In memoriam: R.D.W. (Derryck) De Silva

Saturday, 11 July 2020 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Dr. Nihal D. Amerasekera

It is with deep sadness I received the news of the demise of Derryck de Silva. As the news sank in, a video of our long association played in my mind’s eye of school, medical school and the long years as a medic.

Derryck had his entire education at Wesley College Colombo in the 1940s and ’50s. There he had an impressive academic record. He was an enterprising and lively Boy Scout and a member of the 14th Colombo Scout Troop. For his duty and commitment he won the prestigious Queen’s Scout Award. It is the highest youth award achievable in the Scouting movement in the Commonwealth including the United Kingdom. Derryck was a keen rugby player and represented the school in the 1st XV. There is no greater honour for any schoolboy than being the Head Boy of the school. He was appointed the Senior Prefect in 1957. Smooth and self-confident, Derryck held this position with flair, style and swagger.

In 1960 Derryck was successful in the University Entrance Examination and won a place in the Faculty of Medicine in Colombo. He was a popular medical student arriving for his lectures in a big, loud NSU Motor Cycle. This had huge cult status. It was his pride and joy and the envy of many. The dashing young Derryck with his fun-loving and cheery disposition enjoyed immensely the bohemian life style of being a medical student. His popularity grew in the Faculty. Amidst fierce competition, in 1964 he was elected the President of the Medical Students’ Union. The moment was emblematic of Derryck’s popularity and status in the faculty. 

He was always impeccably mannered and well dressed. His thank you speech and the party that followed in the Common room are memories to cherish. Derryck was ever present at the many raucous evening functions at the Mens’ Common Room of the Faculty when drinks and music flowed freely and the students let their hair down. He continued with his sports playing rugby for the Faculty and the University and captaining the University Hockey “B” Team. He sailed through the difficult medical examinations and qualified as a doctor in 1965.

Post qualification Derryck worked at the General Hospital Kurunegala. When I started my Internship at Kurunegala in 1967, he was a Senior House Officer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The House Officers Quarters was a great place of fun where laughter was endemic. His loud trademark guffaw radiated from his room at all hours of the day and night. Despite his fun, wit and humour Derryck was much respected as a hardworking and conscientious doctor. Those were carefree days of wine and roses and of tremendous youthful exuberance. 

I recall with much nostalgia the annual Kurunegala Law-Medical match, the many parties and the sing-songs that brightened up our lives. There were shindigs at weekends with plenty of music. On those fun-filled evenings his well-schooled baritone voice reverberated in the stillness of the night. It’s impossible to convey adequately the sheer fun of his vitality, his naughty sense of humour and his roguish charm. He continued to enjoy the good life of a young medic in Kurunegala for three years. Meanwhile his work ethic and commitment to his staff and patients was acknowledged by all.

Derryck was so much a part of the Kurunegala scene when one day, from out of the blue, he announced he would be resigning from his job to start General Practice in Tissamaharama. His colleagues gave him a farewell fit for a king. I recall the backslapping and the tears on that fateful day. Within a short time, fuelled by enthusiasm and energy, he developed a roaring general practice. It was indeed a testament to his resourcefulness that so soon he was able to open a satellite surgery in Hambantota. 

Those walking into his surgery appreciated his wonderful bedside manner, warmth and humanity. In this rural idyll Derryck enjoyed a distinguished and varied life and became a respected member of that community. Despite his busy schedule, the joy of being with friends never left him. There were times Derryck got on his heavy BMW Motor Cycle and travelled several hours to visit his friends in Kurunegala. This was a glorious success story. But then Derryck had a restless spirit, constantly wanting to better himself.

After four years of service to the rural community, in 1974, he sold his practice and left for the UK to pursue a career in Radiology. He worked in the prestigious St Mary’s Hospital in Praed Street, London. I knew Derryck at school but got to know him more closely when we were Senior Registrars together at the Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases. We both served two of the best Neuroradiologists of the time, David Sutton and Brian Kendall. It was an exciting time in Radiology with the emergence of computerised imaging. 

Although the work was difficult and demanding being with Derryck was such a great pleasure. His generosity with his time and his indefatigable work ethic made him fun to work with. Derryck’s forthrightness and sense of duty stood out and he was well liked by all. When the need arose, he could be tough and combative. Wherever he worked he established a formidable reputation as a strong and decisive leader. He never shrank away from speaking his mind and knew where to draw the line. 

We all remember the time when a hospital porter called him ‘Derrick’ – he said firmly but with a smile, “call me Dr. De Silva”. Derryck’s wit and humour helped us to overcome the tough and tedious work of that institution. With Don Anthony and Anand, the Sri Lankan radiographers who worked with us, there was plenty of spirit and togetherness. The way we stuck together made us a happy team that enjoyed our Radiology providing a fine service that was much valued.

It seemed as though there were more hours in his day than in everyone else’s. In his youth Derryck was an entrepreneur. Despite the hard work and the onerous routines of Radiology he continued with his business interests dabbling in the lucrative travel industry and buying and selling upmarket luxury cars. He spoke little of his burgeoning business empire!

When he qualified as a Radiologist Derryck’s wandering star resurfaced. Many of his peers and tutors were astonished when he decided to leave the UK. He moved to Essen in Germany where he learnt the language and continued to build his career working in General and Neuro-Radiology. Resourceful as ever, for Derryck, this heralded a period of great success and achievement. The family were living their dream when tragedy struck out of the blue. The death of his first wife, Chitra, to illness was a shattering blow. There was much sympathy but the road ahead was a difficult one. 

He cared and supported his children to give them a fine education and a good start in life. His son and daughter both qualified as doctors. They now live and work in Colombo. Derryck spent a great deal of time in Sri Lanka with his wife Renate and the extended family.

We have been friends since schooldays. What stands out is his honesty, integrity and the ability to take life in his stride. My lasting memory of Derryck is his love for sing-songs when he sang the famous spiritual “Down by the Riverside” standing around a piano. He knew all the words and its multitude of parodies. This image captures the spirit of the man perfectly.

When doctoring and healthcare changed beyond recognition over the years Derryck remained a part of the ever decreasing number of medics who worked to embody the spirit of Hippocrates. Retirement meant little for a man whose zest for life was huge. Not long ago when I phoned him he was renovating an old ‘Walauwwa’ in Panadura.

More recently his own health has not been at its best. Derryck dealt with these issues with enormous courage and characteristic indomitable spirit. He remained cheerful and his enthusiasm for life never waned. This wonderful attitude to adversity is a beacon to us all.

Derryck remained a loyal true blue Wesleyite all his life. When we were both medical students and the OWSC was in its infancy we often drifted to its bar for a drink to be with our old school pals. I recall the many times we met at the London OBU meetings that ended in a dinner in a local restaurant. Whenever we met or chatted on the phone we reminisced our time at school and enquired about mutual friends. Such was the strength of feeling for his old school. This is indeed an end of an era. We remember Derryck with affection and respect.

On behalf of the worldwide brotherhood of Wesleyites we thank Derryck for his commitment and contribution to the life of the school.

We pass on our condolences to his wife Renate, son Rohitha and daughter Nilmini who gave him their love and care all through his final illness.

Grant Him O Lord Eternal Peace. (Source: