Rohana Fraval has sent this tribute for Ed Kerner who recently passed away. Ed was a wonderful man, so full of life and had had such an intersting career with the United Nations and in other roles representing Sri Lanka. I always love this photo of Ed and Alfathah with the Empire State Building in the background, looking like the Lord and Lady of Manhattan, on top of the world…

Edmund Kerner was born in Sri Lanka on 16th November, 1922. He was the last of six siblings.  Having been educated at the prestigious St. Joseph’s College in Colombo, he joined the External Services where he met Alfathah, a very demure, cultured young lady from an affluent family. Smitten, Ed being a true gentleman, approached her father for permission to take her out.  Alfathah’s father was outraged! He first wished to know what Ed’s intentions were. Not long after when he realized that Alfathah and Ed were in love, her father relented and blessed the union.  They were married two years after they met. Their wedding was a classic on the Colombo social calendar.

Not long after, Ed was sent to work in the Sri Lankan Embassy in the United Kingdom.  Ed was an ambitious and upwardly mobile young man and was soon transferred as Attache to the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington D.C. in 1951. After five years at this post, he was transferred to the Sri Lanka Mission to the United Nations. Edmund Kerner was then appointed as Deputy Director of the Asian Programme of the International Press Institute (IPI). This took him from the headquarters in Zurich to mostly all corners of the world including Paris, Stockholm and London.

In 1967 Ed was appointed as Sri Lanka’s first Director of Tourism in North America and set up the Ceylon Tourist Board Office in New York. He was the first Asian to be appointed as Vice Chairman to the Association of National Tourist Office Respresentatives in New York. Having held several prestigious positions, in 1969 Ed was appointed an Adviser to the Sri Lankan delegation to the United Nations’s Economic and Social Council.

At that time, Varindra Tarzie Vittachi was working in the United Nations and was a good friend. In 1973 Edmund Kerner joined the United Nations fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and graduated to becoming Senior Information Officer. In 1983, Ed became the Chief, Media Liaison, for UNFPA.

Alfathah and Ed Koerner at the top of the Empire State building, New York

Alfathah and Ed were opened in Subud. In those pioneering days, Bapak had asked Alfathah to establish a group in New York. Their apartment became the first centre for latihan in New York.  Ed was soon opened and became extremely involved in Subud work and at one time was Vice Chair when Maxwell Shorter was Chairman of Subud USA.  He subsequently became Chairman of Subud USA.  He had tremendous influence and friends in high places. He could wheel and deal and even manage to arrange visas during public holidays. He was very hospitable to Bapak and Ibu Siti Sumari. His position as a member of the Sri Lankan delegation to the United Nations gave him access to smooth out matters at Customs when Bapak’s entourage needed assistance. Once, after a long and tiring journey, Bapak stayed at his apartment in New York as Ibu was too exhausted to move to the hotel.

Ed and Alfathah travelled to Indonesia several times and Alfathah stayed there for several months. There is an interesting story I heard about Ed arriving late one night in Cilandak and did not have time to change  Dollars into Indonesian currency. Having arrived by taxi, he had to ask Bapak for the taxi fare!

Ed loved the life and ambience of New York and would have loved to have retired there.  His social life revolved around New York. Most of his friends lived there. Alfathah had five sisters and their families in Australia and the pull to return to Melbourne, was too great to resist. When he retired in 1986, Ed and Alfathah bought a smart home in the inner suburbs of Melbourne and continued the lifestyle they had become accustomed to, throwing parties to journalists and diplomats who were passing through Melbourne. At one party I counted three ex-ambassadors of Sri Lanka. The drinks always flowed freely as Ed and Alfathah were excellents hosts. He always regaled us with his stories and loved being the life of the party.

Little known were Ed’s hobbies. He had a pilot’s licence and loved taking friends for joy rides. A nervous Alfathah was not very impressed when Ed performed aerobatics when he took her on a flight!  Ed loved to dance and until a few years ago, would partner one of the ladies at the old people’s home where he retired.

Ed’s had a spiritual side which he was very open about. Most of his friends in high places knew he ‘dabbled’ is the esoteric. He was extremely loyal to his friends and this has been reciprocated.

Ed’s health began to deteriorate when Alfathah had a fall and could not walk anymore. As she was admitted into an aged care facility, it became untenable for Ed to live on his own. He often forgot to tell the taxi driver his address. It became dangerous for him to live without a caretaker. So his friends and family physician made the decision to admit Ed into the same aged care facility with Alfathah. They were both very happy until Ed’s Alzheimer’s disease took hold and he had to be confined.

This was not easy on Ed and he never accepted his situation. His deterioration was rapid. In the last few weeks on his life, Ed had friends visiting him almost every other day. It was such a privilege to cherish Ed in his last days.

Thank you all for the tributes you have sent for Ed. I have given the list of names to be read out at his funeral on the 8th of December at 2.15 p.m Melbourne time.  To those who love him, he will always be alive in your memories. Rest in peace dear Ed. May your journey be filled with the joy and comfort you brought to so many. May God accompany you.