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Born on April 4, 1931, to Walpola Mudalige George Hercules Wijeratne and Rosalind Mariya Senanayaka, General Ranjan Wijeratne received his primary and secondary education at S. Thomas’ College, Guruthalawa and Mt. Lavinia, where he excelled in athletics and all forms of sports, debating and agriculture. After his schooling during which he was awarded the Dias Memorial Prize for Agriculture, he took to planting as a career and served as a working planter for nearly 20 years before being appointed in 1968, Manager of Demodara Group, the largest tea plantation in Sri Lanka.
In this period and in the 10 years following he was Chairman of the Ceylon Planters’ Society, Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, Chairman of the Agency section of the Planters Association, Chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association, Vice President of the Ceylon Institute of Planting, Member of the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board, and Member of the Tea Research Institute of Ceylon. He rose through the hierarchy of the private sector plantation management, ending up as Director/ Consultant of Whittals Estates and Agencies Ltd., Gordon Frazer and Co., Ltd., Bosanquet and Skrine Ltd., the leading British company group in Sri Lanka, where he served during his entire private sector career.
In 1977 he was invited by President J. R. Jayewardene to serve the government, firstly, by reorganising the Lake House Group of newspapers as its Director Operations, and in 1978 as Secretary, Ministry of Agricultural Development and Research and as Chairman of the Agricultural Development Authority. In the mid-'80s, he was simultaneously Chairman of the Agricultural Development Authority, Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation, Land Reform Commission, the “giant” Pelwatta Sugar Company Ltd., and Rajarata Food Grain Processing Co., Ltd., thus reaching the management of some of the largest public sector plantations in Asia.
Besides these posts, he held numerous other positions as Chairman, Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and member of government organisations in food, research, training, rural credit, foreign investment, essential services, national resettlement and rural development. Among his numerous posts were those he held in the Ceylon Boy Scouts Movement and the Ceylon Estate Employers Federation.
In 1984, Ranjan Wijeratne was commissioned in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel to the Sri Lanka Army (Volunteer) Rifle Corps, which was established to provide security to the plantation sector.
As an individual trained in agriculture and in administration, with experience in both the agriculture and private sectors, his entry into active full-time politics took place in 1988 when he was appointed Chairman of the United National Party, and later as General Secretary of the party. The three brief years, that followed his assassination on March 2, 1991, was the most remarkable period of this political leader’s life.
He piloted the United National Party to victory both at the presidential and parliamentary elections and in February 1985 he was appointed Foreign Minister and Minister of State for Defence by the newly elected President of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa. In 1990, his last year in office, he held the portfolio of Minister of Plantation Industries while continuing as Minister of State for Defence. During this period, he was also the President of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union and the UNP organiser for the Deraniyagala electorate, and appointed to the high-level committee of officials of the cabinet to prepare an “action programme of people based development.”
Moving into the political arena when terror stalked the land — the establishments and every democratic institution of the country faced total extinction — Wijeratne uncompromisingly, gave unprecedented political leadership to the nation’s armed forces to wipe out terrorism in every form, be it the JVP or the LTTE. To this end he made frequent visits to the south and especially to the soldiers fighting in the north and east war zones, to boost their morale and give them courage, confidence and the determination to win. He worked selflessly, fearlessly, ceaselessly, with genuine sincerity and guileless diplomacy, for the causes he believed in, and barely 24 months after moving into the centre stage of politics, when he was assassinated, he had made an indelible mark on the nation. Today he is the symbol of the greatest sacrifice made by anyone in the battle against terrorism in recent history.
As a national salute to his yeoman services, maintaining law and order and preserving the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, Ranjan Wijeratne was posthumously promoted to the rank of General; and at the second convocation at the Kotalawala Defence Academy he was honored as one of Sri Lanka’s most illustrious sons, with the conferment of the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) (Honoris Causia).
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