He was no respecter of people, perhaps so, as no one could measure up to the values Prasad Gunewardene, held ideal. He was the personification of the textbook description of a scribe of the fourth estate. It was not by your leave of the people, but the “story” first and last. Perhaps, there could be two reasons, firstly, Prasad cut his journalistic teeth under legendary icons with whom he either worked under or associated, like Clarence Fernando, Reggie Michael, Elmo Gunaratne, Vijitha Yapa, Rex de Silva and many more.
Secondly, he was at his prime during an era people in Sri Lanka had either to tune to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation or buy a newspaper. There was no TV, no social media. That was the power of the fourth estate in that era and people of Prasad’s ilk understood it, only too well. He could call anybody, from the highest in the land and across the public and private sectors, engage in a conversation and even throw with no holds barred brickbats. That was the magic of Prasad’s irascible temperament. There were times when we bickered so intensely, that we avoided making eye contact for days, because we were unsure how Prasad would react, whether the volcano will re erupt, but, when we met ultimately, it was always a clean slate, no marks, no scratches, no hard feelings. That was Prasad Gunewardene, the man who left with a clean slate. He lived hard, smoked hard, at one time drank hard, laughed hard and worked harder. Hopefully he died easy.
He was stubborn as a mule, ate what he pleased, refused to see a doctor, take meds and get a medical checkup when it was necessary. He always said, “You’ll know what’s wrong with you only if you get a checkup, not if you don’t.” Prasad chose to be blissfully oblivious to the last. He passed away at the age of 61 on March 30.
Prasad Gunewardene started his illustrious career in journalism that span nearly 40 years, in 1978 at Sun Newspaper and subsequently Dawasa, both now in the realms of archives and history. From then on, he worked at a number of newspapers. He was the Parliamentary lobby correspondent and News Editor at The Island, former Asia Tribune Colombo Correspondent, Senior Associate Editor of both Sunday Observer and Daily News, Editor of the then Friday magazine, Acting Editor of Lanka Puwath Agency, Associate Editor of Ceylon Today. He worked as the Senior Deputy Editor at Nation at the time of his passing.
He was one of the last icons of the golden age of journalism, the calibre of Premil Ratnayake, Ajith Samaranayake, Richard Silva, and many more. They were a breed of their own, the kind of journalists who staked out a cemetery to report a controversial exhumation. Prasad was a journalist who had a penchant for controversy. He had almost an encyclopaedic knowledge on parliamentary matters. Prasad had a nose for news, was a go-getter and as a section head, a taskmaster. He was dedicated to his work to the point that he turned up at work on the days of his aunt’s funeral.
An alumnus of S. Thomas’ College, Prasad had an excellent command of English, a memory for verse and prose and the Latin he learnt. He often proudly announced that he attended S. Thomas’ during Warden SJAnandanayagam’s time.
Prasad with his hallmark lean and hungry look along with an almost military moustache and a bass voice complemented the rugged looks, was friendly and jovial and did not pull his weight around rookie journalists. Consequently he ended up making friends across generations, but woe be unto the person who dared cross his path. Above all, he was also a good teacher, correcting flaws, explaining nuances of copy writing and editing.
He was a permanent fixture at the Nation editorial, the last newspaper he worked for, often working six days a week, late into the evening. Like so many who left before him Prasad too left a void in the hearts of his colleagues. As Witha and Rukshan, even today, we sometimes look up expecting Prasad to walk into the editorial, announcing his entrance with his bass voice.
A few days before he died, after his sister’s demise and just after his 61st birthday, Prasad wondered aloud, ‘I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘afterlife’. I think we just die and that’s the end of it’. Wherever he is, may he Rest In Peace.
A beloved nephew of veteran actor late Gamini Fonseka, Prasad Gunewardene is survived by wife Soundari Gunewardene and daughters Shavindrani and Suwendrini and son Dilshan.
So farewell dear colleague, but let us conclude in the same pithy terms you analyzed life, by borrowing the epitaph on Sir Winston Churchill’s tombstone, “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter”