Dr Walter Roland Gooneratne
Dr Walter Gooneratne, one of the Past Presidents of the College and an icon in the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka (CGPSL), during the past five decades, passed away recently. He was a man of rare distinction who made a colossal contribution to the CGPSL for many a Council Member, Vice President, and later as its President. Indeed, those who knew him well will also acknowledge the selfless contributions he has made to Sri Lankan society as a general practitioner.
Dr Walter Gooneratne had his education at St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. While excelling in studies he also made a mark for himself as an all-rounder by demonstrating his prowess in swimming, athletics and cricket. He represented St Thomas’ in the first eleven cricket team.
He entered the Colombo Medical Faculty in 1944 and graduated in 1949. His friends at the Faculty of Medicine fondly remember him as a superb baila dancer and as a composer and singer of naughty baila songs. Upon completing his internship he joined government service and served at Maha Oya, Kandy, Kalutara and Ragama before leaving for the United Kingdom where he obtained his Diploma in Thoracic Diseases. He worked as the Medical Superintendent of Ragama Chest Hospital in 1956 after returning from the United Kingdom.
In 1963 Dr. Walter Gooneratne commenced general practice at Thimbirigasyaya. He was regarded as a brilliant physician and was respected and much loved by his patients. He practiced there for over 40 years and in several instances three generations of a family were under his care.
Dr Gooneratne was regarded by his friends and admirers as a “Renaissance Man” due to his wide range of accomplishments and intellectual interests. While excelling in the field of medicine, especially family medicine, he also had a keen interest in the study of wild life, photography, and water sports including swimming, skin diving, speedboat racing and surfing.
He was involved in continuous medical education and undergraduate and postgraduate medical education. He was actively involved in the activities of the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka (CGPSL) and served in the Council of the College for over a decade in various capacities including being Vice President for three years and President for another three years from 1987 to 1989.
He was in the three-man Implementation Committee which created the North Colombo Medical College (NCMC), which is still regarded as one of the important contributions by the CGPSL towards the furthering of quality medical education in Sri Lanka. He was also on the Board of Governors of the NCMC from its inception in 1980.
Although my personal association with him was brief I always felt that I had known him for decades. His personality was such that he could establish a rapport with anyone quickly and make them feel as if he had known them for many years. I remember him accompanying a CGPSL team, of which I was a member that went to Pothuvil in May 2006 to hand over furniture worth Rupees one million, to a school called the Al Aqsa Maha Vidyalaya which had been completely destroyed by the tsunami. The Rotarians rebuilt the school and the Task Force for Disaster Management (TFDM) of the CGPSL that was involved with tsunami rehabilitation activities donated the furniture.
We went in a van from Colombo and having him with us was pure joy and real fun. He used to narrate interesting stories of yester years from his personal life and often kept us chuckling and laughing. He was full of praise about the work the College was doing and said that he was proud to be a member of the team going to Pothuvil. He was a very keen nature lover and during this trip he was often seen walking around with his high-tech camera capturing important moments. His knowledge on elephants and their behaviour was virtually encyclopaedic and I was given a very interesting lecture on many interesting aspects of elephants on our way back from Pothuvil. As luck would have it we came across a herd of elephants. We nearly passed out in fright watching Dr Gooneratne trying to take photographs of the herd by getting as close as possible to them.
I met him again at his residence in 2009 when some of us went to meet him after an Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the College to get his blessings. He was visibly moved and it was then that I realized how much the progress and the reputation of the CGPSL meant to him even though he knew that he could not play an active part in its affairs as before. He gave us his affectionate blessings and wished us well. I was touched to see that he had the College Desktop Aide, past newsletters of the College and some of the past Sri Lanka Family Physician Journals, along with other books, by his bedside. Pointing at these he said, with that unforgettable charming smile, “They are my dear friends who keep me company when I am alone.”
Dr.Walter Gooneratne‘s wife Nirmalene passed away in 1988. He leaves behind his four children, Dr Ravi, Neomal, Dr Romesh and Sharmali. Not many know that Dr Gooneratne had made a promise to his dear wife that in the last years before retirement he would not charge for treating patients. He kept that promise until his health problems made it difficult for him to practice. In 2012, he had published an autobiography entitled, “Golden Memories and Silver Tears” and had made arrangements for the proceeds from the sale of this book to go to charity.
Those of us who knew Dr Walter Gooneratne will remember him as a man with a superb intellect, great compassion, an unfailing positive attitude, and a focused mind.
Sir, although you will always live on in our hearts, we shall dearly miss your reassuring physical presence in our midst.
Note: - Information mentioned above as to the early days of Dr Walter Gooneratne has been taken from the Sri Lanka Family Physician 1988, from the article, “Induction of Dr Walter Gooneratne as President of the College of general Practitioners “of Sri Lanka by Dr Dennis Aloysius.
Dr. K Chandrasekher