By Neville Athukorala
It has been our good fortune to be associated for 51 long years and now write about a thoroughbred Peterite in Geoffrey Aubrey Garnier affectionately known by us all, as the one and only ‘Geoff’.
Born on the 24th of May 1932, he received his entire Catholic education at St. Peter’s College, Colombo 4, where he excelled in his studies and in Rugby. He was Head Prefect and captained the College 1st XV Rugby team in 1952 after which he entered the University of Ceylon, Faculty of Agriculture. He took to Planting after two years of study.
He played for the combined University Rugby Team from 1952 to 1954 which toured Malaysia and Singapore with success.
In 1959 he played for the famous star-studded Rugby team of Ceylon which was captained by Ashey Cader.
Photograph: the Ceylon side which participated in the All India Rugby Tournament in 1959
Geoff commenced his planting career in 1955, having been recruited by the well-known Estate Agency M/s George Steuart & Co. for a Sterling Company named ‘Duff Nayabedde’ Estate Ltd., where he spent his period of apprenticeship (creeper) on Nayabedde Estate, Bandarawela. After a short period of training, he became Assistant Superintendent on Nayabedde Estate and then on Helbodde Estate and Gonakelle Estate. After having gained more experience, he acted as Superintendent of Nayabedde, Dickoya and Gonakelle Estates. We witnessed Geoff rapidly climb the ladder of professionalism where he was appointed the Manager of Gowerakelle Estate in 1966 and moved to Glenalpine Estate in 1969. In 1973 he was in-charge of the largest and prestigious planting billet in Sri Lanka, that of Demodara Estate, Demodara.
With the dawn of the nationalization of estates, he enhanced his unblemished track record, with his appointment, as the first Sri Lankan Manager of the prime Plantation in Uva in Telbedde Estate, Badulla.
He was also the Visiting Agent of 11 Plantations in Uva & Nuwara Eliya Estates of the JEDB (Janatha Estate Development Board). He was then appointed to the Board of Directors of the JEDB III – Badulla and completed his planting career as the Chairman of the JEDB III 1991.
His period of office as a Director & Chairman of JEDB III Badulla was acknowledged by the Planters, Estate Staff, Labour Unions and the Politicians of the Uva Region as a highly professional performance of duty devoid of partnership or favouritism and total dedication in the aftercare of the valuable Tea Industry, to uplift the living standard of the estate worker and the improvement of agricultural standards.
It is with much pleasure now I narrate the most endearing period of Geoff’s life with his marriage to Veera Pestonjee.
The handsome Geoff Garnier walked down the aisle with the beautiful and gracious lady in Veera on 12th December 1959 and she joined the catholic faith. They were blessed with a loving daughter in Suzanne and loving son Gavin.
Veera’s lifestyle and values were totally consistent with the Catholic faith and its teaching. Gavin is a chip off the old block, following in the footsteps of his illustrious father in his values and lifestyle whilst Suzanne takes on her mother’s mantle of being kind and compassionate and loved by all.
In 1966 I met Geoff and his dear wife, Veera for the first time when he came to Gonakelle Estate, Passara as its Acting Manager whilst the permanent Manager was on overseas leave and from there on a beautiful friendship grew between our two families which will be treasured till the end of time. Geoff & Veera led a full life of a Plantation Executive, they kept a beautiful home, they played an active part in the Uva Club in Tennis & Badminton Tournaments having won every event, one could think of. Geoff continued to play for the Uva Rugby Team till 1964 and held office as the President of the Uva Club with distinction.
It must be remembered that during this era especially in the Uva Province, there was a high percentage of European Planters and their families, and with it there was a degree of adulteration of family life, lifestyle and values.
I am of the firm opinion that it is here that Geoff and Veera were shining stars in our planting community being examples to all young planters to follow this ‘Star’ in serving this great industry with pride and dignity. Veera left us and went to her heavenly abode on 12th January 2010 and left a void which will never be filled, but the fragrance and radiance of her pure catholic life will remain in our midst.
I give below an extract of an article published in 1982 by Chief Clerk of Telbadde Estate, where he refers to Geoff as follows:
“He belonged to the breed of thoroughly decent, quiet, middle class Burgher families and did nothing to upset the even tenor of life around them. They played the game straight and kept the good old name respected and esteemed. He was a playing member of the university and several Rugby Clubs for over a decade. He was selected to represent the Country in Rugby in 1959 at the All India Tournament”