The following is a wonderful and inspiring letter written by Mrs Louse Cooray to her grand children (20 December 1956). It provides perspectives on his ideals, values and family life and is therefore worthy of being placed as an appendix to a published lecture on the life of Sir James Peiris.
My dear Grandchildren,
This December 20th is the Centenary of the birth of your great grand-father. Though you are not old enough to understand now what I am writing to you of him I hope that when you are older your parents will explain it to you.
This is a very great day for us, his children, for our hearts are full of thanksgiving to God for having given us such a wonderful father. One of the most precious gifts a parent can bequeath to his children is the example of a life of high purpose and integrity, dedicated to God and his fellow men.
I want you when you are able, to study his life and you can then judge for yourselves the type of man he was. In his early days he has told us he had a bad temper and I have also heard that he had a proud nature. However, he overcame both these tendencies and from the time of his University days, we know how humble, modest and sweet-tempered he was. No Ceylonese in his time nor perhaps every since, had a more distinguished career in Cambridge than he had. He was respected by all not only for what he did, but for what he was. He was not only great, he was good. Many of his English friends were some of the finest men I have known. It is a great thing, children, to have good friends and I hope you will always bear that in mind. Friends can either uplift you or else drag you to their level.
My heart is so full that I feel I want to share with you the happy memories we cherish of him and to impart to you some of the inspiration that can be gained from a study of his personality - How shall I present him to you?
It is not easy to talk or write about what one feels so deeply, but I think it right that you should know about the inheritance which is yours. Nowadays people think lightly of traditions; they are inclined to ride roughshod over valued ideals in their desire to establish their own concept of life which is not always actuated by the highest motives. In an age when ambition and thirst for power are dominant and self-interest is camouflaged by the desire to serve one's country, your great grand-father's record of selfless service stands out as a beacon light. Of his boyhood, I cannot tell you much, except what I have been told by his mother, and mine. When he was quite young, his parents, through no fault of their own, suffered a reversal of fortune which left them very poor. The death of his father soon after was an additional blow. It was left to the mother to bring up the three sons on her own and how nobly she discharged this duty has been abundantly proved. She was a woman of great character and determination, courageous and strong minded; she realised my father had exceptional ability and spared no pains to ensure a good education for him. She has told us how they had to undergo great privations, so much so that as she could not afford the lamp light for them to study at night, she was obliged to wake them in the early hours of the morning to do their homework. This habit of early rising was so instilled into him that all through his life he was an early riser. They had to walk to school in all weathers and quite a long distance too. He has told us how this hard struggle strengthened their characters and made strong men of them. In after life when he was prosperous he never lost touch with his less fortunate brethren and was able to understand their needs and difficulties. Never allow yourself to get too soft. It not only weakens your character but deprives you of sympathy with the sufferings of others. For a life of ease and pleasure seems incompatible with an understanding of human nature and its needs.
The home, he and my mother made for us was such a happy one. Theirs was such an ideal relationship that it was no wonder that there was always such an atmosphere of love and well being. Hospitality and thought for others was a predominant feature.
After spending about ten years in a house in Flower Road, St. Leonards, he built Rippleworth which was our home till we left it for homes of our own. It was characteristic of my father who planned and supervised the building that while everything was comfortable for us, his dressing room was the smallest in the house. In all other matters it was the same - he always planned for us with no thought for himself. He rarely corrected us, never lectured us, but his personality was such, that its impress exercised such an influence on us that I believe we were trained in a way we did not recognise. Both he and my mother did so much for others that we could not help but wish to do the same. In so many ways when we look back, we realise more and more what we owe to them. My father was not ambitious and would not have attained the position he held, were it not that my mother were beside him in all his undertakings. She was a great character and a wonderful person. My father was so unassuming and so unconscious of his gifts. What I think constituted his greatest charm was his simplicity and his humility. He wold be genuinely pleased if anyone showed an appreciation of him. On the other hand, in public affairs, it mattered not to him whether he displeased people or not, when it was a matter of principle which was involved.
He taught us to appreciate and value the simple things of life. In our up country home, in Haputale, he would take us for long walks and point out the beauty of the skies, the hills, the woods, the little streams and all the wonders of nature. Our holidays were restful and quiet in these lovely surroundings and we had time to ponder on the things that matter. I do not intend to say much more and as I said before I want you to read all abut him yourselves. You will notice how many sided was his life. His interests were wide and he helped in the advancement of his country, in its varied aspects. He took his share in the field of politics, in education, in agriculture,in arts and music, in church and state and last but not least, he was a Pioneer in Social Service. The establishment of a Child Welfare Clinic, a Milk Depot, a Needlework class for girls, a night school for adult education, a Workman's Resort, a creche for children, slum visiting and the study of social problems, Health Exhibitions and Poor Relief - all these were initiated by him during his term of office as President of the Social Service League of which he was a founder. Government had not introduced these facilities then. To crown it all he bought a land by the sea and built a Convalescent Home for children but during the war this had to be changed to a Maternity Home (Presently it is the Sir James and Lady Peiris Cheshire Home).
But beyond this he was a true follower of Christ and his religion was the foundation of his life. Very often people think they can live without God. I wonder if they can live a full life and impart to others that joyousness of life and love for their fellowmen which is inborn in those who live near to Him. My father was one of those who lived near to his Master, and that, I consider, is his greatest legacy to us. His belief in his motto "Truth conquers" was fully vindicated in his life. He proved that a man need not stoop to unworthy tactics to gain his ends.
Though it took many years for his work to be recognised, he never faltered from his principles, nor was he bitter when unjustly treated. In the end he was acclaimed the Leader of his people - he was a true Christian Knight in the best sense of the word.
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