David Colin-Thomé (2023)

Joseph Vimal Ranjitha Dias, known affectionately as Ranjith; a specialist in tea plantation engineering, a seasoned agriculturalist, and a dedicated coconut grower, peacefully passed away a few days ago following a brief period of hospitalization.

Ranjith was a versatile individual who excelled in the various roles he undertook. A man of action and few words, his professional journey revolved around a remarkable five-decade career as an engineer, specific to the tea plantation sector.

In February 1964, Ranjith embarked on his engineering journey with Engineering Services Ltd., a division of Brown & Co. Ltd. ‘Browns’ was a pioneering enterprise in agricultural mechanization, which was founded in 1875, around the time when tea plantations began to emerge and flourish in Ceylon. While undergoing practical training at ‘Browns’, Ranjith also enlisted with the Institute of Practical Technology, Katubedda – now known as Moratuwa University. Having completed his practical training at 'Browns' and theoretical studies at ‘Katubedda’, he was appointed Assistant Engineer in October 1968, to handle sales, supervise installation and commissioning of new tea driers in Badulla, Bandarawela, Ratnapura, Deniyaya and Galle districts.

Ranjith was one of the last remaining engineers that specialized in tea factory machinery. His extensive career, primarily with Browns, the Commercial Company, and eventually as a private consultant, saw him share his expertise with virtually every tea factory in Sri Lanka. While he possessed comprehensive knowledge and proficiency in all aspects of tea factory engineering, his primary area of expertise centered on the pivotal domain of driers, the very heart of a factory's machinery operations. Specifically, his specialization revolved around the renowned Browns Two-Stage Driers.

Veteran tea planter and administrator, Dan Seevaratnam stated that Ranjith's true forte extended beyond engineering. He was among the last in his generation of engineers who possessed an in-depth understanding of the entire tea production process. Dan emphasized that this distinct knowledge empowered Ranjith to identify any manufacturing irregularities stemming from faulty machinery. Additionally, Dan pointed out that Ranjith demonstrated a subtle understanding of the organoleptic aspects of tea, encompassing attributes like flavor, aroma, and appearance. This multifaceted expertise underscored Ranjith's fundamental value to any tea plantation. Dan added that Ranjith was also a man of impeccable integrity and was a valued member of the Planters’ Association at various junctures.

Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, the prominent plantation administrator, and former Chairman of the Planters’ Association offered heartfelt tributes to Ranjith while expressing his sorrow at his passing. Roshan stated that few outside the industry understand the critical role that engineering plays in tea production. Thus, engineers often go unheralded despite their invaluable contribution. However, Roshan underscored that tea planters, who truly grasp the industry's workings, recognized the pivotal role played by engineers.

Roshan added that the high regard in which Ranjith was held by the plantation industry extended beyond his expertise and knowledge. It encompassed his unwavering commitment to professionalism and his dedication to the traditional work ethic.

Ranjith's distinguished standing within his domain of expertise is further exemplified by his involvement in Kenya and Seychelles, where he was sought after to establish factories during the early phases of tea plantation development in both locations.

Ranjith's proficiency in the agricultural aspects of the tea industry is unsurprising, given his personal involvement as a landowner with extensive holdings in coconut plantations. Despite the demands of his professional career, Ranjith was one of the Founder Members of the Coconut Growers Association of Sri Lanka (CGA). It was created to promote and regulate the coconut industry in Sri Lanka, one of the country's important agricultural sectors. Throughout his involvement with the CGA, Ranjith held various honorary leadership positions, including the presidency for three years, and remained engaged with the organization's activities and proceedings until shortly before his passing. Simultaneously, right up to his final days, Ranjith diligently oversaw the operations of his cherished coconut plantation in Divulapitiya, which held a special place in his heart.

Ranjith was also a prominent member of the Lions Club for more than fifty years, having first joined the Nuwara Eliya branch in the early 1970s. Later, closer to the family home in Mabole, Wattala, he was to become an active member of the Mattumagala Lions Club, of which he was one of its five Charter (founding) members in 1990. Ranjith went on to become its third President in 1992/93 and remained a committed member ever since.

Ranjith’s father, Percy, was both a proud student and a teacher at St. Joseph's College, Colombo 10, the country’s premier Catholic school. Ranjith followed suit and subsequently became an enthusiastic member of the Old Boys Union of the Ja-Ela/Wattala Branch, where he also served as its President. He took great delight in the fact that not only did his son and son-in-law attend the same school, but also that his young grandsons are presently keeping up the proud family tradition.

Finally, and of great significance, Ranjith held deep religious convictions with a profound connection to the Catholic Church. As with all his other activities, he was not content to be a passive member of the congregation, and was dedicated in his commitment to the church, generously offering of his time and support. With a longstanding family affiliation to 'St. Mary's Church – Devoted to Our Lady of Good Health' in their ancestral town of Mabole, Ranjith served as its Zonal Leader for the past two decades and was an active member of the Parish Council. He stood as a revered philanthropist and a community leader in the locality, following in the footsteps of his father, Percy Dias.

A common thread that emerges from Ranjith’s diverse accomplishments is the enduring legacy of his extraordinary principles and values. His reputation as a man who extended his time and kindness to anyone, regardless of their social standing, resonates deeply. So too is his reputation as a person of unimpeachable integrity and honesty.

Ranjith peacefully departed this world, surrounded by the warm embrace of his beloved family. By his side were his dedicated wife, Nirmala, his loving daughter, son, and son-in-law, Nishanthi, Ramindra, and Nalaka Amaratunga, along with his adoring grandchildren, Anaaya, Devain, and Kayen. To his family and those who held him dear, the glowing light of his memory will never fade.

Fittingly, he was laid to rest alongside his parents, Percy, and Mabel Dias, at the family burial grounds of 'St. Mary's Church – Devoted to Our Lady of Good Health.'

May his soul find eternal peace.


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