I came to know Joe about fifty years ago. I had bumped in to him at the orthopaedic clinic in the then Ceylon General hospital in Colombo. This happened under strange circumstances. I had gone for treatment for my ankle sprained while playing hockey and he too had come for treatment for an injury to his ankle. While we were waiting for our turn to see the doctor we casually exchanged a few words and parted.
Later, one day when I visited my girlfriend who is my wife now, at her family home, I was surprised to see him as a visitor there. Apparently he was interested in my girlfriend’s elder sister. (Later he would marry her and have two sons by this marriage). Both of us were surprised to see each other at the same house.
I came to know Joe better from there onwards. He was the evening English news reader at the National Service of the Radio Ceylon. My wife’s sister would turn on to the channel every evening at nine PM to listen to his voice which was clear as a bell. I can remember his powerful voice saying “ This is the National Service of Radio Ceylon. The News read by Joe Nathan”. His English diction was perfect. In addition, he took charge of other programmes such as “In Concert Style” and “Roll Up the Carpet” which were mainly dance music.
During this time, he was also working at the Auditor General’s Office. Subsequently he would work at the Labour Department and Public Trustees Office. During his last few years in Sri Lanka he was working as the Chief Executive for the National Chamber of Industries.
He was educated at St Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia. He was very good in English and was a life member of the Colombo YMCA where he took part in English oratorical contests. His name appeared in the plaques on the walls of the YMCA for having won the gold medal at oratorical contests. He also worked as a journalist for The Daily News, Times of Ceylon and the Island newspapers writing financial columns.
He had a powerful voice that needed no microphone or amplifier. There were times when we would have a drink at our in laws’ place and Joe would break out into a mock speech either in English or Sinhalese, imitating the politicians or the trade union presidents of that era. I thoroughly enjoyed his speeches. As a matter of fact, I have recorded a short impromptu speech made by him during my visit from Australia to Sri Lanka in 1992. His Sinhala speeches were equally good as the English ones.
He retired as Chief Executive of the National Chamber of Commerce to migrate to Australia in 1994 and later he left for the UK in 1999. I did not meet him when he arrived in Australia as I was based in Perth. Later on, I heard that he had developed kidney problems and was on dialysis. I got in touch with him on the phone and he was ever so grateful. We have been in touch ever since until his demise.
When my retired father who worked in the Telecommunications in Sri Lanka left for Chennai with my youngest sister after the July 1983 racial riots, he found it impossible to get his pension paid over there. It was with Joe’s great influence and help my father got his pension paid in India until his death. For this my father and I are ever grateful to Joe.
I found Joe to be a very hard working, intelligent and honest person who was fearless in the face of odds and determined to do what he undertook, at any cost. There was one thing that surprised and saddened me about Joe was that he was not very good at conversing in his mother tongue Tamil. I miss him.