Tribute: Ladies College girl Viola Welikala (1920-2021)

January 5, 2021 (LBO) – 100 years is a time period of significance. In the last century people have seen world war, slavery, colonialism, apartheid, nuclear bombs invented and used, the emergence of technology, mobile phones, the internet, and most recently a global pandemic that shuttered the world and will soon have claimed the lives of over 2 million people in the last year alone.

The world has changed so much in the last century, and few people have been lucky enough to bear witness to this transformation with a sound mind. One of these fortunate individuals was my grandmother, Viola Welikala. Her elegant soul made it to the age of 100, made it through the tumultuous year 2020, and peacefully departed this world on January 1, 2021. Through the century that was her life, her mind was as sharp as a nail, and she took in all that life had to offer. It was this way right up to the  last few days of her life.

Her’s was a life that was not noticeable by the public at large, but it was notable indeed to almost everyone who had the privilege of knowing her. It was a life of much tumult and much joy, but most of all, it was a journey through the mosaic that is just life itself. My grandmother lived life to its fullest. She gave it all she had, enjoying the heights and soldiering on through the lows.

She saw death. Her husband Dr. A. H. N. Welikala dead at the age of 41, leaving her with 4 children under age ten to raise on her own. Living lucidly to the age of 100, she saw the death of all her siblings, contemporaries, and even a son in law Raju Rasiah.

She saw illness. Aside from seeing the illness and deterioration of many people she loved, she was herself always battling with her heath, and what a battle it was. Too many heart attacks to count, several heart surgeries, and diabetes where she maintained a level of discipline to regularly inject herself with insulin, regulating her blood sugar right to the very end. Sudden illness would often hit her and she kept fighting it back. This medical fight was there throughout her life right to the end, aided by a daughter who is a doctor, and by the first class professional nursing assistance of her eldest daughter Nirmala, who she resided with during the latter years of her life. Without all of her daughters, she would have never lived so well for so long.

There was never a shortage of drama. From the sudden death of her husband, to her own heart attacks, one of which I recall she mistook for the effects of eating a bad pol sambol, to the ups and downs of running a farm shop for her son on duplication road where she came into contact with all of Colombo. From a burglary where she was hit on the head with an iron by a rogue, to being in the box at court and being lambasted by a young advocate named Romesh De Silva. Conflict and commotion seemed to follow her, and as an old lady I remember her driving fast and occasionally airborne in an ancient Toyota Corolla which like her seemed to never die. 

She was the centre of gravity for family and friends. She had 4 children, 6 grand children, 3 great grand children, in laws, nieces, nephews, and other relatives. She had many close friends and became close to their families as well. She had interactions with all across the age spectrum. She was engaged with whomever would open themselves to her, no matter the strata. Many resided under her roof under all sorts of circumstances.

She came to America and raised me in my earliest years. I recall stories of her scowling when my parents would come home from work and noisily awake their baby from sleep. When it came to me at that time, she was in command. I can relate as I do the same thing when someone disturbs the sleep of my babies. She wanted to matter to her family by doing things and lending a much needed helping hand. She had to be useful and was frustrated if she couldn’t be. 

She was a matriarch stewarding the lives of two grandchildren in Colombo, Asthika and Sheyanthi. She watched over them like the proverbial hawk as she saw them through Ladies and Royal College, while their father Nissanka was a planter living on the estates. Many of their school mates know her well as they were in and out of her home. She loved the two schools, and all students who went there she looked upon fondly.

She helped many people. Her door was always open. Many leaned on her during their time of need. She took joy in being able to help, and would give the most to those who needed it most. There was a boy without a family named Anura who she informally adopted, providing for him and his children as she did her own. She used all her resources to do this, and did not have concerns over having anything for herself. She didn’t care, as she valued her life by what she could do for other people.

She saw the world. Born in Sri Lanka, she was a subject of her contemporary Queen Elizabeth II, and her father before her. She lived through Sri Lanka’s journey to independence to see its first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake take over from the British. She was always a UNP voter, it didn’t matter who was on the ballot. However, she would have been very pleased when Ranil Wickremesinghe became Prime Minister as he was someone she had observed as a young boy, and was a close school friend of her son-in-law Mousie. Down the road from Ranil’s family, she also grew up on 5th Lane. 

In her 90’s, after living with her daughter Nimi for many years, she took the oath and became a citizen of the United States of America. She was a careful observer of the Trump, Obama, and Bush Presidencies as she was keenly interested in politics. She would watch Fox News as avidly as she would have read Sri Lanka’s Daily News. She was a voracious reader who consumed volumes of written material up until her last days. I have chronicled this earlier in an article referenced below celebrating her 100th birth day.

There is much to learn from her life. What I have observed is that for many, life is a long journey full of intoxicating highs, gut wrenching lows, and much in between. Everyone can not rise to heights of power, success, wealth, or fame. However, even a simple life can matter so much to so many people. Life is meant to be lived, the good taken with the bad. All things should be taken in stride, just like my grandmother took them, pushing forward and doing good things in her own way.

Viola Welikala died at home. It was Christmas 2020, and she was happy to be able to gather with all of her children in Las Vegas, despite the Covid restrictions that kept them apart for so long. She was alive and well, and almost poetically, after the joy of Christmas she slipped into the end. She passed away a few days later on January 1, 2021. It was a great death and a great life, to be celebrated and not mourned. She would have wanted it that way.