Nov 07, 2016

Senior Attorney Vernon Botejue no more

Vernon Botejue, a senior attorney who counts over 60 years at the bar, passed away yesterday after a brief illness.

Remembered along with SWRD Bandaranaike and Philip Gunawardena for their efforts to make Sinhala the official language of the courts, Botejue’s interest in this area went back to his days at S Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia. It is recorded that in 1943 Botejue, as a member of the Senior Literary and Debating Society, had proposed that “Sinhala shall be the official language of Ceylon”. The resolution was passed and this was duly recorded in the College Magazine.

Vernon had a distinguished school career winning the Mollamure Prize for History of Ceylon and the Special Prize for General Knowledge of Ceylon in 1942. After leaving school he was an active member of the OBA of his alma mater and served for several years on the Executive Committee and held office as Vice President for more than two years including the Centenary Year of 1986-87. At the Ceylon Law College Vernon won the coveted ‘Hector Jayewardene Gold Medal’ for oratory in 1948. The other contenders that year included G F Sethukavalar PC and C G Weeramanthri who later adorned the World Court Bench.

When Botejue completed sixty years of active practice as an Attorney-at-Law on December 1, 2009 reaching the “Diamond Jubilee” of his legal career he was presented a Commemorative plaque by the then Chief Justice Asoka de Silva on behalf of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka that was celebrating its own Silver Jubilee that year.

He was widely recognized by all as an Attorney- at-law with an unblemished record of service for over fifty years, a complete human with exemplary honesty and integrity and endowed with a charismatic personality. He has often been described as an institution of Mount Lavinia although he has appeared in almost every court in the country including the Supreme Court.

Veteran journalist the late Ajith Samaranayake wrote in the “Sunday Observer” of November 28, 1999 on the eve of Vernon’s “Golden Jubilee” that “In the 1950s Botejue was both a successful suburban politician and a trade unionist”. He was the President of the Party’s “All Ceylon Motor Worker’s Union” a powerful trade union of the bus workers who were often in the eye of the storm during the days immediately preceding and following the nationalisation of buses.

In 1957 he was elected to the Urban Council of Kotte as the member for Nugegoda. He was elected Vice Chairman and often served as the Acting Chairman of Kotte till 1959. In the same year he led a delegation of the All Ceylon Harbour and Dock Workers Union and participated at the May day Rally in Peking.

He had the privilege of meeting Chairman Mao himself on invitation after the rally and had discussions personally with him. Vernon was also invited and granted the privilege of delivering a message over All China Radio that was beamed to Ceylon at that time. Botejue however belonged to that school of politicians who believed in principles. Not surprisingly, he withdrew from politics in the 1960s”.

His commitment to serve his fellow citizens did not however abate. In 1960 he accepted the invitation of the Lions Club of Nugegoda to become a Charter Member of the International Association of Lions Clubs. In his Lionistic career Vernon had the distinction of being the first Sri Lankan Lion to win the ‘Top Ten Plaque’ the highest award of the Lions Clubs International for ‘International Understanding and Co-operation’ in 1973-74.

He was elected unanimously the District Governor of Lions District 306A Sri Lanka for 1980-81 and was sworn into office at the International Convention in Chicago.

He was elected the Chairman of the Council of Governors the apex body of Sri Lanka for 1981-82. He was awarded the International Presidents Gold Medal in 1980 for his outstanding contribution to the development of Lions Clubs International and service to the community. He is also a Melvin Jones Fellow of the Lions Clubs International.

Vernon Botejue has received International recognition being selected for inclusion and biographical reference in the 1985 Edition of the ‘Men of Achievement’ published throughout the World by the International Biographical Association Cambridge England and was elected a ‘Fellow of the Association’ in December 1985.

He has also been featured in the first edition of “The International Directory of Distinguished Leadership” and in the second edition of “The Five Thousand Personalities of the World” published by the American Biographical Research Institute of North Carolina, USA and was invited to accept office as a Deputy Governor of the Institute.