Lives of the fellows

George Selvaraja Ratnavale

b.10 August 1915 d.17 August 1996
LMS Ceylon(1940) MB BS Lond(1948) MD(1950) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1970)

George Selvaraja Ratnavale was the first neurologist to be appointed to the General Hospital in Colombo. He hailed from a very respectable and distinguished family in Sri Lanka. His father, W S Ratnavale, was a well known doctor in Colombo. His brothers are top medical specialists [including William Dharmaraja Ratnavale q.v.] and civil servants. His early education was at Trinity College, Kandy. While he excelled in his studies he also played a lot of rugby. Later on he played for the Ceylonese Rugby and Football Club. Later still he played golf and took an interest in rowing and sailing. While he was in England he rowed for the University College Hospital in London.

As a medical student he had the unique record of having come first in every professional examination. In the final examination he came first and won distinctions in all subjects - medicine, surgery and midwifery. He was awarded the coveted Perry exhibition, an award given to the best student in three years. He won no less than ten gold medals during his career at medical college. As a young medical officer he was commissioned into the Ceylon Army (Medical Corps) with the rank of captain and was on active war service from 1941 to 1945.

In 1947 he was sent to London for his postgraduate studies on a Ceylon government scholarship. While in England he obtained the MB BS, MD in general medicine and the MRCP.

On his return to Sri Lanka he became a neurologist at the General Hospital in Colombo, a post he held for twenty years with distinction and respect. He was a great teacher and taught both undergraduates and postgraduates. George started the neurological unit at the General Hospital. With his opposite numbers, Shelton Cabraal and David Jayamanne, respectively Sri Lanka’s pioneering neurosurgeon and neuroradiologist, the neurological unit eventually became the show-piece of the General Hospital.

At different stages in his career George spent periods overseas. In 1955 he was awarded the Nuffield fellowship for one year to study electro-encephalography at Queen Square in London. In 1960 he was awarded the Colombo plan scholarship for neurological studies at the Montreal neurological unit in Canada. There he worked with the famous neurologist Wilder Penfield [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.457]. In the same year he won a United States grant to visit neurological units in America. In 1971 he was awarded the WHO teaching fellowship at the Chaulolong Hospital in Bangkok.

In 1972 he became a neurologist at the Singapore General Hospital - the first neurologist in the country. Later that same year he was appointed neurologist to the New South Wales Health Commission in Australia, teaching both undergraduates and postgraduates.

He was appointed neurologist to the Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney, in 1976, and held this appointment until 1980 when, at the age of sixty five, he retired and returned to Sri Lanka. While he was in Sydney he was the doyen of the Sri Lankan community and he was made the inaugural president of the Sri Lankan Association. On his return to Sri Lanka he lectured for a short time at the Colombo North Medical College. Even with his large clientele of patients he found time to work at the Chitra Lane School for mentally handicapped children - a local charitable organization.

George was tall and handsome and had great charisma. He was very popular at parties and dances. The ladies loved him for his charm and witty comments. In his retirement, with all the hard work he was doing, he always found time for his large circle of friends. He loved to entertain and to be entertained. George and his wife Suthami, whom he married in 1963, loved holidays and travelling and every year the two of them would holiday in Australia and Europe. He died in England while he was on holiday. It did not surprise me that he had been at a disco dance the evening before he died. He loved life and lived it to its fullest.

B S Perera

(Volume X, page 402)

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