Much loved educationist Bro Alexander bids adieu By Elmo Leonard
Posted by webmaster on January 16 2011 23:36:40
Much loved educationist Bro Alexander bids adieu
By Elmo Leonard
The passing last week of Rev Bro Alexander 81, the “most loved” director of St Benedict’s College, Colombo, weighs heavily on the hearts of many thousands of Benedictines in Sri Lanka and spread through the English-speaking world.
Bro Alexander’s uncommon life of humility and poverty will remain etched in the hearts of all those who knew him, more than his achievements in the spheres of education and sports.
Following a fall he had in October last, Bro Alexander lay in a state of semi-consciousness. He was rushed to the hospital in Kurunegala and transferred to the hospitals in Kandy and Colombo.
Visited by hundreds of past Bens at the National Hospital, Colombo, he understood what was communicated to him and remained cheerful to his last, in spite of having lost his speech. Earlier Bro Alexander had fought out a bout of cancer.
The 147 year-old St Benedict’s College counts past-student associations in Australian cities, Sydney, Victoria and Perth; Canada’s British Columbia and Toronto; Dubai; New York, California; Paris and London from where condolences pour into Colombo, OBU Secretary Darrel Ludowyke said.
Bro Alexander was also revered by his past students of St Anne’s Kurunegala, St Anthony’s Wattala and De Mazanod Kandana, where he had spells as director. Beginning his career at St Ben’s in 1950, Bro Alexander is remembered in his role of 1956 as class teacher, book depot manager, bell ringer and sacristan. He accepted the many and diverse jobs entrusted to him with humility and once served as Bro Provincial being the head of the La Salle fraternity, a post, he soon asked to be relieved of. Other schools he served as teacher includes De La Salle Mutuwal, St Sebastian’s, Moratuwa, St Joseph’s Grandpass and schools in charge of the Christian brothers in Pakistan and the Philippines.
Small of stature, Bro Alexander was often seen walking the streets of Colombo. It is widely supposed that Bro Alexander walked his errands empty of pocket and stomach. Old Bens who once went to Bro Alexander’s room and found he was not there, noticed a net of old coir rope tied together in place of a mattress. His bed sheets were torn and darned and mat, more holed than whole. He ordered the intruder Old Bens to take away the mattress and bed sheets they had purchased for him, and forbade them to enter his room again.
The last of the great directors of St Benedict’s, Bro Alexander retired in 1988 having served five years as director and having brought the Kotahena school back to stability following the rock-bottom-level, the College had sunk, under his predecessors during the 1970s and 80s. His hallmark was his attribute of not offending opposing factions, yet, a strict disciplinarian. Bro Alexander organised the St Ben’s carnival to raise funds in the 1980s and did not touch money. Perhaps, in tribute to Bro Alexander’s great honesty and integrity, the legendary banyan tree of the College, shed its leaves, as in fall to enter its winter, unending.
“I am a Sinhalese; we spoke English at home” Bro Alexander, who hailed from a prominent family in Kurunegala, once, said. Bro Alexander’s personality stands like a beacon among others of his religious community who served in Sri Lanka, coming from England (Bro Hardy, the son of the Rear Admiral of Britain), Bro Athanasius from a prominent family in France), and others through over a century, from all over Europe. There was also a Burmese, Bro James, who urged on, the renowned Buddhist monk Narada Thero as a student, to take to a Buddhist religious life.
Bro Alexander’s oratory attributes included simplicity, spontaneity, sharpness and style, selected for every occasion, whether he spoke in English or Sinhala. His words brought the sun into every occasion. Once, when the aged Old Bens took on and won a soccer match against the equally aged Old Joes, Bro Alexander, when giving away the trophy, said that the Old Joes allowed the Old Bens to win.
Bro Alexander infused trust into his students by making it optional for a letter of excuse, when they were absent from school. When a class was without a teacher, he volunteered to teach. When he was transferred from a class, he informed no student, just in obedience to his superiors walked away.
Whenever the media carried anything in Bro Alexander’s favour he took great pains to find the journalist and plead, that nothing in his favour ever go into print. It was better to ask a tortoise for a feather than to ask Bro Alexander to pose for a press photograph. Yet, the Old Bens went Japanese culture, when they erected a five storey building in his honour (2003) when he was up and about.
Bro Alexander spoke very little about religion; never about politics. He was never known to exhibit negative sentimentality towards anyone. He was laid to rest amidst members of his religious community, at Madampitiya Burial Grounds, Colombo 15. His grateful, knowing not how better to honour the self-effacing personality, just, continued singing hymns in English and Sinhala.
Under the Banyan tree
The Small man we see.
When in dreams of bliss
Mere Benedictines we kiss;
That image as it sprawls
Upon St Benedict’s walls.