The Passing of a Friend

Noble Flemming by CooperTeaMaster
Noble Flemming, a photo by CooperTeaMaster on Flickr.

Anyone who can go through life with the first name of “Noble” deserves respect. To go through life with “Fearnley Hutchinson Fleming” as your other names deservers more than respect it deserves awe!! To make life easier on the rest of us N.F.H. Fleming acquired the nickname “Toby” because of his love of “Toby Jugs”, those unique English drinking vessels. It stuck with him.

Toby was an awesome figure in my life and I dedicated my book to him and the influence he had in my life. He had a wonderful dry wit, and a gentlemanly demeanor but when required he had an eye that could freeze a waiter at sixty paces. He hired me in London in 1970 to come and join Lipton in the US. No sooner had I arrived then he suggest that I get my hair cut, as he gently put it “I don’t think you are a hippy Barry, so I don’t want you to look like one”…mind you , my hair barely touched the back of my collar…but I dutifully went off and had a haircut. He was a wonderful mentor, a skilled tea man and a gentle manager who lead his team of tea buyers with aplomb. My favorite story that I told many times was of a lazy, warm summers day. It was a Friday to be precise because that was the day that all of us tea buyers had to troop into Toby’s office, sit in a semi circle in front of his desk and discuss the buying orders we were about to send out to the various auction centers around the world. There were three of us…Richard, Tony, Me. Tony was discussing the orders he planned to place in the Cochin market when all of a sudden there came a gentle snore from Toby’s side of the desk. He had fallen asleep! Tony was at a loss and stopped talking and we just sat there waiting for the great man to awake. Toby had about a five minute nap then awoke with a slight start and without a moment’s hesitation said ” Quite So…yes…sounds good…whose next” It was my turn and without blinking an eye I gave my report and we all filed out.

Such style, such aplomb, such a character. He changed the world of tea and not many people can say that.

I flew over to Paris for Toby’s 90th birthday…and that is the picture above. Toby passed away this week.

I loved you Toby…I will miss you greatly.

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