October 20, 2015 marks the 90th birth anniversary of the late President’s Counsel, Eardley Perera. He was an outstanding criminal lawyer with a brilliant mind. He had a magnetic personality that drew people to him. All who knew him loved him. I had the privilege of knowing him as a friend. Today as I reflect on his life, I wish to pen a few thoughts about Eardley.
My friendship with Eardley began in 1950 when he visited my filling station to seek my advice on a matter regarding a car. I felt a rapport with him right away which I later recognized as one of Eardley’s many unique qualities. He could effortlessly connect with people from all walks of life. From then on, our acquaintance developed into a friendship that lasted for 50 years.
Though we were poles apart our friendship flourished. When I was admitted to St. Sebastian’s College Moratuwa in 1942, Eardley had already left to join St. Joseph’s College Colombo. Having obtained a first division in the London Matriculation Examination, he joined the Law College in Colombo and passed out as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Ceylon in 1948.
Eardley’s generosity was limitless. He was someone who shared even his friends. Ruth’s job required her to go on circuit, and being a woman traveling to different parts of the island, she didn’t always feel comfortable to stay overnight at outstation hotels. Eardley solved the problem by introducing us to many of his lawyer friends from all over the country where Ruth could feel comfortable and safe. As a result many of their good friends became our friends too. Eardley was also humble enough to receive help from others when he needed it. He instinctively knew the right person to go to on any matter, even when it involved legal affairs. I recall an instance from the early 60s when Sri Lanka nationalized the oil industry. During this time, the oil companies were required to hand over all stock for valuation. A depot superintendent of one of the companies was found to have a large shortage. The company dismissed the man and filed action against him without thorough investigation. Eardley defended the superintendent. Me being in the oil trade, Eardley asked for my advice. I do not know to what extent Eardley used this advice, but subsequently, the defendant was acquitted.
Both Eardley and Shirley were extremely mindful of the poor. Shirley went to great lengths to make life a little better for the poorest of the poor. It was common practice on the last Sunday of the month for beggars who came for arms to be given a scrub and a bath. One domestic would hold the hose while another gave a scrub. Following the bath, they were given a new set of clothes and a scrumptious lunch. Shirley also had the practice of donating wheel chairs to needy individuals and organizations.
Eardley had a remarkable ability to make others feel important. People felt comfortable and at ease with him. It was always a pleasure to be around him. Not just his family, friends and colleagues, but even the domestic staff and chauffeurs were treated with respect and dignity. It seemed that his Catholic faith had a very real grip on him. His life demonstrated the famous words that many people remember from the American Declaration of Independence that are sometimes attributed to President Thomas Jefferson, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Today, we remember Eardley for many things. He was an inspirational figure who profoundly impacted all who came into contact with him.
Eardley Perera died on December 30 (Thursday), 2004
V. Quintus De Silva