Memories of a legendary tutor

Dr. Rohan Philip reminiscing memories of his father R.H.Phillips


Dr. Rohan Phillip recently retired as Vice President/Chief Technologist for Information Technology at McDonald’s Corporation.  He was responsible for Global Infrastructure Solutions and Services, including Enterprise Architecture.  He also served as Chairman of the Global Infrastructure Management Team which has overall responsibility for implementing and managing McDonald’s global IT infrastructure.

Rohan worked at McDonald’s for eighteen years.  Before joining McDonald’s, he was a Partner at Optimum Solutions, Inc. for ten years, a consulting and system-integration company, where he focused on large-scale systems integration projects at Fortune 500 companies.  Before that, he was Director of the Manufacturing Program, Automation Laboratories and Engineering Computing Centre at the University of Illinois at Chicago for five years.  Prior to that, he was a Process Engineer at TRW Corporation for three years.  He was also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at Northern Illinois University for several years.


He hails from a Benedictine family which also has links to Royal College. Rohan’s father late Mr. R. H. Phillip was a well-known and highly respected former teacher at St. Benedict’s who served in the Kotahena College for more than two decades. The era of ‘50s and ‘60s was known as the Golden era of St. Benedict’s be it studies, sports, arts or music. Most of those former talented Benedictines went on to excel in their careers and have brought fame and glory not only to the alma mater but also to the country.


Dr. Rohan Phillip, who is domiciled in USA made a visit to Sri Lanka recently and shared his memories of his school days and of his dear father, R. H. Phillip.


“I was born in Havelock Town and those days for the ones who were living in the heart of Colombo to send their children for education at a government school, the choice would be to send them to Royal College at Colombo 7. By then my elder brother Indrajith Philip was studying at Royal College. I don’t think there was any other reason for my parents to look for another school. I was admitted to Royal and while I was studying at the 4th standard, my father who was an Old Benedictine and was a well-known Master at St. Benedict’s College decided to move me and my brother into St. Benedict’s College Kotahena. The main reason I suppose was that he felt both of us were old enough to travel by then.

Initially when we moved to St. Benedict’s, I was not at ease as I was wondering why we were moved. We were happy at Royal, comfortable at the short distance we had to travel and here we are now travelling some distance. My brother was seven years elder to me and he straight away settled in as he was doing his Senior Exams. Let’s say I had rocky start as I was not happy with the move and there were a few complaints that went to my father that I was kind of unresponsive. However, knowing my father who was progressive and knew how to work his way through, managed to convince me and change my attitude too. I managed to settle in and my first teacher was Mr. Herman Kandappa. Once I moved to 5th standard, I had a really good teacher Mr. Weerasooriya who was my class teacher, I managed to do well. He was simply excellent and had a nice approach to teaching young children. From that time onward I did well in all classes.”

Continuing Dr. Phillip said “if I may recall some of my class mates were Felix Dias, Ranjit Fernando, Selva, Sunil Fernando, Anton Ponnambalam, Sri Ranjan and I do keep in touch with some of my class mates to date. Though I was not a sportsman, since all my friends were Cricketers, naturally I followed them and Cricket at School. Some fond memories. I was a prefect at College and used to spend time with these guys. After leaving College, I went to University to follow Engineering and in 1973 I went to USA to further my studies. I could have gone to England (London University) but opted to go to Indiana. My father was upset as he expected me to follow him as I had an automatic entry to London University since he studied there. Nevertheless, he did not interfere with my decision and he let me go. From Indiana I moved to Chicago as I got a scholarship and also an opportunity to work and study. I married Merle whom I knew for some time, in 1973, just before I moved to U.S.A. I have three children, Ranesh, Natasha and Kevin. All my children were raised in U.S.A but they love Sri Lanka.”


Rohan has over 36 years of experience in industry, consulting, systems integration and academia.  His professional background and experience is in the areas of systems integration, IT infrastructure, business application integration, computer systems and networking.  He specialized in applying technology to solve business problems in a broad variety of industries that included companies in the automotive, consumer goods, financial, retail and quick service restaurant sectors.


Rohan has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering/ Business Management, and a Doctorate in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.


Reminiscing about his father, he said “my father R. H. Phillip was born in 1902 and he studied at St. Benedict’s College and went to England for his higher studies. He completed his Masters and came back to Ceylon during early 1930’s. He started working at the University of Ceylon and did pursue a Law degree at the Law Faculty. My father met my mother at the University, as she was a student there. She was one of the first female students to enter Medical School those days. They married in 1939. From there, my father wanted to venture into teaching and joined St. Benedict’s tutorial staff in 1935. In 1961 while I was still at College, the then Government started the schools take over. At that time, I remember the Government made an offer to all government teachers, an option to retire with all benefits but if they wanted to engage in teaching post retirement they could do so only as part time teachers and not as government employees. So, my father, decided to retire in 1961 after 25 years of service”.


Dr. Phillip continued “for 25 years, he dedicated his life to St. Benedict’s and teaching pretty much one subject, Physics. He was also responsible for building the physics laboratory. He worked closely with Rev. Bro Theodrat, a Sub-Director at College. Both of them worked very closely for a decade or so and they developed the science faculty at College. Bro. Theodrat back in the day was very famous among students and was instrumental in organizing many things at College from exhibitions to various projects and conducting experiments and we used to call him the Dean of the Faculty of Science. He was well regarded and respected. His way of teaching was entertaining and we enjoyed learning from him. He served for College about 30 years. So, my father after retiring did part time teaching at St. Benedict’s and then he also started to teach at St. Bridget’s Convent. He in fact went on to be a teacher full time at St. Bridget’s until he retired fully in 1969. My father maintained a very good and a close relationship with students, mentoring and helping them. I remember, just next to the Laboratory we used to have a small library and quite often my father helped the university entrants or the senior students by having meetings and discussions at this library during lunch time.

The late Dr. A. N. S. Kulasinghe founder Chairman of State Engineering Corporation and a well-regarded Engineer in Sri Lanka was a student of Mr. R.H. Philip (Reginald Hurbert Philip). He has once said that he moved from Maris Stella College Negombo to St. Benedict’s College for his advanced level to study under Mr. R. H. Philip.


Dr. Phillip continued about his father “another famous student my father took under his wings was Dr. John Wilson who went on to become a specialist and director at the Chest Hospital, Welisara. He in fact looked after my father till he passed away. Some of his students were so close to him and they looked after him or associated with him till his death. My father was loved by many as he touched many through his way of teaching. I also learnt lot from him. He spent lot of time with the family and he used to tutor me and my brother and some of our friends, even during our University days. He loved his profession, the teaching and tutoring. He practiced and taught us good values. For me one important value he taught was helping or deal with people with no consideration for ethnic background or where they come from. I come from a mixed ethnic background with my four grandparents coming from four different nationalities. My father’s mother was a Sinhalese and his father was a Tamil. On my mother’s side, the mother was Burgher and father a Colombo Chetty. My father was open minded and open to other religions too. He lived among people of diverse ethnicities and in harmony with other religions. He respected other faiths and beliefs. One of his best friends was a staunch Buddhist and he was instrumental, along with the late S. W. R.  D. Bandaranayake, in bringing the Sinhala Only policy back in ‘50s and they remained good friends. My father always insisted that whenever I fill an application to mention the Nationality as ‘Ceylonese’ rather than saying Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. To date I practice this and no one has questioned me. My father was recognized by the College as he retired. He was the Chief Guest at the College Prize giving in 1960 where the then Head Prefect Anslem Gunasekerea referred to him in his speech as the perfect Christian Educator. Many of his students and many who associated with him speak highly about him. We are now offering a Gold Medal in his name ‘R.H. Philip Medal’ for the Best Science Student at College. Also, there’s a classroom dedicated to his name at the Alexander Building at College. After 46 years since my father became the Chief Guest at the College Prize giving, I was invited as the Chief Guest in 2006 for the College Prize Giving.”

He concluded saying “I still value his teaching and the learning I received at St. Benedict’s College. With my father’s loyalty and his passion, I have also built a strong passion towards my alma mater. That has now transpired into a strong bond with my friends where I make it a point to travel at least once a year to spend some time with them in Sri Lanka. The memories and the friendships are so special and dear.

About Sujith Silva

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