TONY PERIES – An Appreciation

Hugh Karunanayake (2016)

A multi-faceted personality

Born in Colombo on January 15, 1931, into a family who were pioneer settlers in the then salubrious suburb of Havelock Town, Tony received his education first at St. Peter’s College, and later at St. Joseph’s College Colombo. His father Wilfred Peries was already in the top echelons of Colombo’s corporate world of the 1950s when Tony decided to cut his teeth also in the commercial sector.

He joined George Steuart and Co. as an apprentice tea taster at a time when it was the leading company on the island. He excelled in his chosen occupation and soon acquired a reputation as an outstanding tea taster. Stories about his skills were legendary in Sri Lanka’s tea industry. Endowed with a sharp intellect, and an intellectual curiosity that knew no bounds, he was moving up the corporate ladder at great speed. It was no surprise when he was appointed to the Board of George Steuarts when he was in his early thirties.

In 1968 when he was 37, he was appointed Chairman and Managing Director of the Company. An incredible feat indeed which shook the Boardrooms of Colombo’s leading companies, especially at a time when commerce in Colombo was dominated by British interests, and when all the other members on the Board of Directors of George Steuarts were expatriate Britishers.

His most engaging personal memoir George Steuart and Co. published in 2001 is ample testimony both to his extraordinary memory and to his capacity for observation and analysis, as indeed to the lucidity of his written word.

The persona that was Tony Peries however, had many other facets to it. There was hardly anything in life that did not interest him. A classic gourmand who enjoyed his food and wine, he was also a reliable authority on scotch whisky which he once described as the “nectar that comes from Scotland”. Talk to him about cameras or guns and he would provide encyclopaedic information.An early photographic enthusiast armed with a Kodak 116 and later with a Rollei Automat, he has recorded some of his visits around Sri Lanka for posterity. These include some ringside shots taken on the Independence Day.

As a young man he served as a Volunteer Officer in the Ceylon Army and if that was not enough he learnt to fly and obtained a fully fledged pilot’s licence. A talented water polo player who was a familiar figure at the Otters Pool in Colombo he took to swimming like a duck to water. His daily one hour swim that was part of his daily morning ritual, was religiously performed right through his adult life until his recent illness denied him the pleasure. The essence of the man was also in his abiding interest in travel to exotic destinations and in the lives of people. Conversation with him was a delightful experience as he either knew or knew of everybody that mattered. A voracious reader up to the very end, his reading interests were extraordinarily wide and included both creative writing and non-fiction.

Tony left Sri Lanka at 42 years of age seeking fresh pastures and lived in Australia ever since. He retired after a very successful career in Melbourne and in Sydney. That was Tony, the exemplary business executive. The wind beneath his wings was, of course, his wife Srini who he married nearly 60 years ago and who has been the perfect foil to Tony’s outstanding career. They were then a dashing young couple in Sri Lanka with Tony at the wheel of his red MG convertible and Srini the lass born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, beside him.The two of them enjoyed a happy wedded life spending much time travelling to countries near and far but always keeping themselves well informed of events taking place around the globe.

As an acknowledgement of his abiding interest in the land of his birth, Tony was elected President of the Ceylon Society of Australia in 2003 and provided capable leadership to the Society during a three-year stint. His wise counsel helped the Society through some of the many issues it faced over the years. The Ceylankan, the journal of CSA has through the years carried many excellent contributions from him- all classy outpourings from an erudite and alert mind.

On a personal note let me say that it has been a great pleasure to have known and enjoyed Tony’s company through the years, spending much time chatting, sharing meals, visiting each other’s homes, tasting the fare in various restaurants, and exchanging emails on a variety of topics. I will miss his delightful company immensely. In the words of the song:

“We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun
But the hills that we climbed were just seasons out of time”
A most unforgettable man has gone to his maker. May he rest in eternal peace.

(Based on the eulogy delivered at his funeral. Tony Peries passed away on 8th August 2016)



(In keeping with the objectives of this website, all COMMENTS must be made in the spirit of contributing to the history of this estate, planter or person i.e. names, dates & anecdotes. Critical evaluations or adverse comments of any sort are not acceptable and will be deleted without notice – read full Comments Policy here)