UAE: Mariamma Varkey, founder of first GEMS Education school, passes away

Issac John /Dubai Filed on March 31, 2021 | Last updated on April 1, 2021 at 07.12 am

Funeral rites will be held at Jebel Ali Marthoma church, son Sunny Varkey told Khaleej Times

Mariamma Varkey, the founder of the first Gems school in Dubai, has passed away. The private-sector education pioneer passed away at her son’s Dubai residence on Wednesday morning. She was 89.

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The matriarch of the Varkey family, along with her late husband K.S. Varkey, founded the Our Own English High School, in 1968. She had been bed-ridden for several years.

She is survived by her son Sunny Varkey, Chairman of Gems Education - one of the largest school operators in the world - and daughter Susan Mathews.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Sunny Varkey said her funeral rites would be held at Jebel Ali Marthoma church next Monday.

"A virtual condolence meeting will be held on Tuesday. Details will be shared later, " he said.

In a statement, the Varkey family said: "It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Madam Mariamma Varkey ... grandmother and great-grandmother, educator, pioneer and humanitarian.

"Madam Varkey was a visionary educator who believed that every child deserved a great education. Driven by her enduring passion for teaching, and together with her husband, she built a legacy of education and learning in the UAE and beyond. This legacy will live on in the hearts of not only her family, but also every student that has passed through a Gems classroom in the past 60 years."

Mariamma, a former teacher from Kerala, India, moved to Dubai with her late husband K.S. Varkey in 1959. The couple founded Our Own English High School. In 1980, her son Sunny Varkey took over the operation of the school.

Mariamma, fondly known as Ammachi, brought about pioneering changes in Dubai’s education system. It is said many among her former students are members of the royal family in Dubai.

The family statement added: "Madam Varkey will first and foremost be warmly remembered as a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Her humanitarian contributions focused on the learning development of girls and the advancement and recognition of teachers, with her legacy rooted in her unrelenting belief in the power of quality education to better society.

"Even after she left Kerala, India in 1959, she continued to support and serve underprivileged communities in India."

The Dubai Mar Thoma Parish also offered "heartfelt condolences" to the bereaved family members. Mariamma Varkey was one of "our senior most members", the parish said.


Issac John

Editorial Director of Khaleej Times, is a well-connected Indian journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the UAE's mainstream journalism for 35 years, including 23 years with Khaleej Times. A post-graduate in English and graduate in economics, he has won over two dozen awards. Acclaimed for his authentic and insightful analysis of global and regional businesses and economic trends, he is respected for his astute understanding of the local business scene.

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