Lives of the fellows

Surendra Ramachandran

b.11 March 1934 d.11 September 2010
MB BS Ceylon(1958) MD(1961) FRCP(1977)

Surendra Ramachandran was a renowned consultant physician and an icon of the medical profession in Sri Lanka. He was born in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), the son of Ramalingam Ramachandran, a magistrate and district judge, and was educated at the Royal College in Colombo. He then went on to a distinguished undergraduate career at the University of Ceylon, achieving first class honours, eight distinctions, four medals and the Perry exhibition.

He held junior posts at the General Hospital, Colombo, and then, in 1965, gained his first consultant position at Batticaloa, in eastern Sri Lanka. Two years later he became a consultant at Negombo. He then transferred to Colombo.

As a clinician he combined knowledge, method and intuition, which made him outstanding. The setting up of the first kidney unit in Sri Lanka with haemodialysis facilities and the intensive care unit at the General Hospital, Colombo, were mainly due to his vision and efforts, and he spent a lot of his time raising the money for these projects. His son, Sudarshan, remembers his father’s enthusiasm during the construction of the intensive care unit and being taken as a schoolboy around the building site.

Ramachandran taught and examined students in the faculty of medicine of the University of Ceylon for 17 years. His students held him in high esteem and often spoke of the quality of his teaching in glowing terms. Teaching was not a chore; his methods of teaching were robust and both medical students and junior doctors were cajoled and bullied to be better doctors. Even following a dressing down, which in these progressive days would have led to letters of complaint to the dean, the appreciative victim would thank him profusely and be a better person.

He delivered several prestigious orations in Sri Lanka and also participated in several international meetings.

A commitment to research over a period of 26 years resulted in a large number of publications in peer-reviewed journals, including pioneering work on nephrology, diabetes, alcoholic liver disease, elderly care medicine and many tropical diseases. He deserves special praise as much of this work was carried out at a time when there was little or no funding provided by international organisations and funding agencies, and he often had to finance the research himself.

Ramachandran was president of the Ceylon College of Physicians in 1990 and, in 1997, president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association. During his tenure he rendered a very important service to the medical profession with the refurbishment of the building housing the association and the construction of the new wing containing the Lionel auditorium. It has been acknowledged that during his tenure the finances of the Sri Lanka Medical Association were made healthy, the paradox being that money and accounting were a mystery to him.

For his services to medicine he was awarded the title of ‘deshamanya’ (‘pride of the nation’), one of the highest national honours in Sri Lanka.

Life outside medicine held the same focus, enthusiasm and energy, whether it was collecting bronzes of south Indian dance forms, designing houses or the ceremonial cloak of the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka. He could also drive those around him to greater feats. His wife, Nirmala Devi née Kathirgamatamby, successful in her own right in the Sri Lankan civil service, was persuaded to write three volumes on Hindu culture and heritage in her retirement.

This account may give a misleading impression of a very intense, focused human being, driven to achieve. Although there were elements of that, he was also fun to be around. He was a very social being and enjoyed holidaying around the world. He liked to have his leg pulled by his three grandsons who could do no wrong. He loved British comedies, with Yes minister being his favourite, although, in his view, Jim Hacker’s first action as minister should have been the incarceration of his civil servant Sir Humphrey.

Those of us who knew Ramachandran well will remember him as a man of superb intellect allied to an unfailingly positive attitude and a focused mind. He was a loyal, dedicated, brilliant, graceful adviser and friend. His was a life crowded with achievement. It burned with intensity while it lasted and set an example to everyone around him to lead productive lives.

Dennis Aloysius
Sudarshan Ramachandran

[Ceylon Medical Journal Vol.56, No.1, March 2011]

(Volume XII , page web)

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