S. Thomas' College
Mt. Lavinia, Sri Lanka

 

 

A Tribute to "OUR" Warden
Warden Neville De Alwis
Warden of the College from January 1, 1983 to June 1998

Reference:
"Old Boy" News Letter January 2004

They do not build monuments, they do not create the arts to delight the senses of man, they do not rule great nations, they ply no trade, and they gain no worldly things nor leave behind anything of worldly substance. All they do in this world is mould the generations of society for posterity.

Such a person was he who we remember today. The Thomian world is divided into those that had the privilege of being in his grace and those who have been denied such a treasure by those two eternal humblers of man, time and fate. There are those who walk the corridors of our alma mater even now to whom he is just a portrait or a name on a board. Yet to us he was a voice, a face, a bastion of refuge, a father.

The news came upon us like an attack at dawn, unexpected yet ever dreaded, Even the emperors were told, during the triumphal march. "Remember, thou art mortal", We never believed that we could have believed so much in the immortality of our image of one man, until this day, Even now, it is not shaken, The corpus is nought yet the memory is greater than the most ancient mountains that exist.

He was a man. One of God's children here on earth. Yet he was destined not on!)' to lead, but to create leaders and leave in his undiminished wake, a legacy.

The task of inscribing an unworthy monument to pay tribute to that legacy and the memory of one of the most noble of men, was given to two of his pupils, both were nothing, yet owe him more than words can justify for what they are now. Herculean is the labour, not for want of substance, yet for the very deficiency of language in its expression when recounting what this man meant to us. Even more increasing is the burden of the task when we must now strive to place our thoughts amidst an ever-growing gathering of such memorials. How does one lay a single humble blossom upon the corner of the tomb and expect it to be as fragrant as the many wreaths and bouquets that tower around it. The answer was given by him of whom we remember. He treasured the fact that each of us was unique, and it is now as individuals that we lay this tiny flower upon his place of rest.

Many have said, 'Si monumentum requiris circumspice", if you seek his monument to look around you. We differ for his monument is not built of brick and mortar…...it is built with the hearts of a generation of men who carry in them what he passed on to them. Thus it is not with our minds that we remember him, with facts, figures and anecdotes but with our hearts that we now honour him for what he rooted in us.

Who was he? He was not just a role model or just an educator; he was a father who taught us to stand on our own, free and independent, relying only on the grace and goodwill of the Almighty. As the Warden he was an inspiring leader of majestic proportions. Certain leaders lead by word, some by fear, some by gentleness and some by example and while the greatest of leaders possessed them all, he too most certainly did. He led all of us at some point or the other by all these ways, yet we followed out of sheer love for what he meant to us. He led us towards righteousness by all of these.

Why do we bear him such love? All men are stones some pebbles, some rocks, yet some are gems, and he to us was a priceless jewel. He was a Thomian. A living ethos of the Thomian spirit, not perfect, yet brilliant enough to pass on the light to others and few have done even a tithe for themselves of what he has done for so many. If justice, was a tangible object of creation he was one of its greatest craftsmen. Even though many men can say that if any man is given the right materials and skill he can produce the same results. it is base and false, for not (" man possesses the master's touch.

History is founded with the lives of men of stature. Ordinary men who do the extraordinary when fate so challenges them. We have learnt that what propels such heroes in our lives-are those that inspired them, the Gurus that they followed and the role models in whose shadow they bloomed. His boys were never a mass, but individuals. Individuals that he took time to respect, nurture, love and to fathom as individuals and in respecting our individualities he sowed in us the seeds of brethren feeling and thus bound, stronger than any alloy hewn from the bowels of the earth, the Thomian family.

He had but one implement in his craft. The grace of God. How can we pen images and sounds that are founded in our hearts stronger than any fortification made by the mere hands of man. One of the lessons he taught us by this very example was never to shun a challenge. So we shall try to speak of him as we knew him.

He was surrounded with the aura of respect which emanated from his very being. He was awe inspiring and majestic. Yet, imperial though he was, he was approachable. His humour, cynical and deep would embarrass, disarm yet always draw us closer to him. His courage, determination and above all, the vision he had for our alma mater, and the vision of life that he engraved in us is and always will be that light to us in the darkest of times.

For him, S. Thomas' was not a shop, it was not an institution for producing the greatest academics or the most talented sportsmen……. it was a loving home, embedded with the spirit of the Church…..that was there to instill, in all who passed through its doors, that which was given by no other in such Quantity... .it was to create men.

He had a God given talent. Many will spur forward those who show potential. Many will support the talented. Yet how many give hope to those who are discarded, who show no potential and have no talents. He did. He could defy man1s laws and make more than something out of mere nothing. He was not a wizard, he was only a person who did more than any other by having hope in the spirit of a man, which that man himself could not see. He saw in us, even what we could not see. To him every person was an uncut gem. He was a craftsman who could cut mere stones into gems of the first water. There were the worst of cases which we all passed judgment upon, yet despite all they did, he gave them many chances and finally moulded them into Thomian gentlemen. Thus we have those who owe so much to one man's faith in them when all others condemned.

Idle and corrosive criticism, irrespective of its source, could not pierce his Thomian armour. “Let the stray dogs bark, the caravan will pass on still".

He was always positive. He believed that every man can be better. He would always give a second chance. He never lost faith in his boys. He was a teacher who was true to his task. He never believed in expulsion of boys for it served only to their detriment. He saw expulsion as a cowardly act for not facing the task which he, like many others, was given. The task of moulding incorrigible boys into gentlemen of the highest calibre.

We, all of us who grew under his wing, will hold trimly to the values he taught us. “Even if all the world, friends and foes, stand against you, stand to the last for what you believe in to be true and just .”

No chronicles can do justice to his last words to his boys on the day that saw the end of one at the greatest eras at our alma mater. Yet true to the teachings of our Lord, and holding still to what he believed in he told us, "We all owe the College something, the College owes us nothing. When you do anything for College, please expect nothing in return. College is bigger than all of us. College will go on with or without you. May we contribute only to her glory."

It was not only what he stood for, but how he stood for it that inspired us all that there is always hope, pride and glory in standing for principles no matter how thankless the task may be rewarded.

If Bishop Chapman was the Father, and Warden Stone was the God-father, Warden Neville De Alwis was the elder brother who extended his hand into the pit which College had plunged into and placed it, with a firm hand and firm heart upon the highest pedestal of perpetual glory.

To every single true blooded Thomian, who has in him the spirit of S. Thomas', who has felt the grit in the sting of life's unending battles, who has served his alma mater with his heart, to them we say, remember ……..always remember when you doubt your purpose, when you stand alone for what you believe, when your principles are challenged when honour and loyalty will lead you to the harder and soul breaking road…… remember what Warden De Alwis passed down to us.

Live for S. Thomas' ...
…… if necessary die for S. Thomas'

Esto Perpetua, pro Deo et Populi !
Be thou forever for God and the People