For the past 46 years the main gymnasium at International School Bangkok (ISB) has been called “Rajendra Hall” after a much beloved teacher, coach and Director of Physical Education and Athletics, Mr. P.E. Rajendra.
So who was this gentleman whose name has graced the center of physical activity at ISB?
Ponnuduari Emmanuel (P.E.) Rajendra, a native of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), was born in Malacca in 1920. While his early education took place in Ceylon, he later matriculated to the University of Iowa in the U.S. where he earned a Master’s degree in physical education. His early career found him working for the Department of Education in Ceylon, including a stint at St. John’s University, Jaffna, where, as the head track & field coach, he led the team to a national championship in 1944, and later served as the Ceylonese national athletics coach. In 1962, he was hired as ISB’s Director of Physical Education and Athletics with the express goal of revamping the school’s physical education and athletic program.
Rajendra’s energy and initiative saw him rewrite ISB’s K-12 physical education program, start an intramural program (the ‘house’ games) that spanned from the elementary school through to the high school, and establish a sports program that included eleven different varsity sports. Under his leadership, ISB reached unparalleled success in realm of athletic endeavors. For the first time ISB teams participated in both Thai and the U.S. Armed Forces leagues, locally, while also entering national Thai schools’ competitions in both track & field and volleyball. The close relationship between ISB and their host country of Thailand was nurtured by “Raj,” and he was a committee member of the Volleyball Association of Thailand. The school also continued its annual fixture with Singapore American School which started in 1961, and began a competition with the international school in Vientiane, Laos.
Here are some remembrances from those “Rajendra” years: “Monday morning would find the indomitable patriarch of sports at ISB, Mr. P.E. Rajendra, walking the length of the field checking for snakes before first period gym.” David Wilkerson, Class of ’72; “I remember Mr. Rajendra, who was from Sri Lanka. He was the head of the PE Department and everyone loved him. He was kind to everyone.” Khun Rabiab, Thai staff member for nearly 40 years; “In the days at Soi 15 Mr. Rajendra’s athletes won almost all sports competitions!” Khun Boonterm, ISB Security Guard for over 40 years.
Tragically P.E. Rajendra passed away in his home country on August 18, 1972. A memorial service took place at ISB on September 24, 1972, and from that day forward the main gym at ISB has been called, Rajendra Hall.
It is safe to say that since the early 60’s any ISB student who has taken a PE class, who fondly remembers the house games (present at ISB today still), who has participated in an international competition like the Singapore Games or, in the past 35+ years, has taken part in an IASAS competition, has this remarkable man to thank. P.E. Rajendra was an amazing educator whose vision of physical education and athletics has flourished at ISB for nearly 50 years. So, the next time you have the opportunity to enter the newly re-modelled main gymnasium at ISB, please take a look at the shiny bronze plaque near the main entrance and remember a truly great man, Mr. P.E. Rajendra.
PE Rajendra was survived by his wife, Hilda, and his children Ernest, Leo, Christine, Angeline, and Eric, all ISB students and ISB alumni. I would especially like to thank his sons, Ernest and Eric, for providing details for this brief look at his incredible life.