News reached us last week of the demise of one of the greatest schoolboy sportsman of yesteryear. Anton Perera – a long time resident of Southern California passed away in a Los Angeles Hospital on February 20, 2014. He is survived by his beloved wife of 51 years – Marlene, son Yohan (Joey) and two daughters Sharlene and Sheryl and eight grandchildren. A memorial service for the repose of his soul will be held on Saturday, March 1, 2014, at 11 am at St. Bernadine’s Church at 24410 Calvert Street in Woodland Hills, California. The family has announced that the service will be a celebration of his life and times.
Anton Perera was a household name in the late fifties and early sixties. An intensely talented all-round sportsman, Anton broke into the limelight in 1957, as an athlete and cricketer. He was only 15 years old at the time. Anton was a legend at St. Peter's College. He was one of the most celebrated sports icons who left an indelible mark on the Peterite landscape as a talented athlete, exceptional cricketer and also played rugby until his coach Jackie van Twest advised him not to play as it would hurt his athletics.
Anton was also a good Tennis player and I am not quite sure if he played for college, at the Public Schools Championships. His father was a tennis player of national repute.
Blessed with a strong physique – Anton captained the Under-16 athletics team of his Alma Mater – St. Peter’s College to win the Junior Tarbat Trophy at the All-Island Schools Athletic Championships. He was a Public School champion in the Discus, Javelin and Putt Shot. He also performed well in the 100 metres and did the sprint relays. This was a time the Peterites had a crack athletic team. He captained the Junior Athletics Team in 1957 which went on to win the Junior Tarbat at the Public Schools Championships. Desmond Moraes, Rontjen Perera and Linus Jayawardane (since departed) were the other members of the team.
Some names of Peterite athletes during his time that come to mind are Ranjit Wijeyesekere, Ranjit Weerasena, David Van Dort, Errol de Silva, brothers Andrew & Godfrey Goonetilleke, Rontjen Perera, Neville Salvador, E.L. Fernando, N.B. Wilson, Didacus de Almeida, Roger Wright, Kevin Ruberu, Vinitha Rakajaruna, Elmo Perera, Carlyle Rudolph, Ranjith Alwis, brothers Winston & Stafford Tambimuttu, and a host of others of repute who later joined Ace Athletic Club or CT & FC.
But it was Cricket that Anton was best known. His baptism into the First XI was in 1957, at the age of 15 – under the captaincy of Jayantha Fernando. In the big match, Anton clean bowled opener Claude Perera and then took out two prolific Josephian batsmen Priya Perera and Tissa de Soysa. He had match figures of 3 for 69 in his first big match that was drawn. Anton played from 1957 to 1960, both years included. St. Peter`s were captained by Russel Duckworth in 1958, Brian Seneviratne in 1959, and Premasiri Athukorale in 1960. I cannot remember which year, but Anton caused a sensation at the SPC Vs. Ananda game. He took 8 wickets for 21 and at least six Ananda players were injured. Following year, the Peterites had a rough time at Campbell Place when they met Ananda. I believe Police were at hand to ensure no brawls took place.
During this time, he was rated the fastest Schoolboy bowler in Ceylon with Ananda`s Sonny Yatawara a close second. Anton's opening partners were Maurice Deckker (1960), Desmond Dharmaraja (1958 & 1959) and Anton Paulpillai (1957). Anton best partnered with Maurice Deckker when the Peterites had the most fiery opening bowling attack at the time in school cricket.
Cricket at St. Peter`s enjoyed a great period in the 50s and 60s – there was a galaxy of stars who represented the school by the canal.
Anton`s team mates who played alongside him are shown below:
1957 – David Muthumani, Nihal Wijesena, Darrel De Silva, Jayantha Fernando, Brian Seneviratne, Russel Duckworth, Lakshman; Serasinghe, Premasiri Athukorale, Christy Marthalingam, Anton Paulpillai;
1958 – Randy Layman, Adiel Anghie, Desmond Dharmaraja, Elmo Gunasekara;
1959 – Richard Alles, Mark de Silva, Richard Heyn, Tyrone Le Mercier;
1960 – Maurice Deckker, Didacus de Almeida.
Anton played Club Cricket for SSC whilst in school and would have certainly played for All-Ceylon had he not left for the USA in 1962 at the age of 20. He lived in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California with his wife Marlene and their three children. He was involved in developing and promoting cricket in Southern California in the sixties and played locally with Dr. Tony Don Michael (another Peterite), Thomian Dr. M.L. Idroos (STC), Dr. C. Balakrishnan (Jaffna Hindu), and a host of other players who made California their home in the post-sixties.
Nihal Perera, a Peterite of my vintage who now lives in the U.S. has sent in this comment. “Very sad to hear he is no more. Still remember him almost skittling out St. Thomas' in their 2nd innings ending at 39/9 (St.Peter's almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as they say) and he ended up with 7 for 11. Fr. Arthur Fernando called him on to the stage on the Monday after & presented him with a pair of boot laces (since he had constant issues with the laces coming undone during his Herculean effort). Man with a big heart.”
Another Peterite colleague and good friend of Anton's – Kevin Ruberu (domiciled in Australia) says, "Anton was one of the best sportsman that we ever had. He was on top of his cricket and athletics. In athletics, he was a superb all-rounder (shot putt, javelin, long jump, 100 m sprint – he excelled at); I think he also played some tennis and rugby (not encouraged by Jackie Van Twest of course).“
Anton visited Sri Lanka often and had many friends all over the world. He was one of the most popular sportsman to emerge from St. Peter`s College. One distinct character trait that stood by Anton throughout his life is that he had a mind of his own. Most times, he was right in his convictions. He called a spade – a spade, and there was no “beating around the bush“ with him. With Anton, it was a case of `what you see is what you get`.
A quote from Abraham Lincoln: "And in the end it is not the years in your life that count, It's the life in your years." Anton enjoyed a lot of life in his years. He was a good family man, an exceptional human being, loyal to his multitude of friends and a very good Catholic to his dying days. He made three visits to Toronto during his 52 years in California.
– May his Soul Rest in Peace!
BY UPALI OBEYESEKERE – The Sri Lankan Anchorman.