Today (Feb 17) is the birthday of Sri Lanka’s popular business magnate Philip Upali Wijewardene. If Upali Wijewardene were among the living now, he would have celebrated his 86th birthday this year. Alas, this was not to be as the Lear Jet he was travelling in disappeared on 13 February 1983 just 4 days before his 45th birthday .
It was my privilege to be associated with Upali Wijewardene slightly and briefly during the years 1978 to 1983. As a journalist on the Tamil Daily “Virakesari” I covered the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) or “free trade Zone” from 1978 to 1981. Upali was the first Director -General of the GCEC.
Later in 1981 I began working as a staff reporter on the English daily “The Island” published by Upali newspapers Ltd of which he was the proprietor. I was at “The Island” in 1983 when Upali went missing 41 years ago .The Island of Tuesday, February 15 broke the sad news with a banner headline “Plane carrying Upali Wijewardene feared lost.”
It is in this context that this column focuses this week on Upali Wijewardene on his Birthday. I have written about him in the past and will draw from those writings for this article. In this piece I intend sharing some memories of my limited interaction with him.