Dearest Thillahan Anna
Last night I saw an unusually sparkling, shining bright star through my window when I was talking about you, and I was told that you are trying to tell me that you are in a better place. I don’t doubt that for a minute, but it does not lighten my grief of losing you, who I was close to all my life, as long as I can remember. Where shall I start, where shall I finish?
I remember the times spent together back in Sri Lanka. You spent time at home with us during the Che Guevara movement in 1971. I remember your lighthearted jokes, and feeling lucky to have you at home during a lock down period like now. I remember you picking me up in your red sports car “Sprite” - your pride and joy at the time - from the JHFC boarding for holidays to take me to our home in Kandy. We would stop on the way in Vavunia for lunch, and once when I asked you if the meat we were eating was the taste of a real wild boar, you replied that it could even be meat from the stray dogs that were roaming around. While you were saying this, I picture at the time you were thoroughly enjoying the meal with a gustatory sweating.
Although you led a carefree life, going out dancing and partying with your friends, and your fights with challenging boys, you did not forget the duties you had to your parents. I still have a letter you sent to me while I was in the boarding when you planned to go to the UK for further education. The letter advised me how I had responsibilities to our parents and that I should better myself in life in every way.
After my A/L results, you spent the first night of your wedding trying to contact people to make sure I had entered the medical college. I spent quite a lot of my university breaks with you and Anni in Colombo and Jaffna, and you even gave me permission to drive your sports car. Observing your life, and high standard of living, inspired me to work hard.
Mahen and I were so proud to be present at the book launch of “The Illustrated History of Sri Lanka” in Colombo. I was proud of every aspect of your life. You made sure that you maximised all the blessings that God showered on you, making use of your looks, intelligence, wealth and time, doing your best at your work, leisure, charity, and time spent with the family. Your passion for history, culture and tradition is evident in the books you have written and given to the Sri Lankan community and to medicine. Your skill and experience in medicine were such that hospitals came looking for you, and the doctors working with you held you in the highest regard. You were stylish, creative, and passionate, yet gentle and patient, and a proud and smart person. Your outlook on life was very philosophical.
Anna, sadly you were taken away when you and the family least expected. Sadly, you did not get the chance to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your hard work in retirement until a ripe old age like mummy and daddy, but it was all for a good cause. I will walk with my head held up high and with your memories in my heart knowing that you are my dearest brother. I will try to follow your example and be the person you would like me to be.
It is with profound sadness and disbelief that we received the news of the passing of Dr Anton Sebastianpillai (fondly called Thillahan Anna), my dear brother-in-law on 4th April 2020.
I have known Thillahan Anna since 1979, the year I got engaged to Sybilla his youngest sister. My early memories are that of the high esteem Sybilla held for her brother, and how proud of her he was when she herself became a doctor. From the beginning he was a loving brother-in-law and we developed a deep friendship. He remained a great companion and a reference point not only on medical issues, but also on community and family ones. We enjoyed parties, celebrations and the many annual dinner dances. He supported us with his presence in Associations where we were involved. He was a great entertainer and leader at these parties. Our relationship was strengthened by the fact that I myself grew up in the same village as his wife Vasantha and our families have links over generations.
We took great pride in his medical acumen and he was hailed as a highly respected and capable professional who was always there to respond and advise. He also was a skilled and successful author. His book on the ‘Dictionary of the History of Medicine’ not only won the British Medical Association Award but also won international acclaim, finding its place in the most distinguished libraries in the medical world. This publication remains a medical treasure. His works on the ‘A Complete Illustrated history of Sri Lanka’ was completed after seven years of research and remains a historical masterpiece. Sybilla and I were fortunate to be there along with various dignitaries which included professionals and politicians when the book was launched in Colombo, Sri Lanka in February 2012. He also published an array of other titles including ‘Dates in Medicine’ and ‘A Dictionary of the History of Science’. His collection of antiques, artifacts, books centuries’ old, and classic cars was a demonstration of his passion for history, culture and tradition.
I have witnessed his commitment to various charities to help the underprivileged as evidenced in his initiative as a founder of the “Village Empowerment Centre” in Mathagal for needy students imparting vital skills and his passion in the cause to help disabled children in the Kilinochi area. This he was able to do while he continued to enjoy practicing medicine within the NHS. Even after the Coronavirus alerts, he continued to work in Kingston Hospital until such time that he was infected with the virus. He gave his life to this compassionate cause. Thillahan Anna fills the famous description of Shakespeare: “His life was gentle and the elements all so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world: This was a man”.
We are indeed proud as a family of his commitment to his family, profession and community both here in the United Kingdom, and in Sri Lanka where he was born. We will miss him. We thank God for his life and service. Thillahan Anna will continue to live in our hearts and may he enjoy eternal bliss.
Emil Mahen Kumar
I can’t begin to imagine the extent of the loss for my cousins Kevin and Chuchi, my nephew Arlo and my aunty Vasantha. Losing a parent and a husband cannot be easy but to lose someone of the calibre of my uncle Thillahan must bring extra grief.
I have very fond memories of Thillahan uncle. As a child I remember him as a fun uncle, ever ready to party. I will never forget how he would come to our house and rip the covers off the piano and bang out a baila song for everyone to dance. He was a bringer of joy. I remember how he used to call me Jess the mess. I remember when I was temporarily evicted from my parents’ home for one or other gross misdemeanour, I woke up in the morning at uncle’s place and was presented with Thillahan mama having his breakfast. He asked me what I was doing there, and I answered that I had gone out the previous evening with Kevin and thought fit to spend the night there. He immediately replied shaking his head and through stifled laughter: “You have been thrown out!”. This is testament to his frankness, intuition, sense of humour and familiarity.
He will always be known for his literary skills and of course his exemplary medical acumen, but he was never bookish and had a genuine passion for life. He was an avid collector of various artefacts and was all in all a hugely sophisticated individual. In addition to this, he was a family man. He loved his wife and his children immensely and held family values very close to his heart. I remember on his 70th birthday he emphasised the importance of the bond with one’s children. This was, for him it seemed, the most important wisdom he could impart.
He died fighting this horrible disease that has now blighted all our lives. He was not just an extraordinary man but will also be remembered as a hero, helping corona patients despite his age-related vulnerability. He died doing what he loved and did best and the natures of his end is a reflection of his commitment to and drive in what he excelled at. In my eyes that is what defines him as a true hero.