Rajah Rutnam

Rajah Rutnam studied at St. Thomas’ College in Gurutalawa. He always liked the lifestyle of the West. Rajah migrated to the United States in February 1953 at the age of 19 and was the first Ceylonese immigrant under the McCarren Act of 1952. The eldest son of Dr. James T. Rutnam and Evelyn Wijayaratne Rutnam, Rajah chose to leave behind him an extremely comfortable life and the chance to follow in his father’s enterprising and prosperous business. It was a pioneering move on the part of a young man at that time. a totally different era then in the history of Sri Lankan settlers in the US, and Rajah really forged a path for many newcomers to this country.

He was the firs Sri Lankan ever to join the armed forces here and he served proudly for many years in the US marines. Quick to be accepted by his American colleagues, he never failed to welcome and embrace his fellow Sri Lanans by showing them to ropes and encouraging them to come and share the pleasant life in California. Together with his lovely and devoted wife Patsy he opened up his home to one and all, and any Sri Lankan arriving in Los Angeles in those days is sure to have warm memories of Rajah’s hospitality. Like his parents back in Colombo, Rajah inherited the happy knack of bringing people together from all walks of life, regardless of race or religion, and to this day he maintains ties with all these close friends.

In 1964 he established the first Sri Lankan Restaurant, Rajah’s Elephant Walk in Hollywood. He also published the first Sri Lankan Newspaper in California. Rajah was a Founder Committee Member, Past President and Life Member of the Sri Lanka America Association of Southern California (SLAASC), as well as Vice President of the Asian Pacific Organization, and Director of Sri Lanka Trade, Tourism and Cultural Information Services.

Rajah was an active participant in many County oriented Cultural Festivals. As President of the SLAASC, Rajah was responsible for arranging with Mayor Tom Bradley that November 19th, 1976 be proclaimed “Sri Lanka Day”, and the Lion Flag of Sri Lanka was hoisted at City Hall for the first time in Los Angeles. He was also instrumental in helping found the first Buddhist Temple formerly on Beechwood in Hollywood.

The pursuit of material wealth was never much of a priority in Rajah’s life rather his heart and passions often directed his way. An artist and animal lover, he has an abiding passion for all things associated with the Wild West, and of horses in particular.

Rajah is now retired and lives with his wife Patsy in Los Angeles. He has two children, Vanessa and Dennis Andre. He spends six months of the year in the other country he loves, Sri Lanka. Rajah has been an inspiration in recent years to his family and all those who know him by his courage and tenacity in dealing with a stroke he suffered in 2004.

Being the first Sri Lankan immigrant to the United States, Rajah was directly and indirectly responsible for opening the door to the U.S. to all his brothers and sisters and many others, including aunts, uncles and cousins. He is a man who always helps and encourages many other Sri Lankans who had ideas of promoting the country of their birth. Rajah Rutnam is a true pioneer of America, but he has never forgotten the land of his birth!