( 26th July 1932 – 2nd November 2023 )
If you were to ask the staff of BOH Plantations what they best remember about Tristan Russell, you will likely encounter two facets of a remarkable individual. Firstly, he is remembered as a visionary who left an enduring imprint on both BOH and the Malaysian tea industry. Secondly, he is recalled as an approachable and soft-spoken man with a generous heart, often found amidst the tea fields, casually checking in on the well-being of those he held dear. His passing on November 2, 2023, at the age of 91 profoundly impacted us, but his legacy lives on in the hearts of those who knew him.
Tristan’s mark on BOH’s history cannot be understated. After his father John Archibald Russell, BOH’s founder, passed away at the young age of 50 in 1933, it began a turbulent period for the company. During World War II, the estate was occupied by the Japanese and largely abandoned. After the war, Tristan joined the business at the age of 21 and lived through the Malayan Emergency where Cameron Highlands was prime ‘ambush territory’ for communist terrorists. Troops were stationed around the plantations to try and help protect the estate and the workers, while Tristan had to sleep with a pistol under his pillow for security!
However, Tristan and his family were sure that once Malaysia gained its independence, a bright future awaited Malaysia and its people. He was made Chairman in 1966 and under his guidance BOH flourished, becoming a symbol of quality and excellence in the Malaysian tea industry. His love for nature was the driving force behind BOH’s commitment to sustainability.
Many milestones were achieved during his 53-year tenure as Chairman. He grew the number of tea estates and modernised the art of manufacturing tea by investing in innovative techniques and infrastructure to keep BOH at the forefront of tea-making technology. He raised the productivity of one tea harvester from 40kg a day to 200kg and thanks to his foresight, where 27 people were once needed for the rolling room, today, only 1 minds the machines.
Tristan pioneered the early use of television advertising in an era of black and white TV when there was only one channel. He was responsible for bringing Mr. BOH to life, a loveable yet iconic character and one of the 1st televised company mascots in Asia. These were just some of the accomplishments one can find linked to Tristan but there is so much more in the archives.
Whether in the boardroom or over a cup of tea, Tristan’s genuine curiosity and wisdom enriched every conversation. His ability to impart years of experience into discussions reflected his commitment to continuous improvement and shared success. His passing left a void, prompting reflections on the impact of a great man who dedicated his life to BOH.
I asked our Chief Executive Officer, Jason if he had any fond memories of Tristan and he shared one story. During an important business meeting, they were served tea but forgot the tea spoon for Tristan. He looked at the cup, took a second, made a ‘Ehh’ shrug and improvised with his pen to stir it. The head of the other party stood up immediately to get up a tea spoon and apologized profusely. Tristan did not think anything of it but it left Jason silently in stitches (and the rest of us when he told this story), such was the respect that Tristan was given but it also showed his humility that defined his leadership.
Jason later shared with us Tristan’s love for nature and how he is most comfortable among his tea bushes walking in between the paths and appreciating what nature has given to the company.
Known for his enormous heart, Tristan’s generosity extended to family, friends, and colleagues. Numerous stories circulate in the office about his selfless acts, often downplayed by Tristan himself. His intentions were pure, leaving an everlasting impression on those fortunate enough to experience his kindness.
The Cameron Highlands, where the plantations thrive, bear witness to Tristan’s vision, evident in the Tristan’s Terrace wing of the tea centre in Sungei Palas — a reminder of the visionary behind the business.
His story resonates as an inspiration for future generations, emphasizing that passion, perseverance, and a commitment to sustainability creates a legacy that transcends time. Tristan, we remember you with gratitude for the memories and the enduring impact you have left behind.
If you are in the mood for some tea check out some of our selection below, or click here to explore our wider selection of teas: