Categorized | SRI LANKA

Upali Wijewardene (1938-1983) – The president, Sri Lanka never had!

Posted on 13 February 2017 by admin

Let us remember Upali Wijewardene today, February 13 – the 34th anniversary of his death. I call him as the president, Sri Lanka never had. He would most certainly have been a great president too. Tragedy or mystery surrounds the disappearance of this dynamic entrepreneur who rose too fast for his own comfort and that of a few others. He was an up and coming politician besides his tremendous entrepreneurial success.

If Upali Wijewardena was among the living he would have reached the Seventy-Nine on February 17th. Alas, this was not to be as he disappeared 34 years ago on Feb 13th , just four days before his 45th birthday . This article written years ago is updated and posted here as tribute to Upali in this eventful week of two significant anniversaries in the life and times of the man..

Legally, Wijewardena is presumed dead though his body was never found. He was traveling in his own Lear jet from Malaysia to Sri Lanka when the plane disappeared. The disappearance continues to linger in the collective memory of the nation as an unresolved mystery.

3  Don Walter T Wijewardene (STC) 1894-1939 (Pioneer of the Duruthu perahera Kelaniya 1927) + Anula Kalyanawathi Wijesinghe. 

     4  Upali Phillip Wijewardene 1938-1983  Millionare businessman. Died in a Lear jet plane crash over the seas of Malaysia. He produced Delta toffees, Unic Radios, UMC Mazda, Upali Fiat, Kandos chocolates, Soap, Upali News papers and had businesses in Malaysia. He was Basnayake Nilame Kelaniya temple. + Lakmini Ratwatte (3060). 

    4  Anoja Devi Wijewardene + Prof Stanley Wijesundera

        Vice Chancellor Colombo University(1979-1989). Assasinated by JVP in 1989   

      5 .Shalitha Wijesundera (Lawyer)(Chairman-NEDA-2008)

      5  Dr Rohan Wijesundera

      5  Deepthi Wijesundera

     5  Ramani Wijesundera

    4  Kalyani Devi Wijeywardene + Attygalle

      5  Dhammika Attygalle.(Director Upali Group,Basnayake Nilame,Kelaniya Temple)

The disappearance of flight MH 370 may also bring back memories from 1983 and the disappearance of the Lear Jet L35 A which also departed from Kuala Lumpur before vanishing without a trace. The L35 A Lear Jet from which nothing has been heard of todate, was carrying Sri Lanka’s top entreprenuer at the time, Upali Wijewardena. The Lear Jet took off from Kuala Lumpur at 8:41 p.m. on Februrary 13, 1983, en route to Colombo. According to media reports from the time, the flight disappeared on radar screens fifteen minutes after take off. There has been no trace of it since. Whilst there are many theories about what happened, the one I stick to is the one that due to some malfunction in the Lear Jet he was in the pressure on the cabin malfunctioned and all the occupants became unconscious until the plane ran out of fuel as it was flying on autopilot and crashed into the sea. That is because there were three subsequent instances when it happened to Lear Jets including the death of a famous Golfer in one such incident.

Excerpts of an article that appeared in Sri Lanka's

Philip Upali Wijewardene was born to Don Walter Tudugalle Wijewardene and Anula Kalyanawathie Wijewardene on February 17, 1938. He also had two sisters, along with whom he grew up in ‘Sedawatte Walawwa’, his family home in Kelaniya. Being a scion of the prestigious Wijewardene family, he was able to count among his relatives the late senator S.C. Wijesinghe, and the late President J.R. Jayewardene.

An alumni of Royal College, Colombo, Upali was a ‘perfect student’, excelling in both his studies and sports. He was also known to be an excellent equestrian and held the sport very close to his heart. Unlike most other kids who spent much time fantasising about cricket and rugby, little Upali dreamt of becoming an international businessman, owning aircraft, and riding horses. Upon graduating from the much-celebrated institution on Reid Avenue, Upali went abroad in order to pursue his higher studies. He successfully completed both his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Cambridge, both times choosing to major in Economics.

First Job

Itching to get a start in the real world, young Upali secured a position as a Management Trainee at Lever Brothers (now Unilever). As the story goes, there was only one position available and needless to say, the competition was intense. The list was finally whittled down to two applicants, of which Upali was one. In order to make his final pick, the then CEO of Lever Brothers invited both candidates to the Galle Face Hotel for lunch. According to Upali, the goal of this whole exercise was to examine their table manners. When the soup was eventually served, the other candidate had tilted the soup plate towards him to gather the last spoonfuls. At that precise moment, Upali realised that he’d managed to lock down the job.

He later left the firm due to a dispute with the Chairman, who had accused him of failing to submit some reports. Upali had then set about trying to find the reports, and found them lying in the Chairman’s file tray.

Irked, Upali bid farewell to the manufacturing giant and decided to strike it out on his own, his decision bolstered by the knowledge he’d gained during his short stint.

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