Ranil is the second son of Esmond and Nalini Wickremesinghe. Esmond Wickremesinghe was an eminent press magnate and one time President of the International Press Institute and the winner of the Golden Pen of Freedom (the annual award to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the defence of press freedom). Nalini Wickremesinghe was a patron of the arts who contributed greatly to the revival of Sinhala drama, craft and culture from the 1950s – 1980s especially through her involvement with the Sinhala Institute. She was the daughter of D R Wijewardene (one of the country’s famed freedom fighters and the press baron who founded Sri Lanka’s largest publishing house Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd). His paternal grandfather C L Wickremesinghe was the first Sri Lankan government agent; he left an indelible mark on the country’s administrative service during the colonial years.
Ranil is married to Maithree Wickramasinghe, a Professor at the Department of English and the founding director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Kelaniya. She is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Sussex. Maithree is an activist for women’s rights. She has published extensively; on women and development, gender mainstreaming, violence against women and feminist research methodology. Her work has been recognized both locally and internationally, and she has delivered keynotes on gender and women’s studies at academic and professional fora in Sri Lanka and around the world.
Ranil has three brothers (Shan, Niraj and Channa) and one sister (Kshanika). It is to their credit that they have all made their mark in their respective fields without any political pull or push: Shan played a crucial role in introducing the electronic medium of television to Sri Lanka, Niraj began the country’s first private radio station, and Kshanika and Channa in the field of business.
Ranil was born on 24th March 1949. He received his primary and secondary education at Royal College, Colombo. As a young boy, Ranil had a reputation for mischief, for joking and bantering, playing tricks (along with his close friends), and teasing girls.
Having graduated from the University of Colombo with a Degree in Law, he enrolled as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 1972, and then, practised as a lawyer for five years. While at the University, he was actively involved in student politics, becoming the President of the Law Students Union and the Vice President of the University Students’ Council. In recent times, Ranil has been a Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow at the Centre for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA, conducting seminars on the politics of the South Asian region.