EILEEN MARY SIBELLE DE SILVA (nee DISSANAYAKE) – 29 September 1922 – 6 April 2018 –
A Woman of Value an Appreciation written by Mohini Gunasekera
EILEEN MARY SIBELLE DE SILVA (nee DISSANAYAKE)
29 September 1922 – 6 April 2018
A Woman of Value
Eileen Dissanayake was my English Literature teacher and later my class teacher in the HSC1 class at Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya, a prestigious Roman Catholic school in Sri Lanka.
Eileen had her primary and secondary schooling at Holy Family Convent and had a brilliant academic record throughout. She won the Senior Cambridge Scholarship Exam, coming first in the Island and was the Head Girl at Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya from 1938 – 1941. Eileen was one the editorial team for the school magazine, “Refreshing Breezes.”
At a time when women were not encouraged to study beyond Year 10, one would imagine there was very little support or assistance for women to enter University. Eileen had to compete with students from prestigious boy’s schools that had far more resources and thereby some of the best teachers. But this did not deter Eileen; she was determined and focussed. Eileen was the first woman in her family to get a University education and so started her life-long passion for learning, education and teaching. After graduating from the University of Colombo with a BA (English Hons), she joined her beloved Alma Mater as a teacher.
We were indeed privileged to have her as our teacher at that time. Apart from being our teacher, Eileen was also a friend and confidante and I remember the great times we all had at Holy Family.
In 1955, Eileen left Holy Family Bambalapitiya when she married Aloysius de Silva (Aloy), a successful lawyer from Kurunegala. She lived in Kurunegala with Aloy and her 3 daughters: Marie-lyse, Diane & Sandra who each excelled in their chosen professions.
Eileen later returned to teaching, this time at Holy Family Kurunegala until she retired at the age of 60! Not content to be a ‘lady at large’ Eileen qualified as a Speech & Drama teacher obtaining a Licentiate and Fellow of the Trinity College of London whereupon she set up her own business as a teacher of Speech & Drama in Kurunegala.
Eileen moved to Australia in 1998 and quickly adapted to the Australian lifestyle. Her deep faith and her loving family sustained her although she was so far away from the places she called home. She got involved in the local activities in Lane Cove (U3A, Senior Citizens, teaching Scripture etc.,) and thereby made a number of friends.
Eileen loved writing, specially poetry. In 2002, Eileen published a collection of poems called “Ripples on a Lake”. These poems presented a broad spectrum of scenes, feelings and situations from her past as well as from the present and showed her love for the experience that is life. All copies sold at the launch and she was absolutely thrilled with the result and could not be persuaded to publish any more.
Eileen also loved music, drama and singing (having trained choirs both at Holy Family Bambalapitiya and Holy Family Kurunegala and produced a number of plays as a teacher). She was a proud member of a unique Sri Lankan choir (representing the various ethnic and religious groups from Sri Lanka) which sang at many venues in Sydney including at the Sydney Opera House.
Eileen was a teacher who instilled in us a thirst for knowledge and deep passion for learning. She loved teaching with a passion; she gave it her all and encouraged and inspired her students to reach for the stars. She has been instrumental in shaping the careers of many a young woman over the years and we were indeed very fortunate to have been under her tutelage.
At a personal and human level, Eileen touched many hearts and minds. She was outgoing, friendly and generous. She was a strong woman who loved teaching with a fierce passion. She inspired, guided and moulded countless numbers of young minds to reach their full potential. I will always remember Eileen with great fondness and as an exceptional teacher and a dear friend; as a woman of value.
May she Rest in Peace.
Mohini Gunasekera AM