Dubai: Educational leader and founder of Gulf Indian High School passes away

John M. Thomas was known for his philanthropic activities in the field of education


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Wed 20 Jul 2022, 4:02 PM

Last updated: Wed 20 Jul 2022, 8:11 PM

Tributes have been pouring in for noted educational leader and the founder of Gulf Indian High School (GIHS), Dubai, John M. Thomas who died at the age of 79 on Wednesday. Staff and colleagues of his have described him as a “father figure” who was a “pillar of strength for the school community”

Highly respected in the local community for his contributions towards the field of education, John Thomas set up GIHS Dubai in 1979.

“It is an irreparable loss for us,” said Muhammad Ali Kottakkulam, the Principal of GIHS Dubai. “He was a visionary father figure who guided us through every difficult time with his deft management. Even during the COVID19 pandemic, when we were groping in the dark and trying to find solutions for unprecedented problems, he was never fazed. He was a great leader and we are really going to miss his leadership.”

According to Muhammad, John Thomas was philanthropist who very actively involved in the functioning of the school. “For him, school was never a business,” he said. “The welfare of his students came above everything and he wanted to keep the fees as reasonable as possible. He has waived off the fees of countless students because he wanted to make sure that the education of a child did not suffer. He was also very actively involved in the school. Now his son is the director of the school but even so John sir would be in school every morning on the dot to oversee everything. I cannot believe that I will never see him again.”

In a message to students and parents on Facebook, the school said: "He was a visionary with a solid determination to translate his vision into reality. A leader who led by example and tempered all his dealings with compassion and sensitivity.”

P.V. Vinayan was a student in the school in the 1980’s when the institute was still functioning out of portacabins in Karama, and he has fond memories of the time. “I still remember John sir standing proudly in front of the current school building,” he said. “It was such a momentous occasion for us to move from portacabins into the building. Sometimes in the evening we would stay back for sports practice. Occasionally he would join us in our games. Those are precious memories.”

The Dubai-resident recently went back to the school and visited John Thomas. “GIHS was a very small school and everyone knew each other,” he said. “John sir knew my father very well so when he knew I had gone to visit the school, he called me to his office. We spoke for almost an hour about old times. He remembered everything about everyone in my batch. I was amazed by how sharp his memory was even at this age.”

English teach Veena Nair has been working with the school since 1998. “I was just 23, newly married and a fresher in Dubai when I met him for an interview,” she said. “He was very kind to me and treated me like a daughter. We formed an instant connection, and it was a cherished relationship for me. He cared deeply for his staff and he made it a point to enquire about each one of them through their line managers. He was really a pillar of support for the school community. He was also a true pioneer in the field of education in the UAE. We were one of the first among Indian schools to introduce second languages other than Hindi into the curriculum.”

“He had a heart of gold,” she said. “I know so many students of mine who would be struggling to pay the fees and he never once asked them to pay. He knew when a family was struggling and he would always waive off all their dues. He devoted his entire life to ensuring that children were well-educated.”

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