By Philip Fernando
Ernest Corea, one of Sri Lanka’s distinguished newspaper editors and accomplished diplomats passed away yesterday in USA after a long bout with diabetes. He was editor of The Daily News and Sunday Observer and later headed the embassies in Canada and USA. He was awarded the Deshabandu Class 1 National Day honour for meritorious diplomatic service. He was a stout defender of the freedom of press.
Earnest was the last of the long stream of editors that Esmond Wickremesinghe raised at Lake House during its heyday: Cecil Graham, Tarzie Vittachi, Denzil Peiris, Harold Peiris and M A de Silva, just to name a few. Those of us who were privy to have seen them at close range carried away memories that stuck with us for good.
News is sacred, comment is free, was their credo.
Ernest’s dedication to that dictum is etched in our collective memories. Every new batch of would be journalists that Esmond hired every year, went through the grueling drill of having to master the norms of the trade.
I was assigned to cover the election campaign of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike in 1970 and the assignment took me to all parts of the country. Ernest was a source of strength whenever I called from some outstation town. He would say be accurate at all times. I remember the day after Election Day, I called in after interviewing the winning candidate Mrs. Bandaranaike at Horogolla. Good show—get back home safely—were his words.
Ernest was born in 1932 to the Reverend Canon Ivan Corea and Ouida Corea. He spent his early life in Borella, a suburb of Colombo. He was educated at Royal College, Colombo and the University of Ceylon and later served with the United Nations in Washington DC and in the Congo (Zaire).
Editor of Daily News in 1966
He joined the editorial staff of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (Lake House) direct from university, eventually becoming Editor of the Ceylon Daily News from 1966-1970 and the Ceylon Observer from 1970-1971. Immediately before holding those positions, he was Chief Administrative Officer of the Editorial Department at Lake House.
Ernest was Features Editor, foreign affairs specialist, and editorial writer of the Straits Times of Singapore. He later served as Director of the Publications Division at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa, Canada. Subsequently, he was the founding Director of the IDRC’s Cooperative (North-South) Research Programs Division.
President J. R. Jayewardene in 1978 appointed Ernest as High Commissioner to Canada and few years later he was Ambassador to the United States of America, Cuba and Mexico. He negotiated several deals in ensuring external support for the country’s development programs.
JR gifted a baby elephant to Reagan
He was responsible for organizing the first, and up to now, only official state visit of a President of Sri Lanka to the US, at the invitation of President Ronald Reagan in 1984–all paid trip through our USA. JR presented a baby elephant to Reagan during that visit.
After leaving diplomatic service, he worked for the World Bank’s Secretariat of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and after retirement, as a Senior Consultant, when he co-authored Revolutionizing the Evolution of the CGIAR with CGIAR Director Francisco Reifschneider and Chair Ian Johnson.
He published two books: ‘Non-Alignment – the dynamics of a movement,’ and ‘North-South: Beyond Dialogue’.
He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the Media and Development, and was a life-member of the Asia Society’s advisory group in Washington DC.
He returned to journalism after retirement, serving as Global Editor of InDepth NewsAnalysis (IDN) and a member of its editorial board as well as a columnist and Co-editor of IDN’s current affairs magazine, Global Perspectives. During this period he also served President of the Media Task Force of the Berlin-based Global Co-operation Council.
Ernest is survived by his wife Indra and sons Lester and Andy and grandchildren Carl, Sophie, Wilson and Percy. He was preceded in death by his brother Vernon Corea and Lester’s late-wife Doris.
Note: My former Lake House colleague Thalif Deen provided some of the data mentioned here.