UAE News

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

The pioneering educator was 89 years old.

One of the pioneer private sector educators of the UAE, Mariamma Varkey, passed away at her son’s Dubai residence on Wednesday morning. She was 89.

The matriarch of the Varkey family, along with her late husband KS Varkey, founded one of Dubai’s first private schools, Our Own English High School, in 1968.

She was bed-ridden for several years.

She is survived by her son Sunny Varkey, Chairman of the GEMS group — the world’s largest school operator — and daughter Susan Mathews.

In a statement to Khaleej Times, a GEMS Education spokesperson, said, “It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Mariamma Varkey, beloved mother of GEMS Founder and Chairman Sunny Varkey, grandmother and great-grandmother, educator, pioneer and humanitarian.

“She 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,” the statement said.

“Her passion for helping people reach their fullest potential drove her far-reaching humanitarian efforts. Even after she left Kerala, India in 1959, she continued to support and serve underprivileged communities in India,” it added.

“Today, GEMS Education and the Varkey family bid a sad farewell to Mariamma Varkey, who leaves behind an indelible legacy as a pioneer in education, whose impact will transcend generations.”

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.

Mariamma, a former teacher from Kerala, India, moved to Dubai with her late husband KS Varkey in 1959. The couple founded Our Own English High School, one of the Emirate’s first private schools in 1968. In 1980, her son Sunny Varkey took over the operation of the school followed by the establishment of Global Education Management Systems (GEMS) in 2000.

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.

Details of the final rites and services are yet to be confirmed.


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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