The year 1940 marked the end of an era in the history of Richmond College, with the exit of the last of the missionary principals. Most of the other public schools in Ceylon, faced with the same situation, experienced difficulty in finding replacements for those dedicated and capable principals. In this respect, Richmond was fortunate in having a man who was tailor made for the job.
Mr. Egodage Richard de Silva was the first Ceylonese to become principal of Richmond. He took over in 1940 from Rev. John Dalby who succeeded Rev. Sneath and held the post only for about a year. De Silva, who possessed the B. A. (London) Degree, was already an experienced teacher. Educated at Richmond and Wesley he began his teaching career at Trinity College, Kandy, and joined the staff of Richmond in 1929. He was therefore well acquainted with the traditions and culture of Richmond. He had also had ample opportunity of learning the art of good principalship from such great men as Small and Highfield, as student, and Fraser and Sneath under whom he served as a staff member.
And “E. R. ” as he was popularly known, did fit into the post marvellously. His achievements were all the more commendable due to the fact that he had to face unusual difficulties immediately after assuming duties as principal. During this period the impact of the 2nd World War was being felt with force in Ceylon. In 1942, the school premises were occupied by the RAF, and the school had to be shifted to private buildings scattered in several places. There was a severe shortage of teachers, and under these circumstances, the number of students dwindled. “E. R.” faced these problems courageously.
With the war clouds receding, he was able to quickly steer the school back to normalcy.
This was the time when the nationalist movement was gaining momentum, and there was awareness of the need to give a more important place to Sinhala Education in the English schools. Mr. E. R. de Silva himself was a very keen student of Sinhala, learning Language and Literature from Vidyaloka Pirivena, Galle and made Mr. W. A. Lanerolle, a member of the staff, who was a good Sinhalese scholar, the head master.
He was primarily responsible for putting the teaching of Sinhala in the school on an organised footing. In 1931 he had been instrumental in the formation of the College Sinhalese Literary Union, and in 1939 Sinhalese was made a compulsory subject in the school curriculum.
In the 1950s, being an assisted school, Richmond was partly absorbed into the Free Education scheme. But due to the able leadership of de Silva, the qualitative standards of the school were maintained through the transition.
Despite the difficulties, Richmond made all round progress under de Silva.
Excellent results were obtained in the Matriculation, S.S.C. and University Entrance examinations.
Phenomenal successes were achieved in the field of sports. In the 1940s three boys, Caxton Njuki, Arnold Adihetty and Christie Karunaratne, gained representative honours for Ceylon in cricket and athletics, while in the 50s Richmond won the Junior and Outstations Tarbat Cups at the public School Meet.
A feature of E. R. de Silva’s period was the very active role played by the OBA in the school activities. A large number of new buildings were constructed and new facilities added, mostly through donations received from old boys. During the Diamond Jubilee in 1951 a sum of Rs. 150,000/ = was collected by the OBA a considerable amount of money for those days.
A tarred road was built right up to the playground on top of the hill. A kindergarten complex, a block of 6 classrooms, a modern reading room, an audio – visual room and a fully equipped botany lab came up during his time. Other additions included a staff room, a new tuck shop building, principal’s office and two staff bungalows. A set of modern toilets and baths were built in the hostel and a water service with a pump house constructed.
He was always very stern where discipline was concerned, whenever it be among the students or the staff. But he was able to win the respect of all because he was fair and just at all times. He made it a point to maintain personal contact with the parents.
The esteem with which he was held in the educational sphere is seen by the fact that he was elected President and Secretary of the All Ceylon Principals Association and he also functioned as an advisor to the Education Department.
Sustenance and stability were the hallmark of E. R. de Silva’s administration. It was during his period that the achievements of the missionary principals were consolidated.
The College mourned the demise of Mr. E. R. de Silva on 11th of November 1970 and was honoured with the flag of the “Alma Mater” at the funeral.