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Harold Herat - A Gentleman par excellence

First death anniversary

‘It is really as a gentleman that Harold Herat impressed anyone who came in contact with him. Neat in appearance, well but appropriately dressed always, he was an embodiment of decency.’

(August 31, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Born into an affluent planting family in the North-western sea board of the country, Harold Herat chose law for his career, though his father was a foreign qualified physician. While practicing law in his home town of Marawila and nearby courts, Herat was attracted to politics.

He told us how he was picked for the Nattandiya electorate in the 1977 General Election by J.R.Jayewardene, against many other formidable aspirants. It is, perhaps, this soft corner that JR had for Heart, that made him to appoint him a Minister, within one year of election as a Member of Parliament. He was the first non-Cabinet rank Minister to be appointed under the Second Republican Constitution of 1978. He was assigned the subject in which he had the greatest potential to perform - the coconut industry. Having inherited vast and excellent acres of coconut lands in the Marawila / Mudukatuwa area, though later diminished with the land reforms of the previous regime, he was expected to revitalise this important segment of our economy, which was essentially indigenous in nature. In the event, he proved to be a worthy successor to that great politician, though of a different genre, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva. who as Minister of Plantations in the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government, had laid the institutional foundation to uplift the coconut industry.

Harold Herat not only improved and rationalised this network, but also introduced new impetus through additional local investment and much needed foreign investment and innovation. The coconut statistics for the era (1978-89), not only in plantation, but also processing and marketing would amply demonstrate the contribution that Harold Herat made as Minister of Coconut Industries.

I came to know him during part of this period (1983-89), as Secretary to his Ministry and Chairman of the Coconut Development Authority, the apex body for the industry. Being a general administrator, with no expertise in any particular sector, I benefitted immensely from Minister Herat’s knowledge and wisdom. It was both educative and fascinating to listen to him. Fluent in both Sinhala and English, he could speak to a local crowd using their own idiom and to a forum abroad in polished dictum. I have watched him in both. With local audiences he may use pithy language if the occasion demands, but always with utmost decency. At international and regional forums, which I attended with him, his discourses made us proud. At personal discussions, he was very persuasive even with greats like President Marcos of the Philippines.

Harold Herat had subsequently been elevated to Cabinet rank and had held two portfolios, Minister of Foreign Affairs (April 1990-August 1993) and Minister of Justice (August 1993 - August 1994). Unfortunately, I took up duties in the Cabinet• Office only in mid-1996 and I missed the chance of witnessing my former Minister performing as a Member of the Cabinet. However, I can visualise how it would have been, with his well thought out presentations and un-hurried, timely interventions. Going by his earlier performance before international and regional forums such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (F AO) in Rome and Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) in Jakatra, I assume that his participation in much more prestigious global bodies like the UNO and the Commonwealth would have been both useful to such organizations and beneficial to our country.

It is really as a gentleman that Harold Herat impressed anyone who came in contact with him. Neat in appearance, well but appropriately dressed always, he was an embodiment of decency. As a rule, he was courteous to his staff, deferential to those with expertise in relevant fields, and considerate to all. Scrupulously honest he had a high sense of decorum and correctitude. This was most evident in travel abroad. While his wife, Mrs. Gwen Herat accompanied him on such trips, as his Private Secretary, there were occasions when one of their three children would also join, to broaden their horizons. When this happened, the Minister always made sure that all the expenses of the children are met with his personal funds. In fact, I remember instances, when he brought in wads of currency notes (obviously received after a successful coconut harvest!) to pay for their air-fare!

It is one year since the demise of Harold Herat. Planter, lawyer, politician, Minister of the State, though he may have been, I will always remember him as a gentleman of the first order.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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