Dr. Neville Fernando

Man of unblemished integrity

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that counts, it’s the life in your years.” - Abraham Lincoln.

It is with gratitude that I write these few lines in remembrance of our loving leader Dr.. Neville Fernando. He passed away on the February 4, one month short of his 90th birthday, but left a rich legacy of positive experience with all those who came to know him.

My association with Dr. Neville Fernando goes back to 2003, when he invited me to join the Asha Central Hospital at Horton Place, Colombo 7. It is he who turned the establishment into a most sought-after private hospital in Colombo.

He devoted his entire time and effort to develop the hospital in to a fully-fledged, multi-specialty private hospital. He was not a mere manager or a team leader to the hundreds of medical and non-medical staff. He was a father figure to all, loved by everyone: from the housekeeping assistant to the operating surgeon.

The staffers were not simply employees of Dr. Neville Fernando, but followers of this great personality. People mostly referred to him as a ‘Living God’.

He struggled against unacceptable transgressions of some of the values that his principled mind accepted as inimical: trust and honour of one’s word. Greed and duplicity were anathema to him. His humanity extended not only to all the employees of the hospital, but also to all patients who sought medical attention. People liked him for his sincerity and enthusiasm.

Dr. Neville Fernando was generous to the core. His charismatic smile and his ability to attract the people around him made him a truly inspirational leader. Managing a large-scale, multi-specialty hospital was a huge burden on his shoulders, but with the unique management style he had overcame all obstacles.

Silently, carried a heavy cross at every stage of his life. In 2008, Dr. Neville Fernando designed and built The Central Hospital on Norris Canal Road, Colombo 10, creating a benchmark in the private healthcare industry of Sri Lanka. Due to his passion for education and creating higher educational opportunities for younger generations, he embarked on his vision, creating SAITM (the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine) in 2009 and the NFTH (Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital) in 2011, in Malabe, after selling the Central Hospital to the Asiri Group of Hospitals. The Central Hospital was then renamed as the Asiri Central Hospital.

Designing and building SAITM gave Dr. Neville Fernando immense pride. He pumped all his wealth, time, sweat, and effort to this massive institution. Thousands of students were privileged to study at this great institution, which produced hundreds of doctors, engineers, and IT professionals who serve not only in Sri Lanka, but all over the world. The theme of SAITM, ‘Education with Character’, clearly reminds us Dr. Neville Fernando’s vision.

Designing, building, equipping, staffing, and operating a thousand-bedded hospital was no easy task. Dr. Neville Fernando, embarking on a hospital project and creating the Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital at the age of 80, was unbelievable to many. He never calculated any returns on investment. This extraordinary and stubbornly-principled man had only one vision: to create a space for private medical education in Sri Lanka. I am eternally grateful to him for selecting me and giving me the opportunity to lead the hospital from its very inception. His advice helped me immensely to improve my knowledge and develop my skills in managing a hospital. He was a stern disciplinarian who taught me the correct way of doing anything.

Dr. Neville Fernando wanted his hospital to be a model and a benchmark in health care. The designing layout of the hospital was second to none. The materials which were used for construction and furnishing were the best in the industry.

He never believed in shortcuts, but instead guided me and my team to do the correct thing at all times. The medical equipment which were bought were the best of the range and the most technologically-advanced from world-renowned manufacturers.

I still remember the pride he had when he inspected the operating theatre complex and intensive care units, attending to every detail, which were the most modern units in Sri Lanka to match any international standards.

He was so generous to waive the hospital charges of many patients who had financial difficulties, sometimes making the situation difficult for the finance team. Hundreds of surgeries and hemodialysis sessions were offered free-of-charge to deserving patients. This exceptionally honourable man always felt the pulse of the people, be it the patients or the hospital staff. Dozens of his ex-employees from other private hospitals joined him at this new hospital simply due to his unblemished character and integrity.

Dr. Neville Fernando was extremely happy and proud to see thousands of patients being treated and discharged at his hospital. During the current pandemic, the NFTH has treated thousands of patients with COVID-19, and will continue to serve the people of this nation for many more decades to come. Furthermore, medical students of the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University undergo their professorial clinical training at this hospital.

NFTH has created over 500 direct and many more indirect employment opportunities while inspiring development of the entire community. It is indeed very sad that he is no more with us, and the only consolation we have is that due to some good karma, we had the good fortune to associate so closely with him. I will always remember the good times I had with him.

Most of all, I appreciate his good qualities and the high principles he stood for at all times. Throughout his journey, his loving and devoted wife Swarnamalee was a pillar of strength. His loving children Naomal, Sharmalee, Devaka, and Krishantha also supported him at all times.

Dear sir, the Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital will continue to serve the people of our country for many more decades. I wish you the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana in the shortest possible time.

Dr. Lakshan Fernando