Our Beginning

Mrs. Nora Bartholomeusz, wife of the late Dr. Noel Bartholomeusz, expired on the 13th April 2003, aged 92. According to her wishes she was cremated at the General Cemetery Kanatte on the 14th of April. She had a private funeral.

I had not met Nora until the year 2000 when she expressed a desire to meet the incumbent President of The College of Surgeons to discuss an “urgent and private matter”. I was the President.

My previous association with Dr. Noel Bartholomeusz was that he was the surgeon under whom I had my first clinical appointment in surgery. My only prior visit to his residence at 6, Independence Avenue, Colombo 7, was when my brother and I accompanied my mother there, for a consultation. I was given the task of handing over the surgeon’s fee in a brown envelope which I did with the termerity of a novice, a light sweat on my forehead and upper lip and a racing pulse rate. My brother has often repeated Dr. Bartholomeusz’s reply. “I do not take money from doctors, thank you”.

“But sir,” I had said, “I am only a medical student”.
“Well,” he had smiled. “You will eventually become one”.

Memories of this incident flooded my mind together with memories of the emotions this response and prediction had produced in all three of us, as I entered the house.

I met a most gracious and dignified lady. She broke the ice immediately with a laugh saying, “I expected to see a stern looking character, but what a surprise”. The issue she had wanted to discuss was the gifting of her extremely valuable, virtually priceless, house to The College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka. “Noel and I have no children and no near relatives in Sri Lanka”, she said. And then expressed a desire to gift this property to the College of Surgeons. She stipulated that no part of it should be sold. Eventually the property was to be named the “The Noel and Nora Bartholomeusz Foundation”.

It was obvious she had given this decision of hers considerable thought, but I told her that I would come back later for further discussions. These took place over the next few months. It was during this time period and thereafter that I came to know Nora as a person.

She was shy and reserved but had a very sharp mind. No hint of nuance could get past her. She abhorred publicity and did not want any publicity given even to a simple ceremony where the Deed of Gift was signed before the lawyers, the executors of her will and a few members of the Council. She consented to having a few photographs taken and that was it. During this ceremony and over subsequent conversations, she often recalled that Noel and she had discussed the property and that Noel’s wish was that, if possible, one the property should go to the College of Surgeons. She appeared relieved and pleased that this wish was fulfilled.

By Prof. A H Sheriffdeen

About Noel & Nora

Nora Bartholomeusz remembers

Noel and I first met at St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, Polwatte in the early 30’s. I was a nurse and we also worked together at the General Hospital Colombo and used to constantly bump into each other in the corridors. When we first met, there was no idea of a relationship in either or our minds. It developed with time.

We got married in 1936 and Noel wanted me to give up my nursing career because he wanted me to make a home. I didn’t mind giving up my career for him at all because he was absolutely just what I wanted. I never regretted this or anything else in our marriage.

We were so happy together. We had a quiet wedding. Noel’s mother was a widow and we did no want to tax her with the expenses, an elaborate wedding would entail. It was a garden wedding at Mum’s (Noel’s mother’s) house.

We were away in England for about 3 to 4 years. This was the time Noel was studying for his FRCS. After our marriage we moved around for quite a bit and then on our return to Colombo, before we got our own house, we lived with Mum. She was a very prim and proper person and did not much disruption to her routine.

Next we moved to Badulla, where we had a nice house and a lovely garden and made a lot of friends. On Noel’s return to Colombo we bought the house I now in (a Mrs. Keat used to own it). Because the property was too large for the two of us, we sold part of it to Justice Sharvananda.

As soon as we moved in Noel made a green house in the garden and grew his flowers. I used to pin a different coloured orchid in his lapel every morning. We were so happy together; it was a good life.

On occasion, we would have just a few friends over to dinner. Noel was exclusive about whom he invited. Although, from time to time he may have had differences with a few people, he never allowed any of this to cloud his judgment. Basically he had no enemies.

An appreciation

Dr. Noel Bartholomeusz began his surgical career in Avissawella and thereafter continued in Badulla. His reputation for simplicity, charm and skill became so widespread that people flocked to the hospitals where he worked and made numerous representations when he was transferred. His unassuming nature made him even more loved by the people with whom he came into contact.

He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (England) in 1949 and was appointed Surgeon in the General Hospital, Colombo, in 1950. The fields in which he excelled were cancer surgery, surgery of the Thyroid and of the prostrate gland. He also designed his own operating technique for ventral hernia. He was prepared at any time to teach and train young surgeons. He was happy in the midst of young surgeons and they, in turn, were eager to sit at the feet of one of the most successful surgeons Sri Lanka has produced. He took delight on being a universal consultant for all surgeons and gynaecologists.

Dr. Bartholomeusz’s surgery was almost faultless. Perfection in anything that he touched or did was the standard he set for himself and demanded from his assistant and anaesthetists. He kept pace with modern advances in surgery and selected all surgical instruments that were needed for perfect surgical procedure. Without question he was one of our most eminent surgeons.

Shy, unpretentious and seldom ruffled, he came straight to the task immediately in hand and that he performed with superlative skill and care. When he walked into a room or a surgical theater one became aware of a presence which was humane, thoughtful and compassionate. He possessed a relaxed dignity and calm stoicism which radiated the warmth of his personality. He was bestowed with an ironic sense of fun and a delight in life’s absurdities, trivialities and triumphs. He was always a retiring man – a rather quiescent personality – but with friends he was always a marvelous companion. He possessed abundant charm, a wry wit and a way of savouring some amusing remark or odd event that was wholly endearing.

He was generous in the unobtrusive help he gave his comrades and the younger aspirants to surgery. His advice and guidance were sought on matters not only relating to surgical fields. His humanity, his kindness and generosity will live on in those with whom he came into contact. His fondness for music and flowers were part of his avocations. His healing hands have now been removed from ministrations from which so many benefitted, not the least those who were more disadvantaged. An inscription which would be apt in the pursuit of his profession and in his daily life would be – “to cure often, to relieve sometimes and to comfort always”.

We mourn his death but we recall with intense gratitude the privilege and the joy of his friendship.

An appreciation: Published in the Ceylon Daily News
By “a friend”

I first met Nora on the day of my arrival in Sri Lanka – then Ceylon – in June 1952. She and Noel came to visit us; Nora, Noel and my husband had been long – standing friends before I arrived on the scene, and they welcomed me to what they must have realized was a totally new and strange life for me.

That was the beginning of a relationship which lasted for more than half century. Nora helped me to settle into a, for me, entirely foreign society and environment, and her sound common sense and unfailingly appropriate advice were invaluable. I admired her enormously, her elegance and social grace, her efficiency and high moral values; the way she managed her busy household, supported Noel in his work, handled patients, appointments and finances, and trained and supervised her staff.

With all this she found time to assist a number of charities, and she regularly visited sick and disabled friends carrying a basket filled with nourishing food and medicines, and small luxuries they could not afford, but Nora knew they craved.

When Noel fell seriously ill in the late sixties, they both travelled regularly to England. It became apparent that he needed dialysis, which at that time was in its very early experimental stages, and so Nora took a special course in a London hospital. They returned to Colombo loaded with all the paraphernalia needed, and for the next 8 years Noel underwent the 12 hourly procedure three times a week, at home, at night, while performing his magical surgery in the day time uninterruptedly.

An appreciation: Published in the Ceylon Daily News
By “a friend”

By Mrs. Anne Ranasinghe

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