Rishi Valley mourns the passing of Mammen Thomas. After a brief illness, ‘Mr Thomas’, as he was always known to us, died on January 17th 2013, at his home in Trivandrum. He had served Rishi Valley Education Centre in several capacities from 1967 to 1992 -- first as a teacher, later as Bursar and chief financial officer. In a crucial decade beginning in 1980, he laid the foundations of a modern administrative system for the school and its outreach programmes.
Mr Thomas graduated from the University of Travencore in 1949, with a B.A. in Philosophy and Psychology, and shortly thereafter joined the British Colonial Services, stationed in East Africa, in the mainland part of Tanzania that was then known as Tanganyika. Working within the State Treasury Department in various senior positions, he acquired wide experience in both Government and Commercial systems of Accountancy. In 1964, he accepted a teaching position at the Civil Service Training Centre where, as Senior Instructor, he taught Public Finance and Administration, Accounting and Auditing; he also lectured at the Institute of Public Administration in Dar-es-Salaam. In 1967 he sought premature retirement from the the Civil Service Training Center in order to return to India. The letter of commendation he received from the Treasury Department highlights those qualities which would serve him well at Rishi Valley. It reads,
“In addition to his undoubted professional ability he has shown that he possesses in no small degree qualities of tact, patience and understanding so necessary when dealing with the local people of an emergent and developing country.”
Mr Thomas arrived in Rishi Valley accompanied by his son, Sunil, and his wife, Rebecca, who was appointed senior teacher of biology at the school. For the first thirteen years Mrs Thomas taught biology while Mr Thomas free-lanced – motoring between Rishi Valley and his home in Trivandrum and if the need arose, teaching Social Studies and Mathematics in the junior school and Accounts and Commerce at the senior level. His old car, parked outside his house in Rishi Valley, stood next to a large wooden crate that had brought the family belongings from Dar-e-Salaam to Rishi Valley – a constant reminder of how far he had travelled and how lightly he carried his duties at the school.
In1980, when Krishnamurti sought to establish a more broad-based administrative structure for the school, he chose Mr Thomas to oversee the financial and administrative side of the Rishi Valley Education Centre, and selected Mrs Thomas to serve as Headmistress of the School.
Within a period of ten years in his capacity as Bursar, Mr Thomas laid the foundations of a fair-minded administration and a modern financial system. Toward this end he took on many roles, including teaching, long-range planning, overseeing the development of a network of school libraries, maintaining budget controls, dispensing homeopathic remedies, driving the school van to Bangalore for supplies, improving benefits for teachers and auxiliary staff, designing low-cost buildings for campus development, and quietly but effectively directing a Managing Committee to co-ordinate the many activities of a steadily growing and many-sided institution.
Against the background of his early training in philosophy and psychology, Mr Thomas regarded Accounting as a Master Discipline for running healthy institutions and supporting a decent life for those who live and work within them. In this spirit he conducted a short course in accounting for those of us who were new to this aspect of school life, and took an active interest in developing rural outreach programmes that were just then beginning to take shape.
When Mr Thomas retired from administrative duties at the age of sixty, he remained on campus for a few more years to oversee the transition to a new and younger generation while teaching Accounts to senior examination-going students. Then, in 1992, he packed up the wooden crate that had been parked for so many years in front of his Rishi Valley house, and returned to his ancestral home in Trivandrum.
For another twenty years or so Mr Thomas kept in close touch with developments at the school, functioning with Mrs Thomas as elder consultants and active members of the Executive Committee, never losing their concern for the welfare of Rishi Valley, its land, students, staff and the welfare of its neighbours in the surrounding community.
Throughout his long and active life, Mr Thomas responded to the call of duty, serving selflessly as required and finally retiring to the life of a private citizen when his term was over and his more public duties had been discharged – always with care, a wry sense of humour and a full measure of distinction. His is a life to be celebrated.