The epitome of a gentleman in politics
Harold Herat

A rare breed of gentleman, Harold Herat was considered a courteous and honourable man especially in politics. Hailing from an affluent family which traced its roots to Kegalle and Chilaw, Harold left a lucrative career in law to embark on a political career which saw him hold several ministerial portfolios ranging from Coconut Industries, to Justice to Finance and Foreign Affairs where he shone as a statesman both locally and internationally. Despite the lofty titles he held, Harold was a servant of the people who delivered on his promises and worked tirelessly to raise the living conditions of the people in his electorate. In an era where gentlemen dominated the political arena, Harold Herat’s calling card was his honesty, integrity and intelligence which he used unstintingly for the betterment of Sri Lankans.
Compiled by Tina Edward Gunawardhana

The early days

James Edward Harold Herat was born on 10th November 1930, the youngest son of Dr. Albert Herat and Dagmar Herat. He hailed from an aristocratic family which traced its origins to Kegalle and Chilaw. His affluent family were planters and he grew up in the palatial Mudukatuwa Walauwe. Harold Herat was a talented and multi-faceted youngster. Educated at St. Joseph Vaz College Wennapuwa, St. Joseph’s College Colombo and Maris Stella College Negombo, he excelled in tennis and was awarded school colours.

Position and power was no novelty to Harold Herat. He chose Law for his career, though his father was a foreign qualified physician. This no doubt, was due to the influence of his two grand uncles, the late C. E. Corea and his brother Victor Corea, both leading lawyers of the Chilaw Bar. He joined the Ceylon Law College in 1951 and passed out as an Attorney-at-Law in 1956.

Family Influences

He began his practice in the Chilaw courts and was the first President of the Marawila Bar Association. For many years he served as the Secretary of the Chilaw-Negombo Planters’ Association and was also the Patron of the Edirimana Corea Union. While practicing law in his hometown of Marawila and nearby courts, he was attracted to politics perhaps because of his links to a political dynasty where his grand uncles C. E. Corea and Victor Corea were identified as `Freedom Fighters’ and his uncle Sir Claude Corea was the first Ambassador to the United States. Another uncle Shirley Corea, was Minister of Trade and Commerce and was also the Speaker of the House of epresentatives.

Entering politics

Harold Herat abandoned a brilliant legal career that saw him rise as a criminal lawyer, when he was picked for the Nattandiya electorate in the 1977 General Election by J.R.Jayewardene, against many other formidable aspirants. It is, perhaps, this soft corner that JR had for Herat, that made him to appoint him a Minister, within one year of election as a Member of Parliament. He was the first non-Cabinet rank Minister to be appointed under the Second Republican Constitution of 1978. He was assigned the subject in which he had the greatest potential to perform - the coconut industry. Having inherited vast and excellent acres of coconut lands in the Marawila and Mudukatuwa area, though later diminished with the land reforms of the previous regime, he was expected to revitalise this important segment of the economy, which was essentially indigenous in nature.

Harold Herat not only improved and rationalised this network, but also introduced new impetus through additional local investment and much needed foreign investment and innovation.

An esteemed political career

He held many portfolios in the Cabinet during his political career. Herat held a record of twenty three, unbroken and undefeated years as a Member of Parliament. Loved and respected for his honesty and sincerity he was personified as `Mr.Clean’ at the hustings. A fluent speaker in both Sinhala and English he held the crowds spellbound, in their own idiom using pithy language should the occasion demand, but always with the utmost decency. He was highly effective as a speaker in foreign fora, being possessed of polished dictum.

As a stalwart of the United National Party (UNP) Harold Herat was subsequently elevated as Minister of Foreign Affairs, (April 1990 - August 1993) whilst also functioning as the State Minister for Finance to President R. Premadasa. He was Minister of Justice (August 1993 – August 1994) in President D. B. Wijetunge’s Cabinet and also acted as the Defense Minister when the President was on overseas travel.

After the assassination of President Premadasa, Prime Minister, D. B. Wijetunga succeeded as President and continued to hold the Finance portfolio. Thus, Herat had the opportunity to present the National Budget to Parliament on two occasions in 1993 and 1994. Being the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the State Minister of Finance was also a very important combination but he was shifted from the Cabinet portfolio of Foreign Affairs to Justice in 1993 but he was able to play a more active role in the Finance Ministry when the Minister of Finance became the President.

A gentleman politician

A popular Foreign Minister, he represented the President on two occasions at the United Nations, building up personal relationships with world leaders impressing them with his qualities. The late Benazir Bhutto when she was out of power arrived in Sri Lanka to meet two of her good friends, Herat and the late Anura Bandaranaike. Herat served his electorate Nattandiya in the Puttalam District with dedication, turning around the agricultural sector and the fishing industry. Faced with near crumbling administrative buildings he got down to business, setting up committees that resulted in bridges spanning waterways, electricity available to all villages and network of buses that serviced the public and schoolchildren. While paddy cultivation, the coconut and fishing industries accelerated, Marawila was recognized internationally as the centre of the Batik Industry in Sri Lanka. Schools were upgraded and national sportsmen emerged while the youth were absorbed into employment, with skills being taught to those who did not complete their education. He devoted his time to his constituents and although a staunch Christian, played a dominant role in furthering the cause of Buddhism in his electorate. Although the UNP lost the elections, his loyal constituents returned him to Parliament, to sit in the Opposition. Subsequently Herat retired from politics gracefully.

Balancing politics and family

Herat married Gwen Weerackoon. Their three children, are two daughters Shamara and Parveen and son Avanka. His ancestral home was open day and night to all his constituents and when he was in Colombo with his busy schedule, it was Gwen who looked after the affairs in Nattandiya. Herat was a devout Christian and had immense faith in God. He faithfully attended St. Stephen’s Church Marawila each Sunday with his family. He was also a man who had a devout belief in God and was not known to have missed a Sunday Service even during the height of the JVP insurgency.

A statesman

Scrupulously hones,t he had a high sense of decorum and civility. This was most evident in travel abroad. While his wife, Gwen Herat accompanied him on such trips, as his Private Secretary, there were occasions when one of their three children would also join to broaden their horizons. When this happened, the Minister always made sure that all the expenses of the children were met with his personal funds.

He never requested a public servant to do anything irregular and exercised the powers vested in him judiciously and correctly. Neat in appearance, well but appropriately dressed always, he was an embodiment of decency. As a rule, he was courteous to his staff, deferential to those with expertise in relevant fields, and considerate to all. It is really as a gentleman politician that Harold Herat would be remembered. A rarity in the modern day political arena.