Tea lovers mourn the loss of Dilmah Tea founder and ‘true visionary’ Merrill J. Fernando

Jul 21, 2023
As tea lovers savoured their cup of tea today, there was undoubtedly a tinge of sadness following the loss of Fernando. Source: Getty Images.

Tea lovers around the world have raised a glass today to Dilmah Tea founder Merrill J. Fernando after he sadly passed away at the age of 93 on Thursday, July 20.

The legendary tea maker, known for his famous “do try it” line, passed away surrounded by family in Colombo, Sri Lanka. His death was confirmed via a statement on a memorial website set up in his honour.

“Surrounded by his sons and grandchildren, iconic Teamaker, Disrupter and Servant Merrill J. Fernando passed in Colombo this morning,” the statement read.

“The visionary founder of Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company’s greatness was in his invincible faith, his integrity and love for tea & family. With devotion and urgency he pursued his desire for integrity and quality with humility and kindness.

“His achievement in disrupting an exploitative colonial industry irrevocably changed the lives of producers around the world introducing a paradigm shift in ethical business before ethics and sustainable business acquired the prominence they have now.”

Born in May 1930 in Sri Lanka, Fernando originally had dreams of becoming a lawyer but changed direction when he saw an opportunity in the tea industry. At the time, the tea trade was controlled by the British, making it difficult for locals to get involved. Merrill was among the first group of locals trained as tea tasters.

His most significant achievement was overcoming the exploitation in Sri Lanka’s tea industry and introducing his tea, Dilmah, to tea lovers worldwide. Dilmah tea is now available in more than 100 countries.

He founded his family’s tea-making business with a focus on human service. The MJF Charitable Foundation, funded by a portion of Dilmah’s profits, provides nutrition, education, and support to children, marginalised communities, and the elderly.

In 2007, Merrill expanded his humanitarian efforts to the environment with Dilmah Conservation, supporting positive environmental and cultural projects.

Fernando received several prestigious awards for his contributions. He was recognised as an Oslo Business for Peace Honouree in 2015 and named Sri Lankan of the Year in 2016. Dilmah was honoured as a Brand with a Conscience, and Merrill received a Lifetime Achievement Award for humanitarian service from the World Association of Chefs’ Societies.

In 2019, Fernando was honoured with the title of “Deshamanya”, the second-highest national award in Sri Lanka. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Massey University in New Zealand for his business acumen, commitment to ethical food production, and philanthropy.

As tea lovers savoured their cup of tea today, there was undoubtedly a tinge of sadness following the loss of Fernando. Online, heartfelt tributes and expressions of gratitude poured in from tea lovers worldwide, honouring the legacy of Fernando and the profound impact he made on the tea industry.

Fernando is survived by his two sons, Malik and Dilhan. He will be laid to rest in a private burial on July 22.

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