Lives of the fellows

Mailoo Visuvaratnam

b.7 February 1931 d.17 April 2007
MB BS Ceylon(1954) MD(1958) MRCP Edin(1960) MRCP(1960) FRCP(1981) FRCP Edin(1982) FCCP

Mailoo Visuvaratnam was a specialist in geriatric medicine at St Albans City Hospital and a former consultant physician in Kandy, Sri Lanka. His father was Visuvanather Mailoo, a postmaster. Visuvaratnam had his early education at St John’s College, Jaffna, and moved to Royal College, Colombo, when he won the Lorensz scholarship for academic achievement. He qualified as a doctor from the faculty of medicine, University of Ceylon, in March 1954 with a distinction in medicine. During his illustrious studentship in the faculty he was awarded the Chalmers gold medal for anatomy and had distinctions in pathology, bacteriology, public health and parasitology, and the Matthew gold medal for forensic medicine.

He was a house officer at the General Hospital, Colombo, from 1954 to 1956, and then became a research assistant to the professor of medicine there. He then went to the UK, becoming a member of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London and of Edinburgh.

Visuvaratnam returned to Sri Lanka in 1961. He served as a consultant physician in the general hospitals in Batticaloa, Jaffna and Kurunegala. He moved to the teaching hospital in Kandy in 1973. There he taught nurses and medical students, while continuing with his busy schedule of clinical work. Then there was an unexpected and sudden turn of events in 1983, when the ethnic troubles broke out and lives were threatened. He left Sri Lanka, with his family, at short notice, and arrived in Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. The departure of a physician of his calibre from Sri Lanka was a great loss to the country.

Visuvaratnam started work at St Albans City Hospital as an associate specialist in the care of the elderly in 1985. His work in that hospital was greatly appreciated by his patients, colleagues and the management. He was given a merit award for his diligence and hard work. After retirement in 1996 he continued to work in the National Health Service at several hospitals, as a locum consultant physician. This he did until 2004, when he completed 50 years’ service as a doctor. The practice of medicine gave him an enormous sense of fulfilment. Despite his many achievements, he remained a modest and unassuming man.

As a physician he was a superb clinician and a charming doctor. He cared deeply for his patients. His genuine interest in patients was evident to all who knew and worked with him. Visuvaratnam had great empathy for his elderly patients, and was highly respected in the local community in St Albans. His patients appreciated his humour, expertise and humility. The general practitioners and patients soon valued his skill, care and compassion, and learnt to respect his opinion.

Visuvaratnam had tremendous patience and got much satisfaction from teaching. Being a brilliant and effective teacher, he had a way of instructing juniors that often resonated with the young doctors. During his long and successful career he was a great role model, mentor and guide to many doctors. Many of his junior staff became imbued with his infectious enthusiasm, and went on to get good consultant posts in various parts of the world. They remained his lifelong friends.

Aside from medicine, like most Sri Lankans he loved cricket. He played the game in his younger days and keenly followed the international matches. His love of the sport never diminished with the passage of years. He was often keen to discuss the state of play and tactics on the phone when the game was in progress. He played a fine game of tennis and was a good badminton player.

His commitment to family life was absolute. Visuvaratnam met Thanalakshumi (‘Thana’) when she was a doctor working on his ward. They married in 1963. He was immensely proud of his wife. They were inseparable and shared so much in common. It was always a pleasure to see them together. With their daughter, they were a perfect family. It was a happy and industrious household. They shared a wide circle of friends, and were gracious hosts. The bird watching, travelling and playing bridge they did together brought them great happiness. Visuvaratnam travelled to Sri Lanka many times to visit the places and people he loved. He appreciated its diverse fauna and flora, and enormously enjoyed its stunning natural beauty.

Visuvaratnam was a deeply spiritual person, who led a simple and uncomplicated life. This made him kind, generous and helpful to the many who sought his guidance. The dignity, honesty and integrity that he showed during his life is a testament to his spirituality. He attributed equal value to all faiths. After his retirement, he was part of an informal group that met regularly to discuss the various philosophical aspects of spirituality.

He was a wonderful and helpful colleague, and I was one of the many who have been at the receiving end of his thoughtful generosity. There were times he politely disagreed, but he would always gently give his reasons. He always had a rather pastoral air, and was a calming influence on everyone. His disarming courtesy and simplicity of speech and manner was most remarkable. Visuvaratnam never had a harsh word for anyone, and was a true gentleman and will be remembered with affection and esteem.

Mailoo Visuvaratnam was survived by his wife, Thana, and daughter, Kumi.

Nihal D Amerasekera

[The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh Obituaries – Mailoo Visuvaratnam FRCP Edin – accessed 21 May 2014; Ceylon Medical Journal Vol 53, No 1, March 2008, p31]

(Volume XII, page web)

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