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Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke: Wikis


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His Excellency
 Sir Oliver Goonetilleke 

In office
July 17, 1954 – March 2, 1962
Monarch Queen Elizabeth II
Preceded by Herwald Ramsbotham, 1st Viscount Soulbury
Succeeded by William Gopallawa

Born 20 October 1892(1892-10-20)
Trincomalee, Ceylon
Died 17 December 1978
Colombo Sri Lanka
Spouse(s) Esther Goonetilleke (nee Jayawardena), Lady Phyllis Goonetilleke (nee Miller)
Children Joyce Wijesinghe, Shiela Sathananthan and the late Ernie Goonetilleke
Profession Civil Servant

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, GCMG, KCVO, KBE (20 October 1892— 17 December 1978) was an important figure in the gradual independence of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from Britain, and became the third Governor-General of Ceylon (1954-1962). He was the first Ceylonese individual to hold the vice-regal post.


Early life

Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke was born 20 October 1892, fifth child and only son of Alfred Goonetilleke, postmaster at Trincomalee in the northeast of Ceylon. He was educated at Wesley College, Colombo, and served there as a teacher for a short time before taking up a financial career, first as a railway auditor and then in the public service of the crown colony of Ceylon as Auditor-General. He served as Chairman of the Salaries and Cadres Commission also.

He was married to Esther (née Jayawardena) and had three children, Joyce, Shiela and Ernie.


The first Cabinet of Ministers of Ceylon

By the 1930s Ceylon was increasingly self-governing in internal matters, and Goonetilleke rose through the administration. With the coming of World War II and the likelihood that Ceylon would face military threat from Japan, Goonetilleke was placed at the head of a new Civil Defence Department as Civil Defence Commissioner in the War Cabinet of Ceylon, a move that proved to be justified when air raids on Colombo and other cities began in the spring of 1942. Sir Ivor Jennings, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, served as Goonetilleke's deputy, and the two worked closely with D. S. Senanayake, the minister of Agriculture and Lands. Those three, the brains trust of the Ceylon government in their time, were nicknamed "the Breakdown Gang" as they began to talk about much besides civil defence, including the steps that might be taken to move Ceylon to complete independence after the War. Eventually they were the leaders who brought the project to fruition, with independence for Ceylon on 4 February 1948, when Senanayake became Prime Minister.

In 1947 when the first cabinet of ministers was formed with Senanayake as Prime Minister, Sir Oliver, who had been appointed to the Senate of Ceylon after resigning from the public service, became the Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development. He later resigned and was appointed the first High Commissioner of the United Kingdom. Again he returned and became the Leader of the Senate and the Minister of Food and Agriculture.

First Ceylonese Governor-General

Shortly after a visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Ceylon in April 1954, the decision was taken to appoint a Ceylonese native to the post of Governor-General, the titular head of the government. Senanayake had died in 1952, and Sir John Kotalawela was Prime Minister by the time Goonetilleke succeeded to the position and took up residence in Queen's House. He continued in office for eight years, through tumultuous times in Ceylon's history including the 1958 outbreak of ethnic violence, during which he was given credit for persuading the largely Sinhalese government to take action to protect the Tamil minority.

His willingness to take difficult or unpopular positions should not have been any surprise to those who had watched his work in civil defence fifteen years earlier, including steps to confiscate market stalls and even larger businesses whose owners had abandoned them in the face of the Japanese assault, and turn them over to others who were willing to reopen them. Similarly, he experienced criticism in 1960 for his decision when faced with the classic difficulty for a Governor-General, whether to dissolve Parliament, causing a new election, or call on a different faction to form a government when the Prime Minister (in this case Dudley Senanayake, son of his old friend) lost Parliament's confidence. He was a friend of the powerful philanthropist Sir Ernest de Silva who assisted him in the ascension to Governor-General.

He earned the respect of all parties and figures, including Solomon W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the leading figure of Ceylon's left wing in the 1950s and patriarch of future generations of such leadership. At one point some politicians protested that Bandaranaike had permitted Goonetilleke, no left-winger, to stay in office, and began a movement to cut his salary as a gesture of disapproval. "His Excellency has placed his knowledge, experience and constitutional powers at the full disposal of the present Government," Bandaranaike told Parliament, "and as constitutionally proper, been most helpful to the Government."

Later life

Goonetilleke left the Governor-General's post on 2 March 1962 and led a retired life in London due to the attempted military coup. Although he wasn't part of it he was forced to resign. He also became both sufficiently affluent and sufficiently familiar with British business affairs to become an Underwriting Member of Lloyd's of London, the famous reinsurance house in London. He married Phyllis Miller, who was the secretary of the Soulbury Commission, whom he had befriended during the period of the Commission circa 1944, and lived near Marble Arch at 14, Albion Gate.

He died in Sri Lanka after a brief illness in 1978. A biography under the title 'OEG' was written by Charles Joseph Jeffries, and memorials to Goonetilleke include a six-foot bronze statue by sculptor Tissa Ranasinghe, commissioned by his family and installed in 1967 at a major roundabout in Colombo.


Throughout his life, Goonetilleke had close links with Britain, visiting the country many times on official business, and receiving a string of British honours:

See also

References & External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Herwald Ramsbotham
Governor-General of Ceylon
Succeeded by
William Gopallawa


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