Dilmah Tea founder and former CEO Merrill J Fernando died aged 93.

Fernando played a significant role in overcoming Sri Lanka’s tea industry’s exploitation under colonial rule. With unwavering commitment, he tirelessly promoted Dilmah Tea globally, captivating tea enthusiasts worldwide with Ceylon tea’s exceptional quality.

Fernando’s journey began with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. However, due to the limited opportunities for locals in the British-controlled tea industry, he pivoted his career towards tea tasting. This decision would ultimately shape the future of Sri Lanka’s tea industry and change the lives of countless people for the better.

Fernando was born on 6 May 1930, in Negombo, British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Beyond business success, Fernando was a philanthropist at heart. He established the MJF Charitable Foundation, which exemplifies his philosophy of giving back to the community. The foundation allocates at least 15% of Dilmah’s pre-tax profits to support and care for disabled children, marginalised youth, and the elderly in Sri Lanka.

In 2007, Fernando expanded his humanitarian efforts by establishing Dilmah Conservation. This initiative focused on environmental and cultural interventions, contributing to Sri Lanka’s biodiversity and heritage conservation.

Fernando’s initiatives supported entrepreneurship development among tsunami victims, including war widows and women. This empowered them to rebuild their lives and communities. His support was also extended to children with conditions like Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and Autism, providing them with much-needed care and opportunities. He also championed ancient tribes in Sri Lanka, helping them adapt to modern challenges while preserving their unique cultural heritage.

In recognition of his exceptional business ethics and practices, Merrill J. Fernando was honoured as an Oslo Business for Peace Honouree in 2015. This was done by a panel of Nobel laureates. This award acknowledges his dedication to making a positive impact on society through his business endeavours.

In 2016, Merrill J. Fernando was named Sri Lankan of the Year. The FIRST Award for Responsible Capitalism, presented by Exchequer Chancellor Philip Hammond MP was another recognition of Merrill’s commitment to ethical business practices. Fernando also received a Lifetime Achievement Award for humanitarian service from the World Association of Chefs Societies at the Congress in 2018.

In August 2019, the Sri Lankan government honoured Merrill J Fernando with the title of Deshamanya, the country’s second-highest national award.

In November 2019, Massey University in New Zealand awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree, making him only the fourth international recipient of that honour.