Obituary: Dr Lakshman Kanagasooriam

01 February 2019

A correspondent writes:

DR David Lakshman Kanagasooriam died suddenly on 19 December 2018, aged 61. He was born in what is now Sri Lanka — which he always called Ceylon — but his family fled persecution after the Sri Lankan government turned on its Tamil population in the years following independence. He arrived in England at the age of 11; and, after Maidstone Grammar School and Imperial College, London, spent the rest of his life as a man of Kent.

With a highly developed sense of humour, a winning smile, and frequently zany hair, “Dr Kana” established himself as a hard-working general practitioner in and around Aylesham and Whitstable. His medical practice was his life’s vocation: he would contact those whom he thought were suffering or at risk rather than wait for them to make a further appointment to see him. He would regularly take calls in the middle of the night, and spent hours driving along the backroads of Kent on locum visits.

The increasing pressures of work now make it difficult for GPs to continue to practise in this way; but Lakshman’s patients invariably valued his proactive, caring approach. The work was gruelling; but it also gave him purpose and strength. Relentless in the care of others, his rare capacity for patience and sacrifice was sustained by his deep Christian faith, and by the love and support of his wife, Angeline.

Far away from tea-covered highlands, Lakshman’s worshipping life found its focus at Canterbury Cathedral, with its stately liturgies and distinguished musical tradition, which he loved. The Kanagasooriams became stalwarts of the cathedral community: Lakshman and Angeline served as cathedral stewards; their sons, Jonathan and James, became choristers, before going on to sing at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge; and their daughter, Evangeline, attended The King’s School. When in 2013, Archbishop Welby entered his metropolitical church to be enthroned, it was Evangeline, resplendent in traditional Sri Lankan dress, who welcomed him.

Lakshman’s pride in his family was complete; and its members in turn valued his wisdom in a household filled with music, debate, and — from time to time — a little Sturm und Drang. He never used a sentence where a word would do, nor a word where a wry smile would suffice. Sitting quietly in the corners of rooms, wrapped in a shabby green dressing-gown, and with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he would wait for the moment to step in and offer resolution. “The problem here”, he would quip, “is that you are all correct and very clever.”

Several hundred people, from all walks of life, packed the east end of Canterbury Cathedral for his funeral on 18 January. In his tribute, James likened his father’s life’s work to that of Mr Great-heart from Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, whose calling is to protect the hesitant, the uncertain, and the vulnerable. Jonathan, meanwhile, recalled his father’s last question to him, only a few days before he died: “Do you ask people enough about their problems?”

In this innocuous and yet incisive challenge lies Lakshman Kanagasooriam’s epitaph.

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