When Pansy Gauder’s last whispered breath sped her life to eternal realms, it brought to an end not only the mortal existence of a very special lady, but also severed the final link of a Golden Age of service to St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia (STC). For even at its zenith, in the halcyon days of Canon R. S. De Saram, the name of Gauder was as well known as his; synonymous with the care of the fortunate boys of that school. In fact, I would hazard a guess that never before in the history of a school have a husband and wife dedicated over a half a century of their married lives to the service of a particular educational institution.
Shelton Gauder, Pansy’s husband, had his schooling at St. Thomas’ College, excelling at cricket, and captaining the College XI in 1933. On leaving school, he continued to serve the College in several capacities, from Cricket Coach to Bursar to Grocery Supplier to the College Boarding. Thomians of that era will well remember his delivery truck that would announce its approach, so it is said, as it rattled and banged its way, as far as from the Dehiwala Junction! But, perhaps, his best service to his alma mater was in his choice of bride, for Pansy embraced St. Thomas’ College and its schoolboys as though they were her own.
Pansy Gauder ran the College Tuck Shop and was Matron in charge of the College Kitchens. She catered to the dietary needs of generations of Thomians, and they thrived on it. I shall leave it to Old Thomians of that age to write more on that, but I well remember as a schoolboy cricketer, albeit for another school,
going to the Dining Hall for meals and being summoned to the kitchens. There, ‘Aunty’Pansy would quickly ease my awkwardness, as I was unsure as to how to greet her in her ‘official’ capacity. Much to the chagrin of my teammates, a larger portion of dinner or fruit would somehow appear, not only on my plate, but also on those of young Tissera and Dambawinne, fellow sons of old boys of STC, who were now playing for the visiting side!
As for her culinary skills at home, her lamprais and Christmas cake and love cake and short eats and desserts and milk wine, they were legendary and sought by all. As a child, and even when older, my first stop would be to the kitchen, where inevitably Pansy was cooking, and it was rare to walk out without munching on something delicious, with a cold drink in other hand.
For I had the privilege of knowing the Gauders away from STC (though their home, No. 3, College Avenue, was right next door). In fact, I have known Pansy for all of my life, over five decades now. Shelton was my Godfather. He always claimed, with accompanying guffaw, that he was never given any forewarning of the impending responsibility but that when the Chaplain of STC, the Reverend Roy Bowyer Yin, called for the Godparents to step forward, my father had shoved him hence! Interestingly, my other Godfather, Alex Wijesinha, narrated the same tale! But whatever the circumstances of their appointment, I was honoured by my father’s conscripted choices, the both of them. I could not have hoped for better.
I was remembered on my every birthday, the cards written in Aunty Pansy’s neat style. And when Uncle Shelton passed away, over a decade ago, she still never forgot though the ownership of the responsibility became somewhat blurred with time. In fact, when I last went to see her, I was warned that she may not recognize me. Little had I to worry. Propped in her chair, she listened to my voluble greeting, and with gentle smile turned to her carer and said, “My Godson”. I was doubly honoured.
Pansy Gauder was always tolerant of the nonsenses of growing youth, unafraid to express her displeasure when it warranted and always ready with praise when it was due. A fine sense of humour, no doubt honed by generations of young Thomians, helped. Why, it is even well known that “Satan” was one of her favourites – to the very end!
An avid cricket fan, Pansy Gauder would be a regular at the Royal – Thomian, even in her early 90s, and Sri Lanka playing an international match had her glued to the television.
And there was not just Aunty Pansy and Uncle Shelton at No. 3, but their daughters, Corinna and Sandra, who both shared in their parents’ good humour and generous hospitality. Inevitably, Corinna married a Thomian, Piyasena Obeysekera, known as “Obey” to his friends, and he proved a tower of strength to the family, and to Pansy in her final years. Corinna’s passion was collecting ancient maps and manuscripts on Sri Lanka. Her collection, and knowledge of the subject, had no parallel.
Sandy, though confined to a wheelchair for most of her life, was as joyous a human being as any who has walked this Earth. She loved life with an exuberance borne of a child who has been loved unconditionally by her family and friends, and she was the match of any when it came to Scrabble and quick wit. Sandy was a blessed joy to all who had the pleasure of knowing her.
Shelton and Pansy Gauder suffered the saddest fate that can be endured by parents; the premature death of both of their children. Where lesser beings would have succumbed to the bitterness of their grief, they carried on, now concentrating their love and care on their granddaughter, Sharmin. She, in turn, adored them, and they would have been proud of the quiet dignity and grace with which she carried out the last rites of her grandmother, being with her at the end, and scattering her ashes in the ocean in front of her beloved College.
Through all of the tragedy in their lives, Shelton and Pansy Gauder stayed true to their faith and never questioned the adversities and iniquities that they were faced with. There was no recrimination or bitterness, just an acceptance that this was all part of a greater, divine plan. And herein lies their true worth. They never lost sight of the blessings that life had endowed them with – Corinna, Sandra, Sharmin, Obey, and the latest addition to the Gauder legacy, little Pashoo, the light in her Great Grandmother’s eye.
As Pansy Gauder’s last breath lifted her spirit away from her body, I have no doubt that it took her straight into the care of the God that she served so faithfully in life, and awaiting her there would be her husband and her daughters, now beyond the pain and suffering of this mortal life; together again, and for always, in the paradise of their love and faith.