The Colombo Tea Traders Association staged a special commemoration ceremony recently to pay tribute to the late Austin Perera, who was the association’s most senior member until his death.
Perera, who was the first Ceylonese Chairman of the Tea Traders Association, passed away on 10 June.
The commemoration ceremony was held at the main Tea Auction auditorium of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce on 17 June, prior to the commencement of the weekly Tea Auction.
The daughters, son-in-law and the granddaughters of the late Perera, who had travelled from Britain to attend his obsequies, were present at this commemorative event.
Anselm Perera, the incumbent Chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association, who presided over the proceedings, briefly elucidated the highlights of the late Perera’s career, which, in some respects, were quite unique.
Almost to the day, it was 70 years ago, on 1 June 1945, when Ceylon was still under the British Raj, that he entered the Tea Industry, which was then, the exclusive preserve of the British, as one of the first batch of three young Ceylonese selected for training as tea tasters. They came under the tutelage of two eminent members of the trade, O.P. Rust and H.J. Moppet, on the initiative of the Tea Commissioner, P. Saravanamuttu.
On completing his training period of one-and-a-half years, he was offered employment as a Junior Executive in the Colombo office of the English and Scottish Joint CWS Ltd., where he progressively moved up the management ladder over the ensuing years. Later, he served as a Senior Executive in Lipton Ceylon Ltd.
In 1968, he penetrated another exclusive bastion of the British, when he was elected as the first Ceylonese Chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association – two unique and remarkable achievements; the first Ceylonese to enter the tea trade and, then, the first Ceylonese to become the Chairman of the apex body of the tea industry!
In the mid 1970s, Pakistan was the most important market for Ceylon Tea, as the biggest buyer of Ceylon Tea, at that time. The Tea Promotion Bureau identified the late Perera to serve as Tea Commissioner stationed in Karachi, to sustain and further develop that market, in view of his experience, knowledge and competence in the commodity. He acquired an intimate knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of that complex market and developed an amazing rapport with virtually every member of the trade there. Thereafter, he was appointed as the Tea Commissioner in the UK, where he served for 17 years.
In 1996, the late Perera was bestowed the singular honour of Honorary Life Membership, which was conferred upon him by the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association for his service and contribution to the Association and the Tea Industry over the preceding 50 years.
Michael de Zoysa, a former and the longest serving Chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association, who was a colleague of the late Perera at Lipton Ceylon Ltd., then recounted his memories of their halcyon days of working together for this leading tea company.
At the conclusion, a minute’s silence was observed, as a mark of respect and in honour of his memory.