The gentleman turns 81 on June 3

The gentleman turns 81 on June 3

Source:Sunday Island

“Tough fearless and determined. Splendid games record, distinct powers of leadership with a strong sense of human and a gay debonair charm” wrote the headmaster, while the Principal of Trinity, in emphatic endorsement added “He has made a valuable contribution to the school, and I am sure he will do the same for his country.”

These were the sentiments on Ken Murray’s school leaving certificate as he joined a band of sportsmen in 1961, to pursue a career in planting.

As expected he took to his first billet on Frotoft Group in Ramboda like a duck to water!

An incomparable Summer

 It was an era when reputed Agency Houses, as  Whittalls, George Steuarts, Carsons and Aitken Spence, managed plantations owned  mainly by Sterling and Rupee Companies; a period that was undoubtedly the finest Summer for the Industry.

A career had begun for an enthusiastic young man, and  was to extend to perhaps the longest ever for a planter in the history of the industry.

Over SIXTY challenging years Ken climbed the ladder of seniority with distinction, on prestigious plantations as Oliphant, Diyagama West, Pedro, Dessford, Nayabedda, Uva Highlands Cluster, Haputale, adding to his role as Superintendent, appointments as Visiting Agent, Technical Tea Advisor, and Regional Director.

He has returned finally to bid adieu from his much cherished charge Nayabedde in Bandarawela.

A born sportsman, his skills on the rugger field matched his growing stature in tea and it’s manufacture while his inherent instinct for fair play ensured harmony on the properties he served.

Having represented Ceylon at rugby in the mid sixties, he also led the Dimbulla Cricket and Athletic Club to the Clifford Cup in 1970, the last time in history that the robust planters club annexed that prestigious Trophy.

In a more leisurely pursuit Murray was President (12 years) and Captain (two years) of the historical  Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, where the prospect of improving on his handicap conquering 18 holes kept him spellbound.He also served as The President of the Sri Lanka Golf Union.

 His extraordinary sense of humour, infectious laughter, and a strong elbow that had repeatedly refilled glasses steady in hand even when speech got slurred, made him a legend at the many exclusive Planters Club bars he graced in his career.

A challenging Autumn

As the mid seventies approached, there were signs that the glorious Summer was coming to an end and in 1975, the Government in keeping with its socialist policies, nationalised the plantations.

While professionals largely still continued to manage and administer, the inevitable challenges that government ownership poses in any sphere, heralded the onset of Autumn for the industry, and leaves began to fall.

These challenges were compounded by insurrections that seriously threatened lives on plantations, while  barbaric govt orchestrated violence in July 83  against its own people, shattered national unity and reduced the Economy to tatters.

The staunch men of the industry to which Ken belonged carried on bravely with devotion to duty undiminished.

A Hopeful Winter

 A sensible Government decision in 1992 to transfer management to the rivate sector while retaining ownership, ushered a pleasant Winter that inspired hope and optimism.

 An Early Spring

 Spring came sooner than expected as a new Govt elected in 1994, handed back ownership to the private sector the following year,  ironically with the prime minister responsible for the nationalisation, holding the same portfolio to support the reversal 20 years later.

That decision promised much for the Summer ahead as Ken settled to serve his new employer, Kotagala and Agarapatana Plantations over the next 25 years.

A return to Summer?

Only He will know if that promised season of Summer did in fact arrive, but in the four he served he was undoubtedly the man for them all.

A romantic marriage lasting six decades will soon be at its end, as the curtain comes down as it must, on the Shakespearean world stage that Murray performed with distinction.

The special award bestowed by the Wayamba University in 2017, in commemorating the industry’s 150th anniversary reaffirmed that.

However, there will be no divorce; only a parting of the ways leaving a trail of precious memories in lieu of a Diamond Jubilee celebration that Murray earned and richly deserved.

May that special aura of tea that you so devotedly nurtured, surround your retirement too Ken. Needless to say soulmate Ylva will be at hand to enhance the flavour!

While the Industry will remain indebted to you my friend, Haputale and I will miss you!

Many blessings 

S. Skandakumar

A Former Chairman

George Steuarts Group of Companies.

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