Tributes have been paid to a man who arrived in Britain having worked a passage in a cargo ship – and went on to become an RAF pilot and key figure in the race relations movement.
Edward Ratnaraja, who was also a prominent figure in the Midland Liberal Party, died at the age of 74.
‘Ted’ as he was known, was born in Alutgama, Ceylon, in 1940 and worked his passage in 1959 as a cabin boy.
In 1960, he joined the RAF, becoming a pilot officer stationed at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, marrying his then wife Lalitha in 1965.
He was based at a number of RAF bases until 1973 when he retired his commission as squadron leader, including RAF Gutersloh in Germany, where his eldest children Edward and Lara were born, his youngest daughter Natasha being later born in Sri Lanka.
The family then moved to Shirley and Mr Ratnaraja joined the Race Relations Board as principal conciliation officer, working all over the country advising on the enforcement of the Race Relations Act.
He helped organisations develop effective equal opportunities policies and strategies enabling companies and individuals to counter inequality.
It was a subject close to his heart and at the same time he became active within the Liberal Party.
In 1980, he moved to Birmingham where he set up a management consultancy, designing and directing the first women in management courses in Britain and the first Afro Caribbean and Asian managers’ courses.
In 1991, he became senior tutor consultant for the Engineering Employers Federation, specialising in employment law until 2001 when he partially retired.
He was also a popular after-dinner speaker and his family described him as “a larger than life man who enjoyed life to the full and was renowned for his razor sharp wit”.
Friend and Daily Express columnist Carole Ann Rice said: “Edward was like a character in a book that you couldn’t quite believe existed and Birmingham was so lucky to play host to this most irrepressible bon viveur, poet and old school gent. In short, he gave the Second City style.”
Blair Kesseler, who first met Mr Ratnaraja at a Liberal Party conference in the 70s, said: “He was instrumental in the formation of my attitude to racism and discrimination. Like most white liberals I firmly believed I had no prejudice in me.
“Ted made me face up to my hidden feelings and change from knowledge. I remember him addressing a Liberal conference and telling them in that authoritative voice that ‘racism isn’t my problem, it is yours!’.
“He leaves a legacy of changed attitudes. He made a difference.”
Avis Lees-Roper, one of Mr Ratnaraja’s women in management trainees, said: “His passionate belief that nothing prevented women from fulfilling their potential, except themselves, was the cornerstone of his teaching. His wise words, support and tremendous insight shaped my life in so many ways.”
Mr Ratnaraja died peacefully in his sleep on August 20 and is survived by three children and four grandchildren.
His funeral takes place at Robin Hood Crematorium in Solihull on September 18 at noon.