Merrill Fernando death: Dilmah Tea Founder passed away at 93, cause of death and obituary

Merrill Fernando cause of death. (Source: Facebook)
Merrill Fernando cause of death. (Source: Facebook)


On July 20, 2023, Mr. Merrill Joseph Fernando, the founder and CEO of the Sri Lankan tea business Dilmah, passed away. Even for Sri Lankans, “Dilmah” is the best premium tea brand offering the highest quality tea.

He dedicated his life to tea, working tirelessly to promote Pure Ceylon Tea until he was 91 years old. He continued to do so until his death at the age of 93. It is a grave loss for the country, the family, and the business at large.

During this difficult period, we offer our condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Merril J. Fernando. Keep reading to know more about the legacy of Dilmah Tea Founder Merrill Fernando and his cause of death in detail.


Who was Merrill Fernando?

Merrill Joseph Fernando was the founder and CEO of the Sri Lankan tea company Dilmah. Fernando retired from his position as CEO of Dilmah in 2019, and his son Dilhan Fernando took over.

Merrill J. Fernando, who was born in May 1930 to a low-income family in Pallansena, Negombo, British Ceylon, came to Colombo for his early education and lived there for the whole of his professional career.

His goal was to become a lawyer, but he changed his mind when he discovered a job opportunity as a tea tester in the highly sought-after tea trade, which was off-limits to locals because the tea sector was under British control.

For 150 years, Ceylon, which is now Sri Lanka, was a British colony. One of the initial six students hired for training as tea tasters was him.

Merrill J. Fernando’s greatest accomplishment was bringing his tea to tea enthusiasts all over the world despite his country’s tea industry being exploited. It was also the attitude he chose that would serve as the cornerstone of his family’s tea business: turning commerce into a matter of providing a service to others.

An industry-reviving brand:

Mr. Fernando purchased his first few estates in 1974 to try his hand at growing authentic Sri Lankan tea, and in 1981 he established Ceylon Tea Services Limited (CTS).

CTS and all other businesses held by Mr. Fernando would eventually become wholly owned subsidiaries of MJF Holdings, Limited (MJF Holdings), as the business expanded and new subsidiaries were established in other nations.

The young businessman first struggled to compete with the larger, more established multinational tea firms and realise his dream. He had a hard time selling his tea and was struggling to maintain the viability of his young farms.

At the beginning of his career, Mr. Fernando spent a significant amount of time selling tea to large, international tea businesses like Lipton and Tetley, which they then marketed under their brand names.

These and other significant worldwide tea corporations began buying less Sri Lankan tea in the 1970s because they were fusing it with less expensive teas from nations like India and China.

Profits for these businesses increased because these blended teas were branded as Sri Lankan teas, which have historically sold for more than Indian or Chinese teas. Unfortunately, this destroyed the livelihoods of Sri Lankan farmers, producers, and dealers.

Disturbed by these occurrences, Mr. Fernando made the decision to revive the Sri Lankan tea business by developing, marketing, and distributing the Dilmah brand of pure Sri Lankan tea—a combination of the names of his two sons, Dilhan and Malik.

Mr. Fernando insisted that he would not blend any other teas into the Sri Lankan tea he sold through his new business.

In the beginning, the new family-run business attempted to sell Dilmah tea directly to significant overseas corporations and foreign supermarkets, but most had never heard of the new brand and it was difficult to convince them to take a bet on the new business.

Mr Fernando faced many challenges along the way to realising his dream, but he ultimately succeeded in building a successful business and maybe Sri Lanka’s most well-known brand.

With his brand protected by trademark registrations, the entrepreneur has been able to expand his business, give back to the community and environment, and improve the lives of more than a million people employed in Sri Lanka’s tea industry.

Dilmah has also re-established Sri Lankan tea as a leader in the market. Dilmah has surpassed even the founder’s ambitions by building a powerful brand supported by honesty and customer confidence.

Mr. Fernandon said,

“As a family company, we have come to a level which I never even dreamt about,”

“We don’t want to be the biggest brand,” he went on to say, “…but we are the best brand; that’s where we want to remain.”

MJF Charitable Foundation:

His MJF Charitable Foundation, which uses at least 15% of the pretax profits of Dilmah and its subsidiary businesses to provide nutrition, education, care, and support to elderly people, youth in underserved communities, and children with special needs, demonstrates the realisation of that philosophy.

Merrill established Dilmah Conservation in 2007 to provide effective environmental and cultural intervention, expanding the humanitarian support his enterprises provide to the environment.

His philosophy has produced significant results in the development of entrepreneurship among tsunami and war window survivors, the empowerment of women, the support for children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism, the assistance of ancient Sri Lankan tribes in their efforts to modernise, and several other initiatives to spread the benefits of success to the underprivileged.

Awards and Recognitions:

Merrill was recognised as an Oslo Business for Peace Honoree in 2015 by the group of Nobel Laureates that assesses the “businessworthiness” of businessmen and women abroad.

A group of distinguished individuals selected him as Sri Lankan of the Year in 2016, and the same year he received the FIRST Award for Responsible Capitalism for his work to better the conditions of disadvantaged communities and poor children. Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond, MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave the award.

The Medinge Group, a brand think tank, named Dilmah a Brand with a Conscience. He was recognised as a Sri Lankan of the Year in the same year, and the World Association of Chef Societies presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for humanitarian work at the Congress in 2018. Dilmah Founder received the “Deshamanya” title and the 2nd highest national award in Sri Lanka in August 2019.

Merrill J. Fernando, the founder of Dilmah Tea, received his doctorate in science from Massey University in New Zealand in November 2019. The Pro Vice Chancellor of the College of Sciences, Professor Ray Geor, and Distinguished Professor Paul Moughan, director of Massey University’s famous Riddet Institute, put him forward for the honorary degree.


How did Merrill Fernando die?

The legendary teamaker, disruptor, and servant Merrill J. Fernando passed away on July 20, 2023, in Colombo, surrounded by his sons and grandchildren.

The Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation page of the MJF Foundation published the heartbreaking news.

The statement read,

“In memory of Merrill J. Fernando

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

The brilliance of the visionary creator of the Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company was found in his unwavering faith, his integrity, and his love of tea and family. He followed his passion for honesty and excellence with devotion, urgency, and kindness.

Merrill Fernando has made a significant impact on the globe, and The Dilmah Tea Company invites everyone to join in commemorating his life.

On Friday, July 20, 2023, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday, July 22, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., his remains will lie at the Respect Funeral Parlour. A private burial will thereafter take place at St. Mary’s – Pallansena, Negombo.

Merrill J. Fernando will be remembered for his humanity and for having succeeded in personally and passionately uniting the world’s population behind the cause of Ceylon Tea with Taste, Goodness, and Ethical Purpose, which he pursued for 73 years.


Merrill Fernando cause of death

Merrill J. Fernando was a disruptor whose sole goal was to fulfil his passion for improving the lives of others. His life was determined by his lowly rural Sri Lankan upbringing and the Christian family ideals that surrounded him.

His passion, commitment, love, and kindness will long serve as an example to everyone of how to pursue the greatness he always demanded while never compromising on making a good difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate.

Two generations continue the legacy of the man formerly known as “the Dedicated Founder,” who is committed to his cause. His accomplishment, as he is called home to rest in the arms of his beloved Lord Jesus, strengthens producer aspirations as much as it does inspires future generations to carry the torch of honesty and dedication to tea.

His success in disrupting an exploitative colonial industry brought about a paradigm shift in ethical business before ethics and sustainable business gained the notoriety they do today, forever altering the lives of producers throughout the world.

Given the current news, many people must be interested in learning the reason of death for Mr. Merrill Fernando. Mr. Merrill Fernando’s exact cause of death hasn’t yet been disclosed. As soon as new details become available, we’ll update this article.


Tributes to Merrill Fernando

Everyone, including friends and family, is currently exhausted from grieving for the Dilmah Tea Founder Merrill Fernando, thinking about him, praying for his afterlife, and posting condolences on social media.

Founder / Director at Event Productions (Pvt) Ltd., Director at Beyond The Sale Pvt Ltd and Advisory Council Member at Ceylon Disc Jockey’s Association, Roshan Wijeyaratne wrote: “A LOSS not just for the Dilmah Family and the Tea Industry. Passing away of this amazing GENTLEMAN is a loss for the whole Country and the World of Tea. A gentleman who believed in ETHICS and a gentleman who gave so much back to the community. Thank you Mr. Merril J. Fernando for DILMAH and for flying the Sri Lankan flag around the world. May you Soul Rest In Peace. Our condolences to the immediate family members and the Dilmah family 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 Dilhan C. Fernando Malik J Fernando Kimarli Fernando Dilmah Tea”

General Secretary at Association of Justices of the Peace of Sri Lanka, Tyronne Sebastian JP wrote: “The Great Merrill J Fernando- A Man who served this nation and inspired generations is no more with us. His legacy will always remain has the humble gentleman, who dreamed big and took on the world of tea and succeeded, and also the enormous services he made to society and the poor and needy has changed hundreds of lives. A simple gentleman from humble beginnings from Negambo, who took on the competitive world of tea and made sure that Sri lanka is known across the world. A gutsy businessman who started Dilmah at 58 years old and today to me is the best tea brand in the world interms of quality and taste. Sri Lanka has lost a man who served his motherland with sincerity, professionalism, humbleness and a person who loved is country before self. My prayers are with his family, a toast to a great soul, a man has shown us if you have a dream and if you believe you can achieve anything, and also once you succeed remain humble and serve society,with the best of your ability genuinely. Rest in Peace sir, in the arms of the Lord, God’s Blessings. 🇱🇰



Mr.Merrill Fernando was a remarkable guy and a successful businessman. Today, we grieve his passing but also honour all that he gave to the world during his lifetime, including priceless business experiences and motivational tales that will endure long after he is gone. Our sympathies are with his family at this difficult time, and we hope they will find some solace in the knowledge of how many lives their son and brother touched over the previous few years.


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