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Biographical entry Mendis, Ariyaman Mahanama (1925 - 2015)

MB BS Ceylon 1949; MRCOG 1955; FRCS 1957; FRCOG 1967; MRACGP 1975; FRACOG 1979.

21 November 1925
15 February 2015
Perth, Australia
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Ariyaman Mahanama Mendis was a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Sri Lanka from 1958 to 1974, when he immigrated to Western Australia. He accepted the position of senior medical officer to the vast and remote Kimberley region, based at Derby Regional Hospital, on the far north coast of Western Australia, some 2,500km from Perth. Following his three-year contract, he moved to Perth, where he established a successful private practice in obstetrics and gynaecology until his retirement in 1991.

Ariyaman was born on 21 November 1925, in a village in the south of Ceylon, the eldest son of Bernard Mendis, a medical practitioner, and Joslin. Joslin died of pulmonary tuberculosis when Ariyaman was one and his elder sister was two. His step-mother Charlotte filled the void with love and devotion, and there were two more daughters and a son added to the family. (Ariyaman's brother joined the Air Force and later became an air chief marshal of Sri Lanka.) As his father was regularly moved in his role as district medical officer, Ariyaman was sent to boarding school at age 10. He thrived at the prestigious St Thomas' College in Colombo, excelling in his studies and a variety of sports, in particular cricket. When he was 17 he gained entrance to the University of Ceylon, Colombo. His medical undergraduate years were described as years of fun and hard work. He was awarded medals in biology, anatomy and physiology and various scholarships along the way.

During his early house officer appointments, he was inspired by his consultants in obstetrics and gynaecology. He sailed to England in 1955 to pursue specialist qualifications. He held in high esteem his teachers in Liverpool, including Sir Norman Jeffcoate and Charles Wells, and maintained contact with them on his return to Ceylon. As soon as he completed his membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (MRCOG), he married his dear wife Cecelia, who joined him in Edinburgh. She worked as a nurse while Ariyaman completed his requirements for his FRCS. They returned on a steamer to Ceylon in December 1957 with their three-month-old baby daughter.

Upon his return, he soon established a reputation of excellence as an obstetrician and gynaecologist with the faculty of medicine, University of Ceylon, and maintained a busy schedule with a teaching hospital appointment at the De Soysa Maternity Hospital in Colombo. He enjoyed teaching medical students and registrars, and took a genuine interest in their progress. Despite his reputation for being a hard task master, they held him in high regard and with deep affection. Many remained in touch with him over the years. He delighted in their successes, with a number of his former students being appointed to chairs in obstetrics and gynaecology locally and internationally.

In 1974 he made the difficult decision to immigrate with the family to Australia, leaving behind his established career and close network of extended family and friends. This was prompted by political tensions and a wish to provide greater opportunities for his five children. In his usual diligent manner, he adjusted to a totally new environment and established himself quickly, winning the admiration and affection of his new network of colleagues and patients. For three years he immersed himself in the varied medical challenges in remote Kimberley. His work involved general practice, obstetrics and gynaecology, general surgery and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. His contribution was deeply appreciated by the director general of medical services of Western Australia. The stint in the Kimberley also gave him an opportunity for photography, capturing the novel flora and fauna and the ancient landscape.

On moving to Perth, he commenced in private practice and to keep abreast with advances he regularly attended seminars at the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women. He was pleased to be reunited with his family in Perth. A generous and unpretentious man, he loved spending time with family and friends, to gather around the piano to sing along, and share his love of travel with his wife. Despite his busy practice, he had time to work under the bonnet of his car, plant tropical trees and be involved in the Sri Lankan Association and the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.

In 2008 he was diagnosed with dementia, which progressed slowly, restricting his mobility in the final two years of his life. He bore his condition with remarkable dignity. He passed away peacefully at home with his children at his bedside on 15 February 2015, aged 89. Cecelia, his dear wife of 59 years, predeceased him by 10 weeks. He was survived by his four siblings, daughters, Anoja, Geetha, Shiroma and Komudhi, his son Asitha and grandchildren, Jennifer and Chamath.

Geetha Mendis

Sources used to compile this entry: [Memoirs by Ariyaman M Mendis (2002); The Island 21 March 2015 - accessed 30 September 2016; Communications with former student Ariyaratne de Silva].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England