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June 12, 2017
ERNEST COREA - A TRIBUTE
By Ivan Corea

Ernest Corea passed away peacefully in Virginia in the United States of America, on the 11th of May. He was surrounded by his loved ones - my Aunt Indra and cousins Lester and Andy. They read his favorite psalm which was Psalm 23 written by King David - where he remembered the goodness of God following him all the days of his life and the blessed assurance that we will dwell in God's house forever. This life was only the beginning because God had promised us eternal life through his son Jesus Christ. Uncle Ernest knew Jesus and he was in heaven. He had a deep and abiding faith in God.

When my cousin Lester sent me a message to say Uncle Ernest was at peace, so many memories flooded back. Memories of childhood when we grew up in Colombo, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. We lived in Maha Nuge Gardens in Colombo and he frequently visited us and brought with him an atmosphere of joy, laughter. He had bought a piano and decided to leave it in our lounge in Maha Nuge Gardens for a while. My father, Vernon Corea was his only brother and they were very close. They spent many evenings singing, with Dad playing the piano - a melody of old songs. We all joined in, Dad sometimes played his melodica, Vernon jr and I contributed with our St. Thomas' Prep School recorders and Lester and Ouida were the percussion band. Mum joined in the singing in Maha Nuge Gardens.

I have so many recollections of visiting Lake House in the 1960s - at the time Uncle Ernest was Editor-in-Chief of the Daily News in Colombo. There was such a sense of community like one big Lake House Family. We visited him in his office saying hello to George Mason, Phillip Cooray, Edward Arambawella, Errol de Silva and others. Uncle Ernest knew Reggie Fernando (the founder of Newslanka) very well as Reggie himself was an ex-Lake House man. Lake House journalists used to visit us in Maha Nuge Gardens - the conversations were riveting! Once I had a problem with one of my knees and a Lake House journalist, Thangarajah ( I called him "Uncle Thsnga") said he knew of a herbal remedy and he brought with him some leaves, put them in hot water and placed them on my knee - it certainly helped.

Vernon and Ernest were the sons of Reverend Canon Ivan Corea and Ouida Corea - my grandfather was Vicar of St. Luke's Church, Borella. Uncle Ernest was born in Borella in 1932 - he was educated at Royal College Colombo where his maternal uncle, J.C.A Corea was the first Ceylonese Principal. Vernon and Ernest were inseparable as brothers they were very close. I remember the time when my grandfather passed away in 1968. Uncle Ernest was covering the Vietnam war for the Daily News. My father refused to bury his father without Uncle Ernest by his side, so we had a six day vigil in Maha Nuge Gardens, until the US military could locate my uncle in Vietnam and informed him that his father had died. He was flown back to Colombo for the funeral.

His distinguished career included working for the United Nations in New York where he covered the first and last speech to the UN General Assembly by Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. He did a stint with the United Nations in the Congo and when he returned to Ceylon he joined Lake House. Edmond Wickramasinghe appointed him Assistant Editor of the Daily News. He was soon made Editor-in-Chief of the Daily News. He was also Editor of the Ceylon Observer for a year.

After leaving Lake House he worked for the Straits Times of Singapore as Foreign Editor and Director of the IDRC in Canada. President J.R Jayawardene appointed him Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in Canada and thereafter Ambassador in the United States - running concurrently as Ambassador to Cuba and Mexico. When he left the diplomatic world he joined the World Bank for many years until his retirement. It was ex- Lake House man Thalif Deen who was a senior Editor of a news service in New York who brought him out of retirement and he started writing again. I think he really enjoyed this new lease of life as a writer.

Uncle Ernest's greatest diplomatic triumph was to secure the first and to date the only State Visit of a President of Sri Lanka to the United States of America when US President Ronald Reagan invited President J.R.Jayewardene to the Rose Garden in the White House. He also secured international coverage for the visit which included Sri Lanka's gift of a baby elephant to President Reagan. The US President invited President J.R. Jayewardene's favorite singer, Frank Sinatra who sang his hit "My Way" at the State Dinner at the White House. The State Visit was a huge success for Sri Lanka. Uncle Ernest and Aunty Indra got on very well with President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.

The US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Atul Keshap paid a wonderful tribute to Ernest Corea on hearing that he had passed away on the 11th of May. In the 1980s Commonwealth Secretary General Sonny Ramphal appointed him Chairman of a Commonwealth media committee and he frequently visited London, during that time. He also met up with members of the Royal College Old Boys Union in the U.K. His earliest visit to London was in 1960 when he was invited to speak on "Minorities in Ceylon". Whenever he visited London he never failed to visit us in Essex. On one occasion the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in the UK asked him to accompany him as his guest to the Lord Mayor's Banquet, at Mansion House, in London. I am so thankful that our son Charin got to meet him and Uncle Ernest would always interact with him. And so I say farewell to a wonderful, kind, loving, caring and compassionate uncle - that was Ernest Corea the Man. A Memorial Service celebrating his life will take place on the 8th of July at his church in Virginia. The Washington Post has opened a book of condolence online on their Legacy.Com website.
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