GEMS remembers the remarkable life of Madam Mariamma Varkey

On Wednesday March 31 2021, Madam Mariamma Varkey sadly passed away. Our Chairman, Sunny Varkey, and his family lost a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. For so many alumni, teachers past and present, they lost a leading light in education and pioneering mentor.

The virtual funeral service held on Monday 5 April, was watched live by thousands, and has since received over 20,000 views online. 

Here, three staff members share their special memories of the visionary leader, mother and teacher, fondly known as ‘Ammachi’ who touched the lives of so many people and helped make GEMS Education what is today.

Asha Alexander, Principal GEMS Legacy School

When I met Madam Varkey, she was already 70 years of age and in the next eight years when I actively interacted with her, she never showed any signs of aging. Her waking hours were fully consumed by her desire to see this organization flourish and as the years passed and her son Sunny Varkey, grew and expanded this organization to what it is today, she was able to savour the fruits of her labour and rejoice in the successes of the company.

Every person she knew will have a story to tell and it shows how many lives she touched as we gather them together into a collage of memories that still cannot define the entirety of who she was. What she has left with me is her grit and resilience, her empathy and compassion and her overwhelming generosity. I will always try to be a little more like her. This is the culture that is now firmly embedded at GEMS and which fashions the lives of all of its employees who are fortunate enough to serve this organization. Madam Varkey, your life was well lived and you will be the light for generations to come.

Ranju Anand, Vice President – Schools

I have the privilege of having had some very close interactions with “Mama” (that’s how I used to call her) and I got to learn so much from her.

She had the ability to make a stranger her own within minutes. In 2006, I was considering an opportunity away from GEMS, and word had got to her that I was thinking of leaving. When I saw her, she picked up her cane and showed it to me saying “You are my daughter. How did you even think about leaving GEMS?”. Back then, I knew her as Madam Varkey, and with just with one sentence, she drew me so close to her, and the respect and love I had for her increased.

Madam Varkey had the memory of a computer. She addressed so many people by name – teachers and students in each school, by heart. I learnt from her that remembering staff and students’ names make them feel special. I since place value in people by remembering their names as much as possible.

And finally, she had a child in her. She had the energy of a three-year-old, with the wisdom of a 100 year-old.
She loved telling stories of the times when she first arrived in the UAE and water was brought to her by the “donkey man”. Stories about her first step of starting a school, and how she was the bus conductor in the mornings as she fetched children from their homes. She was teacher and principal during the day and conductor again in the afternoon. I learnt from her that no job is too small, when you are a principal, everything is your business.

I have so many memories of her. When she was not too well, she wanted me to come and see her every day. The only regret I have is that I could not spend as much time with her as I wished especially in the last year.

Betty Antony, Grade 4 and 5 supervisor,
Our Own English High school, Dubai (OOD)

When I think of Madam Varkey, it is like thinking of my own family. My mother was a teacher at Our Own English High School Dubai from 1977 to 2010, and worked closely with Madam Varkey. My mother never thought of leaving Our Own for any other school, because of the way Madam Varkey treated everyone in school– like one big family.

 My brother, Ajit Antony, and I joined the school in the Bastikya building. When the bus went to drop the students’ home, the teacher’s children played around the school – it was literally like our second home. Madam Varkey would travel in the same school bus with us. That was the time when we used to pester her with our doubts. I would try to impress her by walking up to the front of the bus and asking her lots of questions. And even though I really wasn’t so studious, she always listened patiently.

When we moved to the Karama branch of Our Own High School, she would often visit. She was a very humble person. Anyone could approach her at any time and her doors were always open for all. We miss her very much, may she rest in perfect peace.