‘Miss Placida’ out at ninety nine

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Usually on every 8 January I trek to the Borella cemetery in the morning to participate in remembrance of a friend of mine, Lasantha. However, this year I didn’t go as I was by the side of my mother as she was slowly, surely and peacefully moving to the ‘great unknown’. My mother, Placida Fernando passed away on 8 January 2022 at the age of 99.

There were so many aspects to her personality and her activities were varied. She’s best known as a former teacher at the Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena. Starting life as a young teacher, she went on to get herself trained at the Bolawalana Training College, Negombo and then joined the faculty and functioned as a lecturer. Upon marrying my father late Clive M. Fernando of Lake House (Advertising Dept.), she left her job and subsequently joined the tutorial staff of the Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena in 1954. Starting as the Sports and Netball teacher she continued to be a class teacher for over 35 years.

Neither the ties to the school nor to the profession of teaching ended with her retirement. On her retirement she started Sri Lanka’s first ever Past Teachers Association which continues to provide a great forum for all retired teachers of the Good Shepherd Convent to meet and keep in contact.

She worked until she was 95 years on a programme in the Convent called ‘Mary’s Friends’ which supported orphans and economically deprived students to fund their education up to university graduation. She continued her tutoring as an English language tuition teacher and became known as ‘Teacher’ by everyone in the Mattakkuliya area where she resided. This activity ended with the onset of COVID-19.

From all what I have heard about her childhood, she had been very active and in many ways a mischievous child. You may even say rebellious. In her adult life she was a social activist and also a prominent political worker. When I view ‘The Aragalaya’ of today I am reminded that she led an ‘Aragalaya’ in 1960. That was at the time when the ‘school’s takeover’ happened. She led the Mothers’ Union in a protest march to Temple Trees where the then Prime Minister Sirimavo was. She proceeded to lie across Galle Road stopping the traffic, which I think was quite an achievement for a female to do during that era. Family photo albums have photographs of her interacting with the Police of the day, some of which had appeared in the newspapers.

Another activity which she initiated, but of course of a more sublime nature, was the starting of the English choir at the St. Mary’s Church in Matakkuliya. This choir has now completed 40 years and she sang in it till a few years before her death when her vocal chords were too weak to sing out lustily. She loved to sing and at all family gatherings or parties she was on the floor, singing and dancing and keeping everyone entertained. She was a bit of a ‘show-off’ I have to admit.

Another aspect of her life was public speaking on political platforms. She addressed meetings along the coastline from Chilaw up to Moratuwa at a time when female political platform speakers were not present. I’m certain her experience as a lecturer and then as a teacher stood in good stead in belting out speech after speech during numerous elections in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. With passing of time her activities were curtailed to in and around Mattakkuliya like her work with the ‘Help the Aged’ organisation. Ironically, all the aged recipients who were helped were younger to her! One of her greatest joys was the numerous large black Labradors she had up to the very end.

I vividly remember her animatedly watching cricket matches on television and cheering on her heroes such as the Master Blaster. I’m not surprised at all because she was a proud product of Moratuwa and they say that the ABC of Moratuwa is Arrack, Baila and Cricket. Sometimes seeing one of her heroes miss the Century by just one or two runs was something she would deeply mourn.

She too missed completing her Century by just a few months. If she had lived, today 18th September 2022, she would have been 100 years. But we mourn not her loss. I, my sisters; Kusum and Pavi, wife Priyani, and children Janeen and Yolani feel singularly blessed to have had someone like ‘Miss Placida’ in our lives and that too for so long. To us she was Ammi, Ma, Mafia and Tanti. Goodbye Ma, which was indeed a great innings.

By Devsiri Fernando