Former Governor-General, New Zealand
There are three words, which seem to describe this remarkable man - authentic, benevolent and cherished.
He is authentic because of effort put in to change worldwide practice in the marketing of tea. Tea used to be packed and sent to destination countries to be blended and repackaged and sold there with brand names favoured in the latter. In New Zealand brands included Roma, Choysa, Bell and Bushells. This was viewed as wrongheaded by a young Sri Lankan tea industry trainee. Merrill J Fernando espoused the idea that tea, to be authentic, ought be grown in one country and then marketed overseas as a product of that country. He set his face against the idea of blending tea overseas without control over the final product. Eventually, he found a way to make this happen. The new tea came to New Zealand from Sri Lanka to be marketed under the name 'Dilmah'. Again in the cause of being authentic, his rich mellifluous voice was broadcast throughout our country and people became used to seeing and hearing him say on television "This is my tea. Do try it!" They did this with a result that Dilmah soon succeeded in the market. That was then repeated elsewhere and Dilmah, an authentically single source tea, is now a premium product in many parts of the world.
Benevolent is also a name easily associated with Merrill J Fernando, because as time passed, success accompanied his efforts, and he found ways to use profits gathered by Dilmah in the interests of the community. Within Sri Lanka, there are schemes whereby workers in the planting fields or packing and processing factories can obtain a share of the profits accruing to Dilmah from their efforts. I have individual knowledge of the support that Merrill Fernando has brought to the game of cricket. The J Fernando influence has brought cricket into the lives of young people who would not ordinarily have an opportunity to participate. An example is that of a young New Zealander, Alex Reese, who has operated, now for a number of years, a cricket academy in Sri Lanka using New Zealand coaching techniques with much of what is done being assisted by the Fernando Foundation. Additionally, the ‘Dilmah Tea Party’ presents interviews and background items about Test matches in progress, producing an advertisement for the tea as well as quality support for the fixture. Then, for a decade now, a team of young Kiwi schoolboy cricketers has been chosen to undertake a two week visit to Sri Lanka, playing up to 10 games against Sri Lankan sides. Benefits have resulted in both directions, for young sportsmen mingling with colleagues from another part of the world. These encounters involve fundraising and organisation, which is assisted by sponsorship from Dilmah. This material all sits easily under the heading, benevolence.
The third word, cherished, flows from the first two, but exhibits how the new nonagenarian is regarded. In New Zealand, he is often stopped in the street by people who recognise and who wish him well. This is because of the advertising remaining in the memory of people who know "Mr Dilmah", and who continue to wish him well. "Strong leadership in ethical business within the food and beverage industry" was a central phrase in the citation accompanying the Honorary Doctorate in Science awarded to Merrill Fernando by Massey University in November 2019, and it represented the respect which Merrill has attracted and maintained with his colleagues in business in New Zealand and further afield. These last words seem to sum up the person being honoured in a way that can end this tribute in a suitable way.