How it all began

How it all Began – A Brief History of the Oldest Club in D-82

This article was published in the District Newsletter – PULSE Vol 3. Issue 3, that was launched on 1-July-2016. To read and download the full edition, visit: http://www.d82.org/info/newsletters. The author is Toastmaster Vijayalakshmi Gunasekarapandian , the Editor-in-Chief of District 82 for the year 2016-17. She can be reached at editor-in-chief@d82.org . Thanks to TM Sarma Mahalingam of The Colombo Toastmasters club for collating and providing us the details

It was at a Rotary meeting many years ago that the seed was planted. An American Rotarian, who was a guest at the meeting, accredited his formidable voice to Toastmasters and this sparked the initial interest.

After this an informal group began meeting regularly, led by the late Mr. R B Ekanayake. In 1982, the American Ambassador Mr. John Reed who was a member of the Kiwanis club and the Toastmasters club in the USA, lent his patronage to this group. Whenever he attended a function, he would identify potential members for both Kiwanis and Toastmasters. He used to go around asking for names and addresses of reasonably good speakers and everyone wondered why? He used to brief the informal group about Toastmasters but ideas were very new and hazy about this organization. Informal meetings were held at the American Center at Flower Road and later at the Orient club with the late R. B. Ekanayake, the late Sam Samarasinghe and Haleem Ghouse. Amongst others was Ambassador John Reed who was also a regular attendee at these meetings. However, these meetings were more fellowship than educational and soon the group was searching for their Toastmasters identity.

The late Mr. R. B. Ekanayake, who was then a senior official of the People’s Bank, was the prime mover behind the formation of the first Toastmasters club. He can truly be considered the father of the Toastmasters club in D-82 along with Desmond Van Cuylenburg, Bernard Jayaratne and the late Sam Samarasinghe, as his able assistants. In February 1983, he gathered 23 persons to attend the initial meeting which was held on 10th March 1983 at the residence of late Georg Rajapakse, Attorney-at-Law. Mr. Ekanayake summoned this meeting in his capacity as organizer of the Colombo Toastmasters Club.

The inauguration of the club was held on 7th May 1983 at the American Center, Flower Road, Colombo 7 with 14 of the 23 people present. Prior to this meeting, various informal meetings were also held at the residence of Mr. Desmond Van Cuylenburg. At the meeting held on 7th May 1983 the following were elected as the first office bearers of the club:

President – Sam Samarasinghe
Vice President Administration – Dr. Robert Benjamin
Vice President Education – Haleem Ghouse
Secretary – R. B. Ekanayake
Treasurer – Bernard Jayasinghe
Bulletin Editor – Paddy Gunasekara
Seargent-at-Arms – Janaka Edirisinghe

In the next 18 months, the club would meet at the Capri, the Colombo Jaycees Secretariat, Ceylinco Hotel and on occasion, the U.S. Embassy Auditorium. Committee meetings were generally held at the Orient club. Monthly dinner meetings were held at Hotel Galaxy, Colombo 2. The charter ceremony was held on February 25th 1984 at the Hotel Lanka Oberoi. The chief guest was Hon Gamini Dissanayake. At the end of 1984, the membership had expanded to 35 members. The office bearers of 1983 continued throughout 1984 and at a general meeting held on 9th November, 1984 new office bearers were elected for the year 1985. The charter anniversary was celebrated on 1st March 1985 at Hotel Ceylon Intercontinental. The chief guest was the late Hon. Anandatissa De Alwis and the guest of honor was the late Hon. Justice Percy Colin-Thome. R. B. Ekanayake was elected president for 1986. In 1986, the decision was made to move to Hotel Ramada Renaissance (now Cinnamon Lakeside). The third charter anniversary celebrations were held at the then Hotel Ramada Renaissance on 27th February 1987 with the Chief Justice Hon S. Sharvananda being the chief guest. The fourth charter anniversary celebration were held on 2nd March 1988 at the then Hotel Lanka Oberoi (now Cinnamon Grand) with Hon Gamini Dissanayake being the chief guest.

In 1988-89 the late Mr. Paddy Gunasekera became the President and for the first time a Best Speakers Contest for Toastmasters was held, and it was won by Yusuf Jeevunjee. In 1989-90 Haleem Ghouse became President and another “first” the All Island Best Speaker Contest was held in 1989, at the then Hotel Ramada Renaissance. This project was sponsored by the Bartleet Group and the Project Chairman was Asgi Noordeen. The winner was Mohamed Adamally. In 1990, Asgi Noordeen became President and the 6th Charter Anniversary Celebrations were held on March 9th 1990 with President J R Jayewardene as Chief Guest. The Best Toastmasters Content in 1990 was won by Faizal Salieh and The All Island Best Speakers Contest was won by Rajiv Goonetilleke. The Project Chairman was S. Nallainathan.

During the Presidency of Haleem Ghouse the idea of having seminar on speaking dawned. It was on the experienced shoulders of our founder member Haleem Ghouse that these ‘speechcraft’ programs came to be structured, developed and carried out. Romayne Diaz was instrumental in the administration of the programs, together with other club members.

The speechcraft programs were a success and sought after by many corporate companies. One such corporate unit was the Sampath Bank. Following the success of the speechcraft program at the bank, the Sampath Bank Toastmasters Club was formed. Also, as a result of the Public Speaking Program the Millenium Toastmasters Club was founded. Because of the interest of TM Mohanlal Grero the Champion Junior Speaker Contest was initiated, with sponsorship from The Lyceum International School.

The first Competent Toastmaster (CTM) and Able Toastmaster (ATM) of the Club was Haleem Ghouse. In the early years of the 21st century a young man, by the name of Balraj Arunasalam was quietly making his mark, first as Treasurer of the Club for about 3 years and then as the President 2002-03 of The Colombo Toastmasters Club.

Toastmasters’ boasts of both communication and leadership, and these two skills were present in this calm and soft spoken person, the latter skill being more advanced than the former. Thus, the need and desire to make Toastmasters grow beyond Sri Lanka. This was achieved through the hard work and determination of Balraj Arunasalam and Toastmasters club began sprouting corporate entities in Sri Lanka and India, along with community clubs.

The Colombo Toastmasters Club became the parent of Toastmasters in South Asia, and Distinguished Toastmasters Balraj Arunasalam is now the First Vice President of Toastmasters International, with eventual succession to the Presidency of Toastmaster International. Today, The Colombo Toastmasters Club, has a membership of over 86 and meets at the five star venue of the Galadari Hotel in the heart of Colombo. The club has seen 32 Presidents and the current 32nd President is Aruna Fernando, under whose leadership The Colombo Toastmasters Club is poised to achieve ever greater heights in the fields of public speaking and communication.

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