(Ernest Corea, one of Sri Lanka’s most distinguished journalists and diplomats, died on May 11, 2017 after a long illness)
On December 13, 2005 the highly respected former Editor in Chief of The Ceylon Daily News (1966- 1970) and a former High Commissioner to Ottawa and former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Washington , Ernest Corea wrote to me following my appointment as the Editor in Chief of the Daily News. “Bandula: Please accept heartfelt congratulations from my wife Indra and myself, both “Daily News” alumni, on your appointment as editor-in-chief of our old paper. I hope you will be able to raise its standards, improve its writing, and broaden its perspectives. I have just returned from a conference in Morocco, and am fighting off a bad cold. I will write again as soon as I am fully recovered. Meanwhile … go to it! – Ernest Corea”
I got to know late Corea thanks to the introduction given by our permanent man (I say permanent because the Sri Lankan government Reps come and go but, he continues) seated inside a glass house in New York, the evergreen Thalif Deen. Like Thalif, Ernest became an inspiration to me. He continuously sent me emails giving me ideas to work on. On two occasions, Ernest Corea sent me books, one was on development journalism and another book he had purchased from the World Bank Bookshop in Washington. His emails were full of encouragement and guidance. I wonder how many other Daily News Editors had that privilege. Ernest Corea wrote to me when I was wronged (I know Thalif use to brief him) by the Media Minister at the time, Anura Yapa. There were times when he called me and told me to continue with the good work and to be fearless and careful.
I have lost many of the correspondence between Ernest and me. However, this is what he sent me when I was appointed as the Consul General of Toronto by President Rajapaksa. In fact, I received his email just three days after I assumed duties as the Consul General . “Bandula: welcome to North America. Good luck and best wishes in your new responsibilities. I am glad that you are away from the murky world of journalism in Sri Lanka. Ernest Corea” Note the words, ‘Murky world of journalism in Sri Lanka’. That came from none other than the highly respected former Editor in Chief of The Daily News and The Sunday Observer. He watched from far away in the United States how things were happening in Sri Lanka. He was saddened. He called me many times when I was in Toronto and encouraged me. Canada, too, was one of Ernest’s favourite places, having served there as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Ottawa. This was another email he sent me, “Dear Bandula, I presume you are settling into your new responsibilities comfortably and wish you the very best. Your new HC will be there shortly. (He was referring to Daya Perera.) He is an old friend and I am confident that you will enjoy working with him. From my past years as High Commissioner in Canada, I have learned that they appreciate a low-keyed approach from their partner and also that they respect processes and procedures. You have a helpful crowd of Sri Lankans there and I am sure you will find them helpful. Best regards etc.”
It was easy for me to get in touch with Ernest from Toronto and I informed him that things weren’t easy and its much different from his times in Canada. He both knew about the clashes with one of my superiors and that it wasn’t possible for me to maintain a low key in Canada with the onslaught by the LTTE and its rump in Toronto during the height of terrorism and the well oiled propaganda machine. He understood it and appreciated what I had to do. I am sure he was better briefed by that gentleman diplomat HMGS Palihakkara, who was our Permanent Representative to the United Nation in New York at the time holding fort for Sri Lanka, against all odds.
I had the privilege of meeting Ernest Corea and his wife Indra when I was posted to New York as the Deputy Permanent Representative. They hosted me to lunch at a place the name of which I cannot remember now. It was a great honour for me to have met the humble and unassuming former Editor turned diplomat. We had a long discussion. It was very informative. I told Ernest though I wasn’t of his calibre I wanted to fashion myself like him as a former Editor of the Daily News turned diplomat. He smiled. Here was the man responsible for organising the first, and up to now, only state visit of a President of Sri Lanka (JR Jayewardene) to the United States as a special guest of President Ronald Reagan in 1984. What more and Frank Sinatra sang ‘My Way’ for the visiting Sri Lankan President. I think Ernest did it his way.
I always had words of encouragement from Ernest Corea who was saddened by the turn of events. We exchanged a few emails thereafter, but we lost touch and it surely was my loss. I salute you, Sir. May you rest in peace!