David Colin Thome (2005)
Maxwell Fernando

The recent passing away of Maxwell Fernando was not just a profoundly sad event for his family and friends, but it was also an incalculable loss to the tea industry, to which he devoted most of his adult life.

In over 125 years, the Ceylon and Sri Lankan tea industry have spawned many great personalities and characters whose immense contributions have built and preserved this great industry, but there is always a special place in the order of merit for those that have gone on to share their expertise in literary form. Hence, Maxwell’s ranking in the history of the tea industry is assured.

Retracing his beginnings, Maxwell was born in 1935 and studied at St. Joseph’s College in Colombo, after which he went on to complete Part 1 of a B.S.C. in Economics. He entered the tea industry in 1960 when he joined Heath & Co, one of the more prestigious tea trading companies in the country at the time. It was here that Maxwell learned the rudiments of tea before going on to become a fully fledged tea taster and trading executive with the company.

In 1974, Maxwell switched from a trading environment and joined the leading tea brokerage company, Forbes & Walkers Ltd, to whom his loyalties remained till his retirement. It was during this period that Maxwell became an active participant in the interests of the industry as a whole, and his expertise and capacity for hard work resulted in his services being frequently seconded for special industry-related assignments.

Among the most notable was his secondment to the Ministry of Plantations and Industries in 1974 to assist in drawing up an effective scheme for the nationalisation of the foreign-owned plantations.

In 1978 he was appointed by the Ministry of Plan Implementation to explore the feasibility of using existing rail capacity for the export of tea from the port of Trincomalee, and to extend and enlarge the available facilities for the distribution of wheat flour to tea plantations in particular and the entire country in general, by coordinating the services of the Sri Lanka Railway, Food Ministry, and the Trincomalee Tea Administration Company.

Maxwell also held numerous honourary positions with the Colombo Tea Traders Association (CTTA) where he chaired a whole host of sub-committees. He was also appointed as a consultant on many fronts that are nevertheless too frequent to mention, which was indeed a testament to Maxwell’s abilities and the regard he was held in by the industry.

Maxwell eventually retired in 1991, but was retained as a consultant with Forbes & Walkers for a further six years. It was during this period, with a bit more time on his hands, that Maxwell started to impart his knowledge and experiences on to a computer, and he was every bit as adept with prose as he was in discerning the finer points of a broken orange pekoe.

His first literary opportunity was to write the manuscript for “Commemorating 100 years of the CTTA”, in 1995, which effectively was his first publication. He published a further four books, but it turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Maxwell had become a prolific writer and had covered the plantation industry from a historical, technical and anecdotal perspective, in both, short stories and book-length manuscripts. Yet, the results of this labour of love was lying solely in the depths of his personal computer and for a time, it seemed destined to remain that way.

Fortunately, for the greater good of the industry and Maxwell’s own satisfaction, the History of Ceylon Tea website, which itself received considerable support and advice from Maxwell, will feature all of his unpublished works in their original form. This development meant a great deal to Maxwell, who felt a great sense of accomplishment in the knowledge that his life’s work would be preserved for generations to come.

The History of Ceylon Tea is indeed honoured to feature the passion-driven writings of Maxwell Fernando, though more so as a valuable industry information resource than a tribute to the man himself.

That is exactly how “Maxi” would have wanted it.

David Colin-Thomé


January 2005


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