Elmo Ralston Bennet Tissera - 18th Death Anniversary

Upali Horagoda (2023)

Ralston, the eldest son of George Hugh Ralston Tissera, came from a long line of planting stock. His father was one of the first Sri Lankans to break into the exclusive planting fraternity and retired in 1950 from Fernlands estate in Pundaluoya. Ralston and his brother Vernon followed in their father's footsteps, pursuing careers in the tea industry, while their youngest brother Michael pursued a career in the tea trade.

To add authenticity to the story, two more Tissera’s, Clive and Aubrey, cousins of Ralston, were introduced. They were also involved in the tea industry and shared a deep knowledge and passion for tea. Although each had different characteristics, their ultimate goal was to contribute to the industry with integrity and dedication.

The Tissera’s’ began their planting careers before nationalization, during a time when the industry was under British companies. Rigorous discipline and a strong work ethic were the norm, and corruption was unheard of in the planters' vocabulary. The industry thrived during this era, thanks to sound management skills, the Tea Research Institute of Talawakelle, regular meetings with planters, informative bulletins, advisory teams, and industry associations such as the Planters Association, Ceylon Estate Employers Federation, and Ceylon Planters Society.

Unfortunately, after nationalization, standards were diluted to accommodate political pressures. This, combined with numerous transitions and the erosion of the aforementioned ingredients, led to instability and a decline in the industry's glory. The future of the industry remains unpredictable, with the once-celebrated status now a distant hope.

Ralston was an exceptional planter with an impressive track record. He served in prime plantations such as Dewalakanda, Houpe, Tangakelle, Waltrim, St. Leonards, and High Forest. He was known for his dedication to the manufacturing process, often conducting surprise inspections of factories in the early hours. As a confirmed bachelor and a clubman, he kept the staff on their toes and was a master of spontaneous humor.

In 1986, Ralston embarked on a study tour of Indonesian tea plantations with a team led by Neil Ranawana. During the trip, Ralston went missing, and his companions embarked on a hunt to find him. They discovered him singing in high spirits, having indulged in the extra special Indonesian brew. He entertained two ladies on a wayside kiosk table by imitating Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of "O Sole Mio." His companions joined in the celebration, consuming the special brew, and their return to their accommodation was quite a memorable journey.

On another occasion, while traveling from Jakarta to Bandung, they encountered fleshy durian fruits on the roadside. One of their teammates, a fervent durian enthusiast, led them to indulge in a durian feast. Later in the evening, as they relaxed on the veranda of their abode, the teammate who had overindulged felt uncomfortable and rushed to the adjacent washroom. The noises that followed prompted Ralston to quip, "There you are, that's what you call the sound of music," much to everyone's laughter.

Vernon, Ralston's brother, was a colorful character with extensive experience and knowledge in the tea industry. He was the first Sri Lankan to take over Diyagama West, a prestigious plantation in the Nuwara Eliya district, from G.M. Torrence during the company era. During the author's tenure on Waltrim estate in Lindula, Vernon served as an agriculture advisor and manufacturing consultant. Vernon had a keen eye for identifying substandard work and would reprimand staff members with vigor, but without malice.

Michael, Ralston's youngest brother, is a well-known personality in the cricketing world and the tea trade. He captained the Thomian team in 1957 and 1958, made his first-class debut in March 1959, and led Ceylon to victory over a test-playing nation in Ahmedabad in 1965. He played three ODIs in the 1975 World Cup, scoring 52 against Australia. Michael also managed the national teams between 2005 and 2007 and received the prestigious Sri Lanka honor Deshabandu in September 2018.

Clive, another cousin of Ralston, was a respected senior planter who spent a significant amount of time on Delmar, Halgranoya. He was known for his assistance to surrounding villagers and his contribution to the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, where he held a longstanding office. One amusing incident involved a call Clive received from his assistant, who informed him about a group of strikers heading towards his bungalow. Clive instructed his assistant to fortify the gate but received another call later, revealing that they could not find enough people to man the gate. Clive found this hilarious, and the day ended with laughter.

Aubrey Tissera, another cousin of Ralston, had a clipped English accent acquired through years of close association with the colonial British, both officially and socially. The author recalls an encounter with Aubrey in the 1950s when he visited his father's chamber in Bandarawela. Aubrey arrived in a luxury car, a rare Packard model, wearing a full suit with a red handkerchief protruding from his top pocket. Aubrey was stationed at Ballagalla Uva estate in Bandarawela and attracted attention wherever he went.

After retiring from a successful planting career, Aubrey settled down in Kandy and led a modest life. He could often be seen doing his grocery shopping, carrying a bag in his full attire, including his favorite red handkerchief. He traveled by public transport, the CTB buses, demonstrating that luxury is short-lived, but integrity and dedication are enduring qualities.

The contributions made by dedicated Sri Lankan planters, including the Tissera clan, remain significant in the history of the nation's plantations. Ralston was known for his politeness, self-confidence, and impeccable manners. He was always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need and possessed supreme qualities. May he continue to be blessed in heaven.


(In keeping with the objectives of this website, all COMMENTS must be made in the spirit of contributing to the history of this estate, planter or person i.e. names, dates & anecdotes. Critical evaluations or adverse comments of any sort are not acceptable and will be deleted without notice – read full Comments Policy here)