Junius Richard Jayewardene was a Sri Lankan lawyer and politician, who went on to serve as the second President of Sri Lanka and remains one of the most influential political leaders in the history of the country. He was born in a privileged family and his father was the Chief Justice of the country. He was a good student and a sportsman of note in school as well as college. Jayewardene studied law and practiced as a lawyer for some years but before long he started off as an activist for the Ceylon National Congress. Following the independence of the country, he became a member of the United National Party and served in the capacity of the finance minister. Eventually, he went on to become the leader of the party and also sat in the opposition benches during his long political career. He also served as the Minister of State and led the party to a resounding victory in 1977. He became the Prime Minister of the country following the 1977 victory but later on he was responsible for amending the constitution that made him the President of Sri Lanka. During his tenure as the President, Sri Lanka witnessed rapid economic growth.
Childhood & Early Life
Junius Richard Jayewardene was born on 17 September 1906 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Honourable Justice Eugene Wilfred Jayewardene and Agnes Helen Don Philip Wijewardena. He belonged to a privileged family with strong ties to the legal fraternity and his father went on to serve as the Chief Justice of Ceylon. There were 11 children in the family and he was the eldest.
He attended the Bishop’s College located in Colombo for his primary education and subsequently, he went on to study at the Royal College in the same city. He excelled in academics as well as extracurricular activities and represented the school in cricket, rugby, football and boxing. He was made the head prefect at the Royal College in 1925.
In 1926, he started attending the University College Colombo and two years later, he entered the Colombo Law School. After graduating from law school he became an advocate and started his own legal practice.
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After practicing as a lawyer for a brief period, J. R. Jayewardene entered politics when he joined the Ceylon National Congress (CNC) as an activist in 1938. The CNC was involved in the nationalist movement in the country at the time and before long he became an influential member. Two years after joining he was made the joint secretary and three years after that he was elected to the State Council.
After Sri Lanka gained its independence from the Britain, he became a member of the United National Party (UNP) and was appointed as the finance minister in the government formed in 1948. He held the post for five years and after that he was made the minister of food and agriculture; a position he held for three years. In the meantime, he became the second in command in the party. He was also elected as the head of the Board of Control for Cricket in Ceylon in 1951.
Throughout the duration of the latter part of the 1950s, he had regular disagreements with Dudley Senanayake, the leader of the UNP in relation to the threat posed by Sinhala-nationalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
After the UNP formed the government in 1965, he was appointed as the Minister of State and he devoted his energies towards making tourism a major part of the Sri Lankan economy.
In the 1970 elections, the UNP lost to the SLFP and he became the leader of the opposition in the parliament. At the same time, he effectively became the leader of the UNP as well due to the deteriorating health of Dudley Senanayake. Three years later he became the leader of the UNP after Senanayake’s death.
When the SLFP government extended the tenure of their government in 1976, he resigned from his position in the parliament. In the elections that were held the following year, the UNP stormed back to power and he became the Prime Minister of the country. However, he amended the constitution to give the country an executive presidency and on 4 February 1978 he became the President.
During his presidency, he ushered in an era of free markets and provided boost to the private sector. He was re-elected as the president in the elections held in 1983.
Throughout the duration of the 1980s, Jayewardene was engaged in trying to bring about a solution to the simmering conflicts between the Sinhalese and the Tamil sections of the population. He was not in favour of a Tamil state and eventually he was not successful in bringing about any peaceful solution. He stepped down from his post as president in 1989.
J. R. Jayewardene turned the country into a major tourist destination during his tenure as the Minister of State from 1965 to 1970, when the subject of tourism was under his purview.
Under his stint as the President, Sri Lanka saw rapid economic growth as he ushered in an era of free markets and provided boost to the private sector
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Miss Elina Bandara Rupasinghe in 1935. The couple had one child, a son, named Ravindra ‘Ravi’ Vimal Jayewardene.
J. R. Jayewardene died on 1 November 1996, at the age of 90, in Colombo.