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In Memory of Dr J Alexander: A Bright Light Dimmed Early

Joyce Sebastian Joyce Sebastian
24 Jan 2022

There are only a few, a very precious few, who have used their individual brilliance to bring about change and usher in progress and Dr J Alexander IAS belongs to that category of people. A strategic thinker, an innovative leader, a keen visionary, Dr Alexander donned many hats in his long life of 83 years. From a teacher to a civil servant to a statesman, he excelled at every role with such panache, confidence and self-assurance that it’s almost too difficult to mirror.

As Dr Alexander crossed the Great Divide a few days ago, he has left behind memories of a life that shined brightly with vigour and passion. He created a lasting impact on the lives of many, all of whom would remember him with fondness and be filled with memories of intense pride and admiration for what Dr Alexander achieved in his glorious years of service.

Service remained at the centre of each of Dr Alexander’s endeavours and every role that he assumed from the time he entered the Indian Administrative Service in 1963 while teaching at Fathima Matha College in Kerala. 

His first appointment as the sub-collector of Mangalore was only a stepping stone to what was going to be a stellar 33-year career spent in the service of a country that he so loved.

His list of accomplishments as a civil servant were long and he held many important positions, to name a few: managing director of Karnataka State Ware Housing Corporation, chief executive officer of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, commissioner of Bangalore City Corporation, chairman of Karnataka State Housing Board and Karnataka State Slums Clearance Board, chairman and managing director of Mangalore Chemicals and Fertilisers, chairman of Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, Karnataka State Finance Corporation, Mysore Sales International Limited, Bangalore Development Authority and Karnataka State Pollution Control Board. 

These are just a few instances of the outstanding work that was helmed by Dr Alexander. And the list of his achievements is a long one. 

One of his more distinguished stints was of course his tenure as the Chief Secretary to Government of Karnataka. As an officer of the Indian Administrative Service, he understood the weight of the position he bore, gloried in its many overwhelming responsibilities, and discharged his duties with a kind of joy that is only storied. He never shut his mind nor his heart and with his enormous creative energy he managed to do many times more work that others, and much of it outstanding.

His resilience and resolve to serve the community were particularly evident in his decision to take to politics after his retirement from bureaucratic career. He joined politics and contested successfully in the 1999 Assembly elections from Bharatinagar constituency in Bengaluru. Later, he was included in the S.M. Krishna Ministry as Tourism Minister.

Like his career, he displayed a steady stream of successes in politics as well. It is not difficult to say why, for he had integrity, judgement, a sense of duty and flair. His integrity was complete: it is inconceivable that he would ever for a minute consider doing what was not right. His judgement was excellent – those who served with him through the years admired the flair and courage with which he conducted himself and took executive decisions. As many would vouch, throughout his life Dr Alexander was good when the going was tough. 

Anybody who knew Dr Alexander even for a little while would say without a hint of doubt that in his words, deeds and thoughts, he was first and foremost a man of service. His life was an example of the axiom, “Service to humanity is service to God.”

He made no fuss about his sense of duty – it was simply second nature to him. In all his different careers, he served and served unstintingly, doing his duty as a public servant, as a teacher, as a mentor, as a man of the community.

His commitment to education was quite transparent from his early years as a lecturer. It was an association that he carried close to his heart and displayed in his enduring alliance with Christ University and Kristu Jayanti College, Autonomous. His insightful guidance is something many universities and educational institutions in the country have benefitted from over the years.

His service to society also extended to the socio-cultural space. As the long-standing president of YMCA Bangalore and Bangalore Kerala Samajam, he worked towards the welfare of many. He was also an active member of the Advisory Committee of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin and the Kochi branch chairman of Xavier’s Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship.

An effective leader in every aspect, Dr Alexander possessed the skills and traits that inspired and empowered many. There is no doubt that stories of Dr Alexander’s leadership need to be told so that others believe that individuals, when they are as focused and driven as Dr Alexander was, can transform institutions and usher in the next level of progress.

It goes without saying that apart from his long list of achievements, Dr Alexander will continue to be remembered for his ebullient face that always broke into a smile of benevolence.

Those who knew him well enough would also remember the soulful melodies he often rendered in praise of the Almighty. His mellifluous voice was divine, and his songs were heavenly. In fact, a few days before his passing, during a visit to Christ University’s Delhi NCR Campus, he recorded a worship song in his rich voice. His talent was one of the gifts that marked him as truly extraordinary.

Resourceful, optimistic and creative as he was, Dr Alexander’s approach to life was that of being forever ready – ready to serve, ready to help, ready to face any and every challenge.

In a world where most are self-engaged, occupied with mortal and transitory accomplishments, Dr Alexander used his talents for the service of his fellow brothers and sisters and more importantly the service of God.

Dr Alexander’s passing reminds this writer of the William Blake’s words in “Auguries of Innocence”:

Joy and woe are woven fine, 
A clothing for the soul divine;
Under every grief and pine
Runs a thread of silken twine.

On an occasion such as this, woe and joy are inseparably intertwined – there’s a thanksgiving for the life that was spent in the service of others and sadness that it has ended.

Dr Alexander was a beacon of wit and civility. He was also immensely kind and thoughtful, never too busy to give time to those who sought it. Integrity, judgement, duty and flair may account for his successful career, but the love that he inspired in everyone who knew him will continue to stand out, as ultimately, he was a man who gave and received much love.

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