The untimely passing away of Dr. Mervyn Gunasekera shocked the professional community. He was only 67 years. Mervyn had been a man of virtue, right concentration and wisdom befitting the teaching of the Lord Buddha as laid down in the Noble Eightfold Path. He spoke the truth based on both his learned knowledge and tacit knowledge (experience) on a wide range of subject matter that benefited the people. He spoke on his forte subject matter of engineering, civil engineering in particular as applied to construction industry, project management and management of people. He spoke on Buddhist values, social standards and entrepreneurial life. He spoke everywhere – in universities, law college, institute of engineers, professional groups, conferences both local and overseas, voluntary army and Dhamma school, to mention a few.
He had no harsh words, ill will or carrying tales. Instead, he carried one message consistently everywhere that insisted standards – standards in the workplace, society, schools, and professions and at home. He was a kind of missionary of his own make, an illustrious life it was.
Dr. Mervyn followed right action and right livelihood. He selected the path that would help him realize his full potential. He did not stop half-way journey to earn money by means that were open to educated men like him. He aimed at developing perfection in his profession. For his living, he selected a noble activity that helped people’s security, satisfaction and joy -construction. Setting an example to his colleagues in the professional community, he went for developing right understanding and thought through continuous learning, and practice.
He used to share with me his experience of buying books on his overseas visits in particular. Articles that he wrote and presented in conferences and workshops stand in testimony to continuous search for new knowledge and analysis. Thus, Dr. Mervyn Gunasekera lived according to the teachings of the Lord Buddha and therefore, he should already be in a better form of existence.
The hallmark of a man is the legacy left behind. Over four decades, he modeled the construction consultancy services in the Sri Lankan economy. Starting as a civil engineering graduate of the University of Ceylon in 1975, he obtained the MSc in construction management from Loughborough University of Technology, UK. I had the opportunity to be a partner in his education lately as his thesis supervisor when he studied for his PhD in Business Administration from the University of Sri Jayewardenapura in 2004-2008. His thesis dealt with factors influencing construction project delays, and the methodology of factor analysis and the findings in relation to cost and time constraints constituted original contributions to knowledge in the field.
By the 1990s, Mervyn had earned a name in the construction industry when he decided to start his own business, LAN Management Development Services Ltd to provide project management consultancy. He quickly proved to be a successful entrepreneur. In addition, he served as the Chairman of Union Chemicals Lanka PLC. He received the National Safety Award (2014), National Green Award (2013), National Clean Products Award (2014) and many other awards. This is the evidence that Mervyn’s style of management professionally-driven and enriched by corporate social responsibility for environmental sustainability.
Engineer Gunasekera was a distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL), and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, UK, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, Sri Lanka. He was President of the IESL (2000/2001), and President of the Federation of Engineering Institutions of South and Central Asia (2000-2003), a position which was held by a Sri Lankan for the first time in the history. While serving in the governing bodies of many institutions and companies, Mervyn founded the Institute of Project Managers Sri Lanka and continued to be its President until his demise.
He contributed to knowledge by reading papers in conferences, counted in dozens, and publishing his work. When the Tsunami struck Sri Lanka in December 2004, he came forward and volunteered to serve in the many projects that were launched under my purview at the PIM, and published guidelines for the persons involved in the post-tsunami reconstruction works, with the title ‘Managing Projects’ as his professional contribution.
He was saying that his experience as a Sri Lanka Air Force voluntary officer was valuable to comprehend the desirable approaches to rebuilding the affected areas.
In 2011, Dr. Mervyn was recognized by the IESL with the award of Eminence in Engineering, the highest award an engineer in Sri Lanka could be accorded. Thus, he attained the eminence through hard work in the profession, becoming an engineer par excellence in our nation. The vacuum created with his demise will remain as the monument we all rally around.
By Professor Gunapala Nanayakkara,
National Institute of Education,
Ministry of Education