By Lawrence Heyn
If anyone was to cast a mould of the perfect sportsman then Kenneth Brian de Joodt would have been the ideal prototype. The mercurial Trinity Lion, rugby genius and prolific writer passed away last August at the age of 76, and three months on the Quadrangle pays tribute to a man for all seasons. Ken was a dedicated contributor to the four previous issues of this magazine, and with heavy hearts we record the legacy Ken left us.
While his main pathway to fame was the rugby field, a look at Ken’s admission sheet stored in the Trinity College library gives an insight into a versatile man who excelled at everything he did. Ken is listed as Admission Number 8258 at the Kandy college and his achievements as a schoolboy make some reading: President Lemuel House Association 1958, School Monitor, Sandy Hardy Memorial Prize for Art (Senior), L/Cpl Senior Cadets, junior cricket, captain rugby First XV 1957 and ’58, captain hockey Lemuel House 1956, captain cricket Lemuel House 1958, captain athletics Lemuel House 1958, boxing, cross-country, inter-house drama, CCC 2nd Battalion rugby, school hockey, athletics, Combined Schools Rugby First XV, Outstation Schools Rugby First XV; school colours 1957, Trinity Lion 1958, captain of Bradby Shield teams in 1957-58.
Sporting blood of good stock literally coursed through Ken’s veins as he took his all-round prowess from schoolboy years to the big league of club and international competition. Much has been written about Ken’s skills and Ken in turn took it upon himself to write about the other greats who strode the sporting arena with distinction. Ken appeared to have been blessed with amazing powers of recollection as in his time as a writer he described in such vivid detail events that took place more than half a century ago. The quadrangle magazine was fortunate enough to publish his memoirs. His report on the first Trinity-Thomian encounter in 1955, published in issue four of Quadrangle, was pure gold and is worth preserving for posterity as such great events will soon be enveloped by the cobwebs of time.
Ken, himself, had his special moment in the game with a “peach of a drop goal”, as reported in a daily newspaper at the time and remembered 60 years later. There was his story on the trials and triumphs of the country’s Olympic treasure Duncan White in “White’s Silver Streak”, and his special feature on the legend Summa Navaratnam, headed “Asia’s Fastest Man Clocks 90”, was compulsory reading for any would-be historian.
In a newspaper tribute to Ken shortly after his death, M. V. Muhsin – a writer of renown – wrote: “As a Trinity Lion, Havelocks star and All-Ceylon ruggerite, he wore his crown easily: self-effacing and humble in his achievements, taking the glory that was his for the asking in its stride. He had class written all over him—not only in the way he played but in his demeanour and qualities that endeared him to all of us.
“Ken lived down the street where I lived, in Kandy. Papa de Joodt would welcome me to scan the archives of Ken’s rugby feats covered eloquently by the great scribes of our time. This was how, I guess, Ken in later years became a rugby scribe himself, penning the nuances of rugby rather than simply on who won or scored which seems the unfortunate style of these days.” Upali Obeysekere, editor of The Times of Sri Lanka, in Toronto, Canada, described Ken as “an absolute gentleman throughout his life and playing days”.
“He was a clean player and lived a clean life. During my recent vacation in Sri Lanka, I met Ken at the St Peter’s vs Trinity rugby game at St Peter’s College grounds. We watched it together as guests of Rev Fr Trevor Martin, Rector of St Peter’s. I reminded Ken of the days when he left his car often at our home in close proximity to the Kurunegala Railway Station and took the train to Colombo for the weekend and back,” Upali said. Irvine Howie, who a decade later followed in Ken’s footsteps as one of Trinity’s great rugby players, counts him as a mentor who helped shape his stellar career.
Irvine said: “I boarded with Ken and his young family in the early 1970s, having left school and starting my club rugby career. He was in a busy profession working all hours of the day and night. We would confer on all aspects of the game when time permitted. I was able to hone my skills simply by paying attention to the finer details as articulated as only Ken can. “I was blessed with two great mentors, Ken and the late Kavan Rambukwella in my early stages of club and representative rugby. We would spend many long nights discussing the game, reliving moments in our past, evaluating aspects of the game and much more over a period of about four years. “Though I was the ‘apprentice’ and Ken the ‘master’, he would treat me as an equal, listening intently to my viewpoint, shallow as it was. In reflection, I would regard Ken as an important cog in the wheels of my formative years in rugby.” It was in Ken’s make-up to help others and freely offer his expertise and advice. This generosity extended to Quadrangle editor Sujith Silva who credits Ken as being an inspiration as he took on the challenging and yet vital project of publishing this magazine – the first of its kind to bring alumni of so many schools together.
Said Sujith: “He has done a lot personally to inspire me to take up the pen when I was writing for Peterites on rugby since the early 2000s and then on Quadrangle. He was an asset, a kind-hearted man, and candidly shared his views but never hurt anyone or boasted about himself. He advised whenever I asked for his help and he ensured he told both sides of the story.” Ken certainly was a master of his craft, lighting up the rugby field with skills in the backline and equally proficient as a fly-half, centre or full-back. His kicking boot was a lethal weapon and in his armoury were drop goals and place kicks that were directed with pin-point accuracy.
Turning out for Trinity at 15, he soon impressed with his talents. While still at school he was recruited to play for Kandy Sports Club and then he found a regular spot with the Havelocks Sports Club, and later Uva. Among his achievements was captaining Trinity to a sixth consecutive win in the Bradby Shield series and then leading the Outstation Schools to defeat Colombo Schools 13-0 in the first Gratiaen Cup clash in 1958 – Ken contributing seven points to that win.
Ken was a colossus on the rugby field and this tribute has sought to give an insight into Ken the person, husband to Ester and father to Shanali and Yohan, who was kind and generous with his time, and had a wealth of stories to share for our enjoyment. He has left us with some priceless memories.
It is said that God gave us memory so we could have roses in winter.
It is also true that without memory we could not have self in any season.
The more memories you have, the more you have to cherish.
That is why no wise person ever wishes to be younger.