He was Nihal Samarasinghe to many, Sam to some and to the vast majority who Sang Along with him he was ‘Sam the Man’, who kept their toes a tapping, both nationally and internationally for something close to 60 years, not counting his school days at S. Thomas’. All who knew him or knew of him have lost, a relative, a friend, an entertainer and the Centenary Group of S. Thomas’ at Mt. Lavinia, its President.
Nihal, left us all on Tuesday 11th July evening, without notice, having felt uneasy while swimming.
No doubt he will say, as he sang, that it was a ‘Wonderful World’.
( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asxPzCxAY28 ).
It was on 24th June 2017 that he came late for a meeting. The reason for the delay was reasonable as he was practicing his Japanese songs to enable him to entertain Japanese guests who were expected at the hotel. The same day he was requested to write two articles to the ‘Centurion’, the News Letter of the Centenary Group, one the Presidents message and the other ‘in lighter vein’. The Old boys week Saturday lunch come to mind, when given the opportunity to speak after partaking of the usual, he would entertain the large number including the Warden, the Chaplain and hundreds of others, until a part of the food is digested, with an anecdote after another. In fact the laughter begins when Nihal rises to the occasion, before even a word is spoken, for we knew what to expect, though not the details, that was the surprise.
Nihal was ever willing to support anything Thomian. As president, he undertook the task of raising funds by the Centenary Group to paint the main classroom block, where every single student of the College would have spent several years, in time for the celebration of ‘100 years at Mount’. For Sam the Man, it will be done.
Nihal, with his saxophone, a roving microphone and his voice, did not leave room for anyone not to Sing Along. All left, having sung in the best way we knew, even those who had not sung before.
The internet provides a glimpse to the variety he presented at a Sing Along, together with the DVDs he has left behind.
Sam the Man will be missed, he will be sorely missed, by many. As we think of the next Sing Along, it will be Nihal Sam that we will think of.
As ‘The Times of Sri Lanka’ dated 13th July from Toronto, Canada states, ‘News has reached us in Toronto that Nihal Samarasinghe, popularly known as “SAM THE MAN” had passed away last evening in Colombo.
Nihal Samarasinghe, was an icon of the local music scene. With more than six decades of performing experience as a professional musician, Sam travelled all over the globe with his Sax. An Old Thomian, Sam held his own in the music circuit and entertained Sri Lankans all over the world till the very end. In addition to playing the Sax, Sam was a balladeer and had an inimitable style of performing. It will be hard to replace him in the music circuit in Sri Lanka. Sixty years in showbiz as an active singer/saxophonist and Sam the Man has no regrets he chose music for his career and not an academic one. Music had an unexplainable fascination for Sam, the chords coloured his life. No sooner he left college he grabbed the first opportunity that came his way to play sax in the popular swing and dance band of that era- The Manhattans.
“My first booking was with Leonard Franke’s band The Manhattans takes me back to 1957 and if I remember right the date was August 2. I was just after college and I had to play the sax, no vocals.
On the request of Tony Fernando in 1964 Sam played for the Jetliners while keeping the Escorts going. It was in 1966 the band ‘Sam the Man’ with a compelling sound of two saxes from Sam and Saybhan, two trumpets – from Neville Peiris and Denzil Lazaraus was started. Others in the band were Jimmy Peck piano, the Schwalie brothers, Dicky- bass, Errol – lead guitar, Maithri Mervyn de Zilva – drums, the female glitz Esme de Silva – vocals and Maurice Balasingham – male vocalist. For extra colour the go go girls – in vogue then – Sandra Barrington, Sherine Peck and Asuntha Herft.
They all made up ‘Sam the Man’ the band that found swift success. Competition was high, it was a common thing for members to move from one band to another. Personnel changed and so Gabo Pieris joined Sam the Man as drummer and Priyanthi Manamperi as vocalist and in the following years by Noeline Mendis (Honter)’.
Play on Sam, we miss you, You will continue to be the Sun that will Shine.
Colombo – 1957,a boy who had just left school was asked to play the Saxophone for Leonard Franke’s band “The Manhattans.” He never looked back. Music was to become his life for the next sixty years. It took him from the Royal Albert Hall in London to the United States, Salzburg-Austria, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Zambia, The Middle-East, India, Pakistan and Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
The importance of being Nihal Samarasinghe, popularly known as ‘Sam the Man,’is more than being an “icon of the Sri Lanka English popular music scene.”A man like Sam had to be around for sixty years in post-independent Sri Lanka, to lead us confidently in singing the songs of the dominant global culture. As a nation, competing in international arenas with our own dialect of Sri Lankan English, with its own Sri Lankan English linguistic diction, he had to be there.
Men like Sam were the pioneer builders of that popular self-confidence of Sri Lanka as an English speaking nation, singing the popular songs of the English speaking world, anywhere in the world. He earned the accolade ‘King’ of the Sing Along, having introduced the first Sing Along Concert in Sri Lanka in 1997, together with the Y’s men of Sri Lanka.
Sixty years after he left S.Thomas’ for a career in music, he was laid to rest on Sunday, July 16 2017. His old school in Mount Lavinia in a rare gesture of condolence lowered the school flag to half-mast. It was perhaps the first time that S.Thomas’ College had honoured an old boy for his music, in this manner. When he was taken away from his home at 50 Hotel Road, Mount Lavina after a simple Buddhist ceremony, college prefects sang the college song before his casket, and carried him away.
He played his Saxophone and sang his songs in his eightieth year in life. That was the beauty of his existence. He leaves behind powerful memories of how he gave brave and beautiful expression to his songs. Those who performed with him with “The Jetliners” in the 1960’s and later with his own “Sam the Man and his Gaylord’s” have said of Sam, “music had an unexplainable fascination for Sam, the chords coloured his life” describing him as “a man with an inimitable style of performing.”
His music of the night which reverberated from the sanctums of the Old Thomians’ Swimming Club, leaves behind the echoes of the “ Tennessee Waltz,” “Beyond the Reef,” “Stranger on the Shore,” “My Way,” “It’s only a paper Moon,” “Marie the Dawn is Breaking” to the moments of sunset at the Terrace of the Mount Lavinia Hotel with “Red sails in the Sunset,” “South of the Border,” “I’ll take you home again Kathleen” or the evenings at the Harbour Room of the Grand Oriental Hotel in Fort with “He’ll have to go,” “Moonlight and Roses,” “Banks of the Ohio,” to “Darling how can you forget so soon.”
This was his flamboyant life style for six decades. Sam the Man with his Saxophone and his songs which brought happiness and left memories of great moments to hundreds in Sri Lanka and overseas, as one of Sri Lanka’s true international entertainers.
There was also a routine disciplined lifestyle of “Sam the Man” in Mount Lavinia. He derived his strength from the simplicity of his life style which enabled him to sing along to his eightieth year. On Sunday mornings he used to walk to the Sunday fair at the Mount Lavinia junction looking for herbs, a fascinating “organic” collection that turns up at the stalls of small vendors, to make his nectar for healthy living. Then three or four times a week he used to walk to the S.Thomas’Swimming Pool, for the swims he used to relish.
Away from the glamour of the lights of the many evenings of his life, he knew how to live his life in relaxed comfort. Of course Sam and his wife Felicia were bestowed with a home in one of the few remaining gardens on Hotel Road. Their son Nuwan is pursuing his own career in computer engineering, and his own interest in music in the United States.
It was in that tiny world of the men’s changing room of the S.Thomas’swimming pool that he used to hold sway. His conversation with a few of us, the regulars who hardly knew much about music, turned into a fascinating exercise. He enlightened us from the history of Jazz and its New Orleans days, to popular English country music, and the issues in creating good taste in western music and song, in Sri Lanka.
He was trying to tell us we have never belonged outside the global home; we all cannot but share with others across the world. They were contained in the iconic nature of some of those songs of the international popular English music scene, he sang for us in Sri Lanka.
In the evening of his life “Sam the Man,” “the icon of our club” left with us a picture of a man who has led a meaningful, productive and disciplined life in the Sri Lanka popular English music scene.
Sent by a member of the
Old Thomians Swimming Club
How I came to know “The Man” they called Sam.
He was really Nihal Chandra De Silva Samarasingha – the man. I spotted him for the first time (1955) performing on stage at the then annual scout concert where he played hilarious parts with even more humor than intended and brought the house down. The streak was in him. Sam told me that he was initially declined admission to STC based on the then criteria. His father went straight to Warden De Saram and after inquiry the Canon boomed that the boy would probably not make the grade. His father boomed back and said the role of the school was to make men out of boys and his son deserves a chance to prove that role of STC, and moreover, the patriotic neighborhood would be wondering why the rejected boy would be walking to the bus stop, and it would embarrass the school. The Canon was silenced and Sam was admitted – probably the first win-win situation in Ceylon before winning independence. What a win it was for both sides.
I became a cub scout in 1953 and joined the scout troop in 1956, the year of Sam leaving STC, although he continued to be a very active supporter of the troop till the mid 1960s. One of the first pictures I saw of Sam was in the scout room where he was receiving the Queen’s Scout Certificate and Badge (1953) from Lord Soulbury, the then Governor General of Ceylon. It was quite a picture for the time (black and white and without a blur) as it was taken at the very moment of Sam’s salute – the Governor with his regalia (feathered hat and all) and Sam in his simple but smart uniform. The picture made quite an impression on me and much later on I realized it was the contrast in stature – the mighty empire, recognizing the accomplishments of a “local” boy with the boy not looking silly without feathers. On the scroll board in the scout room for Queen Scouts, fourth from the top was 1953 N. C. De S. Samarasingha.
Sam’s nickname in school at the time was “Local” (in English) or “Lokadaya” (in Sinhalese). How it originated is quite interesting. Apparently, Lokadaya had a cricket mania (like most of us then) and used to execute that classic stroke called a “Pol adi” with great regularity and finesse. Apparently the only other player with that kind of consistency in the world was a guy from Australia by the name of Bradman. Thus was born the local Bradman. When Bradman heard of this, the Australian got scared and retired, and so the Bradman part was dropped as a mark of respect for Local. Based on this notoriety and confidence, Lokadaya asked his father for a cricket set but was refused in no uncertain terms according to a by-standing family source, who, incidentally then, was also denied the benefits of this cricket set. Our Test cricket status may have come of age sooner if this wish had been granted to Lokadaya – and who knows – Pol Adi may have become acceptable to Wisden before the Scoop. Later in his musical career he used to imitate Louise Armstrong (and very well at that) and was known for a while as Local Armstrong for his rendition of “It’s a wonderful world”.
It was certainly a catchy adjectival nickname, without malice, and in retrospect his streak as an entertainer was being subliminally recognized. To us scouts, he was always the mover and shaker at scout camps, leading the campfire songs and games and getting the shy boys to participate without intimidation. On the night train from Nanu Oya to Colombo after scout camps, he would lead the boys in song in the train to compensate for the boredom with yours truly on the Ukelele. Streaks of a sing-along! His favorite song in the late 50s was “Rock Island Line” and he would make sure he would be at home to hear it on the radio (hit-parade) – the only source of music for the not so rich among us.
In the 1950s the annual scout concert was a major event in the school calendar. Usually the whole troop had to participate but the major roles were played by those with a streak or talent for song, dance, music or diction. None could match Local on all four counts. As teenagers, opportunities such as these brought out our leadership potential and for this we need to honor Mr. Wilson Israel Muthiah – a teacher of great and quiet talent, and dedication, who could spot potential and promote it. He was really proud of Sam. I too made headway into drama and athletics because of “Mutthi”. On my last day at school (1963) I happened to run into him by the chapel under the shade of a Kottamba tree. In a few minutes he summarized his mission by mentioning the names of all the scouts and their achievements. He noted with pride the disproportionate number of scouts that had become school prefects, sportsmen and undergraduates. I did not realize this myself. Sam featured very high on the list and he would have been proud of Sam’s later career and social impact. I left Sri Lanka for 45 years but kept in touch as Sam was my neighbor, but am not familiar with the twists and turns of his musical career till I returned in 2008. Others perhaps, can write better about it.
One of the rights of passage of most teenagers is to experiment with and show control over tobacco and alcohol and their known influences. There were no “drugs” in those days. Most of us stop experimenting after a few attempts either because of the taste, the lack of balance or lack of money. A few carried on and ruined themselves, although I knew of a couple of guys who swore that they performed better at math after a few puffs! No such activity was tolerated at scout camps and Local led by example. He was athletic, being good at surfing and swimming and exercised regularly to increase his vital capacity for his Saxophone. We used to jog together whenever I vacationed in Sri Lanka. The entertainment business is full of opportunities for loose behavior – and in fact in the 50s and 60’s most images of stars had a cigarette or glass of spirits in it. Sam was not loose but a star nonetheless. In the 80s he confided in me that there were business competitors who smeared his image with excessive alcohol, and I personally met people who told me so, without them knowing my association with him. They were dead wrong. Being an insulin dependent diabetic, he was particular about medications, meals, mealtimes and exercise – just as I was too – and so we both were on the same wavelength, which did not deter us from enjoying a good drink. And believe me, you cannot blow a good saxophone or play piano under Mr. Johnnie Walker’s misguidance. He had great faith in our local vegetables and fruits and did his own shopping for them at the Sunday Fair at the Mount Lavinia junction, in his rubber Bata slippers, carrying a familiar reed bag (pan malla). He was proud of being local all the way.
Local had that common touch referred to by Rudyard Kipling. The neighborhood had some areas close to slum conditions but whose inhabitants were yet quite an accepted and essential component of the community – the handymen, the vegetable and fish mongers, the gardeners, the car drivers, the daily maids, the fishermen on the beach, the beach boys and even the minor staff of the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Local and I knew them all by first name. One was a man who rented surf boards at the hotel. For some favor by Sam, he decided to gift Sam a surfboard which Sam painted a light blue but yet let the man rent out. Pretty soon I had the use of this board at no cost – a major beach privilege at the time for a teenager.
Once when back on vacation in Sri Lanka I had to visit Moratuwa and decided to take the bus for old times’ sake. While walking up to Galle Road, Sam came out of his garden and we both greeted each other and walked up the road without inquiring from each other where we were going. At Galle Road I had to cross the street to catch the bus and found the old familiar bus stop sign missing. Sam also crossed the road with me. Bystanders told me to hail the bus as it nears and sure enough the bus slowed down and expected me to hop in while it was yet moving. I hopped in reminiscing my teenage years and moved to the back of the bus to meet Sam again. He had hopped into the bus from the back. This was Sam at the peak of his fame. He was going to Ratmalana and hopped off the bus while it was yet in motion. On my way back about 4 hours later Sam was sitting in his veranda. I invited myself in and we chatted over beer. I noticed his parked car. On inquiring why he took the bus instead, he calmly explained to me the wisdom of not using the car in Sri Lanka for trivial chores. Obviously it was a scout’s upbringing and Mutthi would have been thrilled at this humility and simplicity. And I felt good too. We were both in the same boat.
Sam passed away from a suspected heart attack – or a coronary thrombosis, if you want to make it sound musical, expensive and exclusive. I, however, think that he had some trouble in his heart in 1956. It was during a scout camp at The Springside Camp site in Horana. During this week long camp we had daily sessions in various scouting activities including hikes, first aid, outdoor games, quiet time (meditation), camp fires, cooking, etc. Ironically, it happened during the first aid lecture. “Local”, the high and mighty Queen’s scout that we looked up to, decided to give us a lecture on the physiology of the heart. Of course, he had to be correct after being decorated by the Queen. I was quite surprised that I had such a thing in me doing what Local said it did – and with no batteries at that. And we learned some new powerful words like aorta, ventricle, auricle, valves (which most of us at age 12-13 thought were found only in car engines), pulmonary, vena cava, oxygenation etc. On returning home I eagerly related my cardiac physiology lesson to my father, who after listening quite intently said it was not correct. I was in a dilemma. It was either Sam or my father and I was biased to the latter. So Sam was wrong. Misleading young boys – Thomians, at that – with the power bestowed upon him by the Queen was simply not done. I approached puberty with such perplexing unresolved issues while other organs competed to demand priority over the heart. So what was wrong with Sam’s heart? It was his auricle. My father said the heart chamber Sam was referring to was not the auricle but the atrium, and since attending medical school I have confirmed this, and found Sam to be wrong. In medical terminology auricle refers to the ear (although there is a minor structure in the heart also called the auricle). But in Sam’s case he might not have been all that wrong. In his heart, he may have had an ear for music!
On a hike to Horana town and back (with a midday dip in a stream close by) there was an incident that may have contributed to his diabetes. We were somewhat lost in a strange neighborhood and “Local” inquired from a typical small but unusually decorated country home how to get back. The elderly lady responding to his inquiry was quite effusive and in typical unsophisticated country fashion decided to relate to “Local” how her daughter had just got married yesterday and that the multilayered wedding cake that was quite visible from the veranda had not been completely consumed, and would the boys like to have a piece each. Conveniently, we all happened to be hungry, and “Local”, never a man to disappoint any one – especially a country lady – feigning reluctance, volunteered to accept the challenge on our behalf. The cake and some other confectionary were unusually sweet and may have been the norm for country folk at the time. It was indeed a very unusual and sweet incident and may have led to Sam developing a sweet tooth.
After this feed, “Local” decided to have a walking race back to the camp, a distance of about 3 miles. Yours truly won by about 600 yards and it was the first time I realized that I had some speed and endurance. But, there was a price to pay for this victory. By the time Sam returned about a mile behind, the watcher handed him a telegram which said that the mother of one of our campers had passed away and was needed back home pronto. Arrangements had to be made to send him home and while such arrangements were being made, I was chosen unanimously to walk back to town to dispatch a telegram to the family. The post master had difficulty with the message that was signed by Mr. Aruliah, our master in charge. He insisted that it should be written Aru-lai-ya – two extra words that we had not budgeted for. I was down ten cents and up another 6 miles! But, it may have strengthened my legs and improved my stamina as things turned out for me. Thanks Sam.
Even after leaving school “Local” used to attend most of our scout camps and the one at Pedro Camp Nuwara Eliya was eagerly looked forward to. My grandparents also happened to live in Nuwara Eliya. For 3-4 days before camp “Local” would stay with me at my grandparents to enjoy the April Nuwara Eliya ambience. My grandpa was quite an entertainer himself (a former STC chorister) now with an emboldened voice in the evenings, with spirits – but not of the holy kind. He was known in town for his raucous British pub and army songs. We as grandchildren had to join him in the evenings and learnt all these songs that our aunts did not approve of. I yet perform them if the company is appropriate and spirits are good. Local and grandpa was a great mix and I believe that my grandpa had some influence in Sam becoming a classy entertainer. Sam did have some songs that would have diminished his chances of sitting on our Board of Governors – but they would be tickled by them, for sure.
One of the hikes from Pedro Camp was to Hakgala Gardens. Getting there was easy and downhill, a distance of about 6 miles. We were to return by bus part of the way. As if to test our grit, the weather turned bad and there was a thick mist by early afternoon and were told by the locals that buses would not run till the mist cleared and it would be best to walk back. Local took their advice and ordered us to walk back. We were cold and somewhat hungry but had no choice. In those days there was hardly a house along the road. A regular hike back would have been drudgery, but came “Local” to the rescue. He devised a new form of marching that went “a one, a two,………, a nine, a ten, forwards, backwards, sideways, inwards, and a one, a two and so on. The four directional movements were from your right leg. It was something novel and entertaining and took away the drudgery and was something of a marching sing along as we had to recite the count all the way back. No one caught cold so it must have been therapeutic too. I must have gotten tougher.
I was living in Ratmalana at the time (1949-1957) and quite unknowingly, our rented house belonged to Sam’s grandfather, who was quite a man himself. He lived two doors next and we became fast family friends. We moved to Sam’s neighborhood on Hotel Road in 1958 and the connection then became apparent. We then became neighborhood friends. His parents had an open, friendly house where the neighborhood boys (mostly Thomians) were always welcome. Those were the days when walls were low, gates and doors were not locked, verandas were not enclosed and garden fruit tress had many admirers. Sam’s mother was considered the most fashionable and pretty Sinhalese lady in the area according to my mother – the other outgoing ladies being mostly Burghers, who eventually migrated to Australia as they could not out do Sam’s mother in simple style.
Sam never had formal music education from a young age like some children do. He decided on this after leaving school and when we moved into the neighborhood, there were complaints from some that there were strange and unbearable noises emanating from Sam’s house. There was obviously a beginner music student in the neighborhood. A big name magistrate lived next door to Sam and had to be given due respect too! When Sam realized I was struggling at the piano he decided to visit me and give the magistrate a break. He asked me how to repeat a note twice on his Sax. I had no clue and showed him that on the piano I just pressed the key twice. I then thought Sam was musically a hopeless case. My father who was indisposed and bed ridden at the time also did not appreciate Sam’s early interpretations of lullabies. But in no time Sam became audibly acceptable and lulled the whole neighborhood to peaceful sleep. My father passed away within 4 months but I did not accuse Local of hastening his demise. He might be playing for my father up there somewhere to show how he has improved. It is indeed rare for music talent to surface in later years as it did in Sam’s case. What a unique way to toot a horn!
After leaving college, Sam initially worked for Apothecaries and subsequently at H.W. Caves and Company, one of the most prestigious booksellers of the time, catering mostly to the foreign and western educated. Winners of class prizes at STC had vouchers that could be exchanged for book value. I took my Rs. 12 prize voucher and decided to purchase Darwin’s Origin of Species but found the book cost Rs.15.50. Local spoke to the manager and I went home with the book, which I yet possess. Others of my vintage later explained to me how they too had run into Sam at Caves when they had to get their expensive imported English university books. As usual Sam spoke to the manager – and he may have been too good at it – for, subsequently, Caves went out of business………. and Sam went into music.
After Caves, he worked for Ceylinco and then for Apex Aluminium where he offered a solution to the Board of Directors for a nagging problem. The Board consisted of all leguminous Royalists and as business was stagnant – due to austerity policies at the time – they were eagerly looking for new blood with magnetic properties and were delighted to find it flowing in the veins (and auricles) of Local, who they then discovered was a Thomian. The Board collectively decided they needed luminous Thomian blood – and A+ve at that! Business picked up but Sam gave preference to his calling.
While on the subject of books …….when I was living in California I had a very representative library. Close by was a lady who is presently my wife. She had gotten to know Sam and wife well, quite independently of me and obviously seemed quite impressed with him. On one of Sam’s visits to Los Angeles he decided to meet with the lady. She asked me whether she could use my house to entertain him. I agreed. Sam was not aware of our engagement and we were not keen to make any early announcements. I was out of town and Sam apparently was entertained well. While she was doing the cooking for a home-made meal, Sam decided to explore the house and discovered my library and “The Origin of Species”, on the fly leaf of which was my signature, to which he could not relate as it had matured quite a bit since leaving STC and probably had the illegibility of a noted doctor. He also discovered two books of jokes, quips, limericks and quotations which would be helpful in his entertainment business and inquired of her weather he could have them for some time and promised to return them. Without my permission she gave the OK – and I did not miss the books. About 2 months later I am visiting Sri Lanka and decide to call on Sam. Over beer we watched cricket and had our usual “conchat” and suddenly he disappeared for a few minutes and comes back with two familiar looking books. He wanted me to return them to this “bloody nice bit”. He then continued to describe my fiancé to me in inimitable detail (physical, personality, social, etc), and his history of involvement with her – as she was a Past President of the Sri Lanka Housewives Association, for which he used to perform (with a heart) as his rates were very concessionary if the cause was good. I checked the fly leaves, and sure enough, there were my signatures. He then describes my house to me and the meal. He then casually asked me whether I had heard of such a person and I replied that I probably had but had no recollection of such a well-endowed person. “You should meet her Machan. Bloody nice bit for you, I think. I’ll give you an intro. For heaven’s sake, don’t lose the books Machan”. On my return, armed with the intro letter, I approached the “nice bit” and 5 months later Sam’s Sax emceed our wedding in Colombo. What an intro! What a bit! And, as he quipped with me later, “all these bits Machan, add a ch to their name at the end”. Mine hasn’t as yet…….. but, I will keep you posted, if you maintain your membership in the Centenary Group.
Local also happened to be one of the richest scouts in the troop. How? In those days there was a fund raising drive on the scout calendar called “Chips for Jobs Week”. We would do odd jobs in the neighborhood and earn money that we could use for expenses during camps. Earning about Rs. 10-15 for the week was a big thing. Local would end up with about Rs.40 – 50 (about 2 months of school fees). Fund raising seemed to be in his blood in addition to an ear in his heart. But how? For about 3-4 years he seemed to have had a “contract” with three boarding house masters (bachelors) to clean their rooms. In order of popularity they were Mr. F.J Senaratna (English literature, whose room was once mistaken for the college library), Mr. J. J Jesudasan (Sautthu, chemistry) and Mr. K.T.Y Perera (Bada, geography). The mess in their rooms was also of the same ranking according to Local. There was an unconfirmed rumor that after Local left the troop he sold this contract to one of the others. A price was never made public – a business streak of sorts!
Little known was Sam’s love of gardening. It was not a big garden but well maintained. He had a soft corner for Begonias and his fruit trees bore good fruit to the sound of his music. His sweet jack fruit was much sought after by the magistrate, who otherwise was quite disturbed by Sam’s acoustics. Once, in a Malaysian hotel dining area he noticed a Kaabaranka (star fruit) tree on the grounds. The fruits were unusually large, with more color and tasted better. He carefully brought the seeds home and planted them and today we have them doing their thing on Sri Lankan soil. Coincidentally, they happen to be my wife’s (that bit) favorite fruit and she bugs him every month for its harvest. Apparently, has the highest Vitamin C content of all fruits! It may have helped him to hit 80 and the high notes.
Also, coincidentally, I was at my dentist the day after the funeral. He has music of the 50s, 60s, and 70s constantly playing in his surgery. Sam was on the air and I mentioned Sam’s demise to him and we were both surprised that he was also Sam’s dentist for years. Apparently, early in Sam’s career, his Sax had trouble fitting in to his lower teeth and jaw. It required some cosmetic dentistry and the dentist was so proud that what he did helped Sam’s superior performance. We were listening to Sam’s CDs that he had autographed and gifted to the dentist. According to the same dentist my teeth were beyond repair.
So here was a local man, a disappointed cricketer, with a hearing problem in his heart, a sweet tooth and personality, a late blooming musical talent with the magnetism of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, with a conscience bearing business streak, who could talk to managers while being decorated by the Queen. Obviously, such a man had difficulty balancing such facets of personality and needed help. And who should come to keep him in balance? A Bridgetian – by the name of Felicia. According to inside sources, the period of courtship was quite extended in accordance with the then platitude of “Be calm and date a Bridgetian”. He proposed in 1962 – without a prior consultation from me – at the GOH, while dancing, to a rendition of Jim Reeves’ “I love you because” – a hit at the time. Apparently, he was quite shaky and she had to hold him firm and close to avoid disaster. It may have been a ploy! It took 6 years for the words to sink in. Those were the early days of his crooning and she may have wanted to encourage him to polish his art. Also, he was a Gaylord at the time and Felicia (a true Bridgetian) may have needed time to check out the gay part – after all, Sam was a noted Thomian! She was also most probably tied up in knots – because of Sam’s scouting heritage. There is also a demonstration of Thomian grit somewhere in this story. The final knot (that Mutthi would have been proud of, and not a half hitch) was tied in 1968 and didn’t loosen even after almost 50 years. What a knot! What a hitch!
Historically, the Centenary Group was conceived and initiated at 50 Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia – Sam’s residence. The earliest group was about 10 dedicated old boys of various heritages. The first few AGMs were also held there till the numbers grew. So, in a way he was the father of the movement – non-patriarchal, quiet, magnetic, non-intimidating, welcoming, leading, musical, humorous, serious, dedicated, simple, sincere and honest.
The silenced Canon and Sam’s father would have been pleased at the innings he played. And we all are blessed to have known him, musically and otherwise. He was indeed a “Jolly Good Fellow” and an exemplary Thomian.
Sam, my friend …….. Esto Perpetua and lauda in aeternum
- Nihal de Silva