The passing away of Dr. Douglas Nethsinghe at the beginning of this month has removed from the ranks of Sri Lanka’s scientific community a distinguished and popular colleague. He was the Chairman of the country’s Atomic Energy Authority, and with his vast knowledge and experience molded the initial pathway of the then fledgling organization.
Douglas commenced his professional career at the Coconut Research Institute, Lunuwila, where he was a pioneering soil chemist, joining the Institute almost following his graduation in Chemistry at the then University of Ceylon, Colombo. At the University he was fortunate to acquire not only an honor’s degree in chemistry, but also an exemplary wife in Audrey Gauder, whose popularity and charisma matched his own – a most popular “varsity romance” of the 1950’s. The couple settled down at the Lunuwila campus and their charming personalities engaged pleasantly with staff and visitors. The couple then went to the University of Oxford when Douglas was committed to do his Doctorate degree in Soil chemistry with the renowned Professor L. Hunter, which he accomplished with commendable success.
Returning to Sri Lanka in 1958 one was fortunate to be shipmates of the Nethsinghes on the SS Chusan, and one recalls a pleasant and happy voyage experience together. As colleagues in the scientific research field one recalls a presentation that Douglas made at the Annual Sessions of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science in the 1960’s, which was then considered a landmark piece of research in coconut cultivation technology.
After a time he with Audrey and their family left the country to take up a position at the International Atomic Energy Authority in Vienna, where Douglas’s expertise in the trace elements of soils was valued as of importance. He researched at the IAEA laboratories at Seibersdorf, a suburb of Vienna in the early days of the IAEA’s scientific thrust in the direction of the uses of radioactive methodologies in Agricultural sectors. Douglas and his family were to stay for over two decades in Vienna where Douglas reached the highest professional level before he was to retire. He received accolades from many countries for his development initiatives with the IAEA, notably the special honor he received from the Thai Government
I joined UNIDO in 1980. UNIDO too was also located then in Vienna, and soon we were colleagues again in two different International organizations located both in the Vienna International Centre. This was the period when our two families were to become close to each other and remain so. Douglas and Audrey were of immense help to us as we settled in Vienna, as they were to many others too. We were blessed to enjoy the many features of Vienna life together for over a decade, before it was time for both our families whose growing children were now fully fledged, to return home.
Douglas soon launched into helping the efforts of the scientific community at home and his experience and knowledge was well applied and freely given.
To many of his colleagues, Douglas was a genuine intellectual with a sharp and incisive scientific mind incorporating values which were well drilled into him at his alma mater – Trinity College, Kandy. Of times he masked these genuine distinguishing elements with a “puckish” sense of humor which many mistook to be a frivolous feature, which Douglas was to willfully play up. He was a serious person at the best of times, a highly intellectual scientist who was incorruptible to a fault and accepted no other code from anyone else. His wife Audrey, his constant and loyal companion in life, matched his disarming generosity and charm; and in the international arena they were immensely popular and well accepted. My wife Marina, a close friend of Audrey, and I, will truly miss Douglas – both his antics and his intellectual traits — as will our children who had forged themselves together as firm friends, though now separated from each other by continents.
May he enjoy his well earned rest and eternal peace.
Courtesy of the Island May 11, 2013