a suit were provided with a brand new suit and tie. Upali did not miss to market his company even on his wedding day!.

    While I very much appreiciate your article I must also write about some exceptional persons who helped Upali to rise to his ‘top of the world’ position.

    Hulugalla – (was a Consultant of Upali and a very close friend of Upali , also Upali’s golf mate), Wijesiriwardna (another Great Visionary, Director of Upali Group), Brigadier Mani Senevirathne – now in Perth (who was instrumental in setting up Upali Airways), Dr DS Bandarage – recently deceased – a Great Visionary (Dr Bandarage was the former General Manger of Levers – he selected Upali to Levers in the 60s after Upali came to Ceylon after graduating (Masters) from Cambridge; Dr Bandarage was Upali’s right and left hand man until Upali died, he fundamentally helped Upali to establish Upali Group), Leslie Dharmarathne (Chief Executive of Upali Group – he was a brilliant administrator , he must have been your boss too, Jeyaraj), Edmond Ranasinghe – now retired (he single handedly uplifted Upali Newspapers, if not for Edmond Divaina would not have become such a popular paper even today). Without these Gentleman Upali would not have become the most successful business entrepreneur of Asia.

  46. #53
    My father worked for Upali for long time. He was very fond him and has told us many stories about him. My father was given a Rolex watch by Upali for his excellent long service record. According to my father, Upali had the best journalists in the country to run his newspapers. The Island and Diviaina had the largest ciruclation those days, far more than Lake House papers. Like he got Jeyaraj from Gnanam’s newspaper, he got the cream of journalists from Lake House and elsewhere to come and work for him. He did this overnight, by giving everyone double pay. He got the best Mangers and Directors to draw up the best contracts such as Leslie Dharmarathne and Dr DS Bandarage. Some of the best journalists who worked for Upali at that time were the best in the country. As far as my father can now remember some of them are (he gave me the names) Vijitha Yapa, Lasantha Wickramathunge, DBS Jeyaraj (, TMK Samat, Wijesoma (Cartoonist), EdmundBehind the Cadjan Curtain’ ), Lucian Rajakarunanayake (A’pura Diaries), Edmond Ranasinghe, Karunadasa Suriyarachchi (Kasouri – Divaina), Janaka Rahtnayaka (Cartoonist), Daya Rajapakse (Cartoonist), Prasanna Hennanayake (Photographer), Gunadasa Liyanage, Sumana Saparamadu, Rohan Abeygunawardane (Island), Nandasena Suriyarachchi, Wickrama (the Cartoonist) and his wife, Mali. My father tells Upali preferred Tamils, as he believed as he believed in people on merit not on race. My father said Upali had done so much for Mr Murugaih, even found him a bride, but could not stop Mr Murugaih’s chain smoking. For this,out of his love for Mr Murgaih, he had asked my father to put up a ‘No Smoking’ sign on the office that Mr Murugaih worked,but, Mr Murugaih had still chain smoked.

  47. Thanks for your piece on Mr Upali Wijewardane, which is fascinating. I am surprised why he did not own a TV station. May he attain Nibbana.

  48. Yes Upali was the best. But after his demise the companies fell like a pack of cards. The best brains left the company, soon afterwards.

    Today I think only the Upali Newspapers are doing well, plus a bit of the chocolate industry (Kandos etc.), and Upali Real Estates. It is sad that Delta confectionaries, Unic radio, Upali Mazda and Fiat cars, horse racing, Upali airways (planes, helicopters and fast boats), Upali Plantations especially in Asia – millions of acres, Upali Trading Company (Managemenet Consultants), Upali Toiletries (soap, perfumes etc), Upali Hotels (Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya, Habarna Hotel etc)– are all gone. Sri Lanka could have been proud if these business stood by, especially his Asian enterprises. Demise of One Man – was the Demise of a Huge Business Empire!

  49. When Upali dissapeared I was only 23. I had just come out of studies. It was shocking and the whole country was mourning. There were bodhi pujas everywhere especially at Kelaniya Temple. My parents went for them, though they did not know him. Several days I went before his Thurstan Road house, the areas was full of people – just ordinary folks who had come to express their sorrow.
    Thanks Jeyaraj for bringing me back my memories of the youth.

  50. I believe Upali is the most successful businessman ever to have come from Sri Lanka. Good thing is that he did ethical business, especially when compared with today’s business leaders. Upali was surrounded by the best business brains of the country, the best journalists worked in his newspapers. He paid his people handsomely, so he got the best out of them.

    As far as I am aware Upali is the only Sri Lankan businessman to appear on the News Week Cover Page. Upali appeared on the Cover Page of the Asian Economist Times too. That magazine twice at least ranked him as one of the top 10 most influential people in Asia, even ahead of the country’s President, JR Jayawardane!. This is because Upali was well known in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and was important to the then emerging Asian economy, overall.

    At the time of his death he had millions of $ worth of assets in those countries and thousands of workers as well, espeiclly in his coco/coffee plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. Kandos was the top choclote in Asia, even ahead of Cadburys (remember Kandos Knightrider!). This was not a small achievement for a Sri Lankan. He is the only Sri Lankan to have owned Lear Jets and travel them in style. His jet had landing rights in all countries, including at Heathrow. Then he died at 45! What a life story.

  51. the sadest thing is that after the death Upali’s 2 sisters and the Rathwatte family had a fight over his estate but now I think they have reconcillled. It is strange why Upali had not left a last will when he was so rich.

  52. There is a lot of talk that Premadasa was behind Upali’s death. Some say it was Ronnie’s job. In one of his newspapers there was a cartoon where the dog’s name was Ronniya.

  53. My father had been a Upali’s driver. Before that he drove the Divaina Van, down south. My father is now dead.
    Upali was a visionary. He was far ahead of the times. Even our contemporary business owners do not own Lear Jets, but he owned them in the 70s! Well, that tells a story.
    Thanks to Upali my father could give us good education. We are middle class today. I am a teacher.

  54. Upali when at Royal won Upali won the Turner Scholorship – The Most Outstanding Royalist of that year. Then he went to Cambridge and came back with degrees.

  55. Some readers had commented that upali was bumped off by Premadasa. I also remember this strong talk at that time, especially due to the fact that he was coming to Srilanka for an important reason, probably for a ministerial portfolio. From the way premadasa went after his rivals like Athulathmudali and his character i won’t be surprised by this. Interesting to know where was this Lear jet parked. Was there a possibility of a bomb with a timer being put inside. Was upali a punctual type of man with predictable habits? These are the types who are easy to bump off. Now we can see that Srilanka has become world famous for bumping off people, so we can’t discount the possibility that upali was one of the first to fall victim, without realising the snake pit he was living in. Premadasa was a ruthless man, capable of anything. See what he did to poor Richard de Zouza the journalist.

    I wonder what would have been if a decent and clever man like upali had led this country. Our whole history would have to be rewritten maybe. ideally he should have taken over the country in 1982, without a referendum. If JR had stepped aside at that time and had a general election and upali had become the president, probably today we would be a developed country. Just imagine what this man had achieved by the age of 45. By 75 he would have been a household name all over the world , like lee kuan Yew.

    DBSJ, it is very refreshing when you time to time bring out these articles, that are not reflecting the tensions of the current political scene.

  56. I salute this great man not because he was a business tycoon,but because he earned money by hard work & brains, by all means fair play. Then he served the country after becoming rich and was willing to share his wealth and talents to uplift the nation.

    Its sad to see after 25 yra the state of our coun try and its leaders. How all the leaders of our country loot the money which is for the common good of its people.
    The politicians & politics had become a curse today.
    how fast we have gone down the drain and our values and ethics and patriotism !!!

    1983 was the darkest year in SL history (february & July)except for the closest to it was 2004 tsunami.

    hope we’ll be able to see in the near future a new breed of genuine leaders with talent & vision.

  57. A very good man surrounded by very good people suddenly disappeared. I believe in good karma. I am sure Upali is still living out there somewhere. he will come back at the right moment.

  58. Thanks for this article DBS.If Upali was here the LTTE problem would have been solved without bloodshed

  59. Sydney Fernando , U missed the greatest name for Sinhala “Divaina” Dayasena Gunasinghe. Do u agree with me DBS?

    Yes and Ajith Samaranayake Of “The Island” too……………..DBSJ

  60. I have been to Upali Group when Upali Group was flourishing and was a top level company in Sri Lanka. Upali was living then. Upali Group was a beautiful premises – immaculately beautiful lawns and flower beds were everywhere. The whole place was immaculately clean.

  61. Ref. 26 of RUPA MONARAWELA.,31,40,51 &52
    MY COMMIE FRIEND FERNANDO HAD SEEN THIS COLUMN AND WROTE TO ME ABOUT UPALI GOING TO DERBY RACES IN EPSOM AND MEETING A WHOLE GROUP OF COMMIE FRIENDS THERE AND VISITING LANEROLLE’S EPSOM RESIDENCE WITH SOME. HE ADDED ” ABOUT ‘SHERGA’ THE HORSE OF THE AGHA KHAN, THERE WAS AN ARTICLE IN THE LIVERPOOL CHRONICLE RECENTLY AND SHERGA’S GRANDDAUGHTER- NAMED ‘ SWANITA’ IN SINH. IS BEING TRAINED FOR RACES BY OWNER VIJAYA DE LA NEROLLE IN HIS FARM STABLES IN WALES.VDEL A BARRISTER -ADJUNCT LAW ( LIKE RWMD-UW’S FRIEND) ,ROYALIST -CONTEMP OF NEVILLE K’RATNE & LANKAN PM RW-1950S AT LINCOLN’S INN.IST PRES CEYLON STS ASSN.EDITD PRIVATE J. “SPOTLIGHT” BRO ACCHA DE L -ARCHITECT DECD -A JVP MBR’,WIFE ROSALYND AINSLEY DE L- OXFORD CIRCLE JOURNALIST-COMMUNIST-THEIR SON INDRA DE L -PRODUCER BBC& EXEC PROD-DRIVING WITH MANDELA ETC. AMARE’,I RESPECT UPALI NOT FOR HIS WEALTH, STYLE ,BUSINESS ACHIEVEMENTS ETC BUT FOR HIS REPUTATION AS AN EGALITARIAN, FOR SOME IN OUR CIRCLE WHOM HE KNEW AND MET WERE LEFTISTS OF THE HIGHEST ORDER.

    ANOTHER PERSON SAYS ….RUPA’S SISTER IS NALINI DE LANEROLLE OF “REIGN OF TEN KINGS” FAME AND I HEARD ANANDA TISSA DE ALWIS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED THE BOOK TO UW AND HE BOUGHT MANY COPIES TO BE GIVEN TO VISITORS…..RUPA’S MOTHER’S ANCESTRAL HOME IN GALLE ‘THISTLE COURT’ HAS THE ONLY PANKA(THE LONG TALIPOT LEAF FAN THAT IS PULLED BY 2 PERSONS FOR FANNING-A PRECURSOR TO A CEILING FAN) IN THE ISLAND, AND UPALI HAD GONE TO SEE IT,UPALI HAD ADMIRED THE PAINTING BY J.STEPHANOFF-THE SUPREME COURT OF CEYLON(1816), AS SHOWN BY HIS OTHER UNCLE ,HWJ QC. IN THAT THERE WERE 2 PANKA-PULLERS WHO WERE 2 PEIRIS-DERANIYAGALA BROTHERS AS EXPLAINED BY HWJ,Q.C. THE REPLICA OF THE PAINTING IS AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE NEW SUPREME COURT COMPLEX ,AND IT IS POSSIBLE THAT HWJ HIMSELF RECOMMENDED THAT MURAL TO BE DRAWN THERE WHEN THE CHINESE GIFTED THE BUILDING.

  62. Hi DBS, I haven’t read mny of your articles. But the arrest of General and this one is great. Our history is many a miss. I think Upali too was one of them. Good work !!

  63. As an ex Royalisit, I have always admired Upali..
    Richard Brandson in England would be a close match !!

  64. JRJ always wanted to groom Upali to be a politician, but the latter put it in the back burner and did sports and business.Though, Dr DS Bandarage took him to Levers, he was unhappy with his job. Then JRJ, in 1966 got him appointed as a Director of the Ceylon Tyre Corp at Kelaniya.
    That was the time he became Basnayake Nilame of Kelaniya Saman Devale and found many jobs for Kelaniya residents. Even today,many say at older age that merit must
    go to UPALI MAHATTAYA for the jobs they got.

  65. Ref. Rupa Monarawela and 71 above:

    As a rider to my commie friend Fernando’s info, another commie friend Pieris wrote to me the following from UK:

    Vijaya deL’s( the eldest son of famous Poet, Journalist and writer V.D.de Lanerolle and a nephew of Lexicographer Julius de Lanerolle) b-i-l George Markalanda ,Attorney -at-law – old Josephian , a grand son of Proctor Markalandage John de Silva – dramatist of Tower Hall days and pioneer Sinhala Dramatist of Angampitiya Rd Kotte, a son of “Honest Albert” de Silva S.P. , who resigned as the chief Police Investigator from the investigation of the famous Mahendra Sathasivam (Cricketer) Murder Case(I was only 15 yrs then) as the Colombo’s combined Tamil and Sinhalese Elitists started interfering with his investigations, wanted his son Harsha Markalanda who had a band called ORPHIUS to have a foreign training. His closest friends were the Late Dr P.R. Anthonis’ b-i-l Proctor M.Perera and Justice Sirimanne’s younger brother Proctor Sirimanne who were close friends of Mr Upali Wijewardena. As requested by them probably ,Upali had been in the process of arranging Harsha Markalanda (his father George M. was dead by then, I think) to go to Japan at the time of his death.

    One Sirisena, the most successful SLFP union leader of the time Upali W. was a Director and Dr Mervin Wijeratne was the Chairman of the Ceylon Tyre Corporation was organising a strike in 1966. Upali was getting on his jeep to go home one day. Sirisena, a 5′ lanky was also in the vicinity. The story went that, Upali invited Sirisena to the front passenger seat of the jeep and had a chat for 30 minutes and that there was no strike until Upali left the Tyre Corp thereafter . “That was the power of his common touch ” wrote Pieris.

  66. # 7 TCK, your comments brought back my old memories and mine were identical to you. I also was in Kamuburupitiya at that time and remember my farther showing me Upali’s home when I first came to Royal through scholarship exam in 1988. We use to watch stage dramas at Upali Wijewardena hall in Kamuburupitiya prior to 1988.

  67. Dear Mr. Jeyeraj,

    I’m grateful to you for writing about Upali Wijewardena.

    I’m enthusiastic to know more about him

    I wish to know more about his attitudes, behaviors, way he manage his business, values, principals and the success derived to become that position. “Upali Wijewardena became a self made tycoon?”

    He is a gentleman that I admire, salute and lookup. So kindly write to me on above.

    Thank you for the wonderful article (Upali Wijewardena: Memories of the unforgettable tycoon), this is something I waited to read about…

  68. gr8 article Mr.Jeyaraj . people like you deserve the Sri Lanka . after long time read the article without looking at any moment.
    thanks.

    Upali follower from Down Under .

  69. Please do write a book on the late Upali Wijewardena.
    It will be the greatest tribute you can pay to such a fingentleman.

    Please give this your deep consideration for the sake of
    posterity

    Thanks.

    ALEX

  70. Dear Mr Jeyaraj,

    Thank you for a wonderful article about an illustrious Sri Lankan industrialist. It was also nice of you to remember him and pay tribute.

    As young man, I grew up reading Virakesari in the 70’s and the Island in the early 80’s. I vividly remember the launch of ‘The Island’. My late father was thrilled and he told many things about late Mr Wijewardne’s entrepreneurial skills and achievements.

    At last I know who was “Behind the Cadjan Curtain”! Did Island have a column called ‘As it strikes me’. I sometime wonder whether it was written by a Rajpal Abeynayake. Many times I have googled without much luck. Will be happy if you could shed some light.

    Once again many thanks to all you wonderful articles.

    Tim

  71. When I was young we lived in the house behind Upali Wijewardena’s on Pedris Road and could see right into his glass house from our second floor. I have seen the parties they used to have there. My brother and I both attended Royal . When we were young we had no idea who he was but he used to throw Delta toffees to us over his wall as we played in the garden. The house in which we lived is demolished now and there is only a bare land. There is a land avertised on Pedris Road for USD 3.5 million and may be the very same land. I live overseas now but went to see this land and Upali’s house next door on my holiday to Srilanka this month which brings back a lot of memories.

  72. Dear Jayaraj,

    Many thanks for the bringing in Mr Upali Wijewardanas memorial Story,
    Recently,I read one article about Mr Upali W is in Malaysia searching for his Child And wife of undeclared marriage.
    I hope, he may come and Save Us from This Hell of a ruling family.
    he was a visionary. and real patriot to Sri Lanka.
    not like present political arena cardboard heroes.

    When I was young, it was very luxury to visit to Colombo, as we village boys do not have means to travel.
    I used to come to Colombo to get some books and and magazines from foreign embassies.
    One day, when I visit American center, at Green path or flower road, One of my friends at Pembroke institute, showed me Mr Upali’s residence near to Royal college, A palatially house with heavy columns and a helipad on top of roof.
    As young boys, we were very proud to tell my school friends that, we saw Upali wijewardana’s DELTA KANDOS HOUSE.
    later years in 1980s. I had a chance to have dinner with a Sri lankan TYCOON, YOUR FORMER BOSS, Late honorable Desamanya MR A Y S Ghanam at Colombo Hilton.
    He was talking About Mr Upali Very Admirably, as he was a son to him.
    As Mr Upali said, I was the minority there,
    Mr upali, he had a vision about Sri lanka.
    He loved sri lanka. I hope he may come back,
    Mr Jayaraj You TOO.

    I pray to triple jem to take care of Mr Upali ,You, We all Sri Lankans ,without any partiality to races or religions.

  73. Intelligent Upali is a graduate. But he did not want to be a slave of the graduation. He forget about his degree and went to a book shop and bought a book which teaches how to make toffees. At the beginning he got failed to make a quality toffee. But with a full try he could make a toffee named as DELTA. This DELTA name got because he borrowed 15000 Rs as a security he gave a his land [dupatha] called as DELTA . He is a good example for the new generation how to get a good progress through a self employment [own business] same to Bill Gates. Both of them did not care their degrees.

  74. It is sheer luck that Upali changed jobs from the prestigious Lever Brothers (Unilever) to set up his own company which turned out to be a mammoth, even bigger than Levers. It is sheer unluck he became too rich to own his own lear jet.

    I agree with Mr GLWA Jayathilaka, Upali was like Bill Gates – such people are born rarely and seldomly. They rise because they assoiciate with the best and brightest people.

    Kalan is right Upali was a director at Tyre Corporation, but he did not accept a cent, even in 1967 when he was coming up the ladder. Can we have such people in today’s society? – Very rarely

  75. As intelligent he was, Upali was a Graduate….. BUT he did not sit on his laurels or the degree but went onto establish his own thing…. Thats what one should recognize in a real Degree.

    Today, we hear scores of young men & women Graduates demaniding the Government for JOBs.
    Had Upali too had the same mentality, DBSJ would not have written this article today.

    This article is a good eye-opener for todays Sri Lanka Graduates.

  76. Upali’s greatest service to the country is giving thousands of jobs to lankan lads. He ensured the country’s best and brightest had a place in many of his companies. When he started Upali Newspapers he doubled or trebled the pay of those he recurited from Lake House, including that of Wijesoma, Edmund Ranasinghe and Vijitha Yapa. Even JR was his cousin and Presidnet of the country, through his newspapers he severely criticised his government. Divanina was a vangurard of people’s voice. It had highet circulation in the country. ‘Behind the Cadjan Roof’ was a fine piece of writing in the Island and everyone knows who wrote it.

  77. Rozairo,it should be behind the cadjan curtain,i think.The roofs are of course ‘thakaran’,but the army took 20% of what india donated.

    PS.DBSJ,you are putting out so many articles in your blog,don’t you think you should charge a subscription?My conscience pricks me when i read,and i click on your advrtisements 25 times every time i open it.

  78. Thanks Shankar and sorry Jeyaraj (the real man who was ‘behind the cadjan curtain’, not ‘roof’, but I can still remember reading the fantastic column, with the cadjan icon on side).

    Three more points –

    (1) Upali being a billionaire talking so freely to a junior journalist in the early 80s goes to the credit of the great man – shows his unassuming nature

    (2) Recruiting people like Murugaih, Jeyaraj, Anandappa, Samat, Athas etc show that he was a fair employer

    (3) Flow of continuos and regular comments to this blog about Upali, who dissapeared so long ago, show that people have not lost interest in the man even in 2012.

  79. Rozairo,upali was a great man,but we must think more of the future than the past,because our country has reached a critical juncture.I urge you to read Dr.Subramanian Swamy’s address to the defence seminar in colombo recently posted on this DBSJ blog on the 11th of august,one of the finest past analysis and future advice,i have seen.If the sinhalese don’t take his advice and stubbornly trod the same path as before,i feel they will end up losing the north permanently one day,like east timor,through a UN supervised referendum.

  80. i love u upali . now i am17 years old. i would like to be a person like u.. i hope to be the next upali as sachithra.

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