Dubai: Tearful tributes pour in for late Mariamma Varkey

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai Filed on March 31, 2021


'My children and the rest of my family is doing so well, thanks to her'

The education community paid glowing tributes to pioneering educator Mariamma Varkey, who they remembered as a "compassionate, humble and down-to-earth visionary wishing to see her pupils succeed".

Mariamma, endearingly called Madam Varkey by her colleagues and teachers, passed away on Wednesday at her Dubai family residence. Saddened over her demise, scores of teachers in the GEMS Education network said she set the foundation stone for UAE's private education system.

Seventy-two-year-old Magdalene Anthony, a retired kindergarten and primary school teacher who taught at the Our Own English High School Dubai from 1977 to 2010, went down the memory lane. She said Mariamma Varkey was not just her leader but a woman who made it possible for her family to thrive in Dubai.

"Three generations of my family have stayed in the GEMS group," she explained. Her daughter, Betty Antony, is currently a Grade 4 and 5 supervisor at Our Own High School, Al Warqa (boys branch), and Betty's daughter is now a Grade 6 student at Own Own English High School Dubai.

Speaking to Khaleej Times over phone from her home in Kerala, Magdalene said: "Her sister (Mrs John) informed us that she passed away on Wednesday. I joined the school on October 10, 1977. The school was then located in Al Bastakiya. It was only later that the campus was shifted to small porter cabins in Karama. I worked for the school for 33 years."

Magdalene retired from the school on February 10, 2010. Breaking down as she spoke, she said: "Madam Varkey was a visionary. She was a very sharp person and was able to accurately judge the character of a person just by looking at him/her." She remembered Madam Varkey walking around the Bastakiya school with a long cane to discipline students. "My children and the rest of my family is doing so well, thanks to her."

Magdalene's daughter Betty, who has been teaching at the Our Own High School, Al Warqa (boys branch), for 19 years, said: "When I was a student at the school, Madam Varkey would travel in the same school bus with us. To show that I was studious and to impress her, I would walk up to the front of the bus and ask her about my doubts. Though, actually, I was not that studious."

"When we moved to the Karama branch of Our Own High School, she would drop in often. She was a very humble person. Anyone could approach her any time as her doors were always open for all," said Betty.

Thomas Mathew, a physics teacher, joined Our Own English High School, Ajman, in 1988 and retired with his wife, Shirley, in 2018 after 30 years of service. Before his appointment, he had received a telegram from Mariamma advising him to make travel arrangements to Sharjah so immigration authorities could process his visa. Mathew still treasures a copy of that telegram.

"Back then, we were very few teachers, so she knew all of us personally. I remember she would monitor the operations of the school and attend special functions," said Mathew. He added: "She created a lot of opportunities for expatriate teachers like us."

The teachers also shared their memories about the annual Christmas parties "Madam Varkey" would throw at her residence. "They were such lovely, grand parties. We would have raffle draws," said Zita Devadasan, a retired primary school supervisor of Our Own English High School Sharjah. "I worked with the group from 1989 until 2018. When I was working at Modern High School, I would see her walk around the school quadrangle for her evening walks. She knew all of us personally, and we had such close relations with her," said Devadasan.


Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for 10 years. She has a keen interest in writing about issues that plague the common person and will never turn down a human interest story. She completed her Bachelor in Arts in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves travelling and Audible is her favourite mobile application. Tweet at her @wordjunkie88

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