Dr. Philip Revatha (Ray) Wijewardene, who passes away in August 2010 aged 86, was a unique Sri Lankan whose multi-facted career blended many disciplines and pursuits straddling the sciences and the arts. Despite being an accomplished engineer, aviator, inventor and Olympian, he chose to introduce himself as a farmer and mechanic “who still got his hands dirty”. He was educated at St. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia and Cambridge University, UK where he studied three branches of engineering, aeronautical, mechanical and agricultural. He also earned a masters degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School, and later received three honorary degrees from universities in the UK and Sri Lanka.
In the 1960s, he invented the world’s first two – wheeled (Land Master) tractor, and working with tropical farmers. Ray worked for many years in Malaysia for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. In 1984, he-co-authored a book on conservation farming which is still in use for promote ecologically sustainable agriculture. Returning to Sri Lanka in the 1970s, he kept on experimenting with rain – fed farming, agroforestry and dendro thermal power. For decades, Ray worked closely with Sri Lanka’s business, research and policy communities as Chairman of the Tea Research Board, head of the inventor’s commission and chancellor of the University of Moratuwa. The government of Sri Lanka awarded him the national honors of ‘Vidya Jyothi’ and ‘Deshamanya’ for distinguished public service.
Ray was an outstanding sportsman who represented his country in sailing, in the Mexico Olympics in 1968, and won a silver medal at the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1970. As an aviator, he was licensed to fly fixed-wing, aircraft, helicopters and autogyros. Ray is also an accomplished violinist and oil painter.