Gladys Jayawardane

Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe

Gladys Jayawardena, a Sri Lankan medical doctor, graduated from Sri Lanka Medical College and earned a PhD in Parasitology from the University of London.

She was married to Dr. Roland Jayawardena, who was former President J.R. Jayawardena’s brother.

In 1980, she became the first woman to direct the Medical Research Institute (MRI). Since 1988, she served as the Chairperson of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation. It was during her tenure that the medicine now known as ‘Jeevanee’, previously imported, began local production.

On September 12, 1989, she was assassinated by the Patriotic People’s Movement of the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP). The immediate cause was the import of medicines from India. At that time, the JVP had launched a boycott of Indian goods in protest against the Indo-Lankan agreement.

The details of her murder are recounted in the book “A Long Watch” by Sunila Galappatti, narrated by Commodore Ajith Boyagoda. During that period, the JVP held significant influence at the port of Colombo, where port workers were on strike. Meanwhile, a shipment of drugs imported from India by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation arrived at the port of Colombo. Dr. Gladys Jayawardene aimed to distribute this stock of medicines to hospitals to prevent shortages.

This task was delegated to the Navy and the mission was led by Ajith Boyagoda. Boyagoda recounts making a deal with port workers who wanted to work but feared the JVP. He instructed them to act as if compelled to work by the navy at gunpoint, enabling the safe transfer of the medicine stock to the warehouse.

On the same day, JVP members killed her in Kompannaweediya. Her final act may have been writing a letter to Ajith Boyagoda, thanking him for the mission. Boyagoda received the letter a day after her death.

An annual Gold Medal in Parasitology is awarded in her honour by the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Colombo.


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