Delysia Gunewardene was born and raised in Colombo. Her father Dr.H.C.P Gunewardene was a general surgeon (specialty ENT) who served as head of Sri Lanka’s General Hospital. Following his retirement, the family moved to Kynsey Road where at the age of 11, Delysia met her future husband Norman Gunewardene. Married by 21, Delysia raised three children – with the boys Ruchi and Ajit coming along first and then 7 years later, the baby of the family, Otara.
Delysia, longing to be of use to the world, began running a classroom for special needs children at Otara’s pre-school. With little access to information on how to raise and educate children with diverse special needs, Delysia found her way through trial and error, coupled with a strong maternal instinct. It wasn’t long before she was ready to expand, opening a small school on Chitra Lane, Colombo 5. Today, over 50 years later, the ‘Chitra Lane School for the Special Child’ encompasses an educational institute with over 250 children, a Resource Centre that supports children and parents from across the island, a Sheltered Workshop that offers vocational training to young adults and an Academy that trains parents, teachers and carers on how to maximise the abilities of special needs children. At the age of 85, Delysia Gunewardene continues to work full time as President of the school.
Norman Gunewardene’s father also served in the medical field. Dr.H.O Gunewardene was the radiologist who pioneered the Radiology Department of Sri Lanka’s largest state medical facility – the General Hospital, Colombo. When Norman was 13 years old, the family moved to a new home on Kynsey Road and it was there that he met their young neighbour Delysia who, a decade later, would become his wife.
Norman continued the family legacy of public service, joining the Sri Lanka Navy as a young man. By the age of 23, he had retired from the Navy via enrolment in the Volunteer Forces and married Delysia (1956). He then entered the business sector through a job at the diversified conglomerate Aitken Spence as Manager of the Motor Launches Division. Norman quickly rose through the ranks to Aitken Spence Shipping, and eventually became Chairman of the Aitken Spence group of companies. He remained Chairman until his retirement in 1996. Norman passed away in 2008 and his legacy continues, both at Aitken Spence and in the work ethic of his children.