Reminiscences of George Thomas
My paternal grandparents are Late K.C. Thomas and Late Mary Thomas. My maternal grandparents are Late Kovoor Mathew and Late Mariamma of Modayil family. Except my paternal grandmother Mary, I have not seen the other three grandparents. I was just six years old when my paternal grandmother also passed away. Therefore I have only very faint memories of her.
My father Late K. T. Thomas (Kunjai) was born on 2 March 1896, and he died in Trivandrum on 30 November 1974. He was an engineer (Licentiate in Mechanical Engineering (LME) from the then Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute, Mumbai). He was buried at the CSI Christ Church in Trivandrum.
My mother Achama (Kunjamma) belonged to the Kovoor family in Tiruvalla in central Travancore. She was born on 11 March 1904, and died in New Delhi (where I was working at that time) on 20 June 1984. She was buried at the Christ Church in Trivandrum at the side of her husband. She was a matriculate (high school educated). My mother always dressed herself in typical Syrian Christian style by wearing chatta and mundu.
They got married at the (now) CSI Church in Mavelikkara on 14 September 1922. While my father came from Anglican Church (which later merged into the Church of South India) background, my mother came from Mar Thoma Church background. Both my parents were quiet practioners of their Christian faith. They made no special efforts to be seen and heard within the institutional church circles. Thus I grew up in a home where evening family prayer was a regular routine. I was allowed to follow my own spiritual or religious calls and compulsions. Yet I learned some of the basic tenets of Christian faith at my home.
No other human being has touched or influenced my life as much as my beloved mother (who I called Ammachy). She nurtured, supported, encouraged, inspired and enabled me in all my pursuits and endeavors with endless and unconditional love. Her dreams and hopes became mine. When she smiled, my own world brightened. When she cried, my heart broke. What amazing influence she had on my life-journey! She struggled and fought the battle of life with courage and resilience. But for her level-headedness, prudence, wisdom and judiciousness none of her children would have successfully steered their lives. We chose the following verse for her tomb-inscription – “Ran the race, fought the battle”.
My father was the opposite of my mother in many ways. He was an exceptionally good communicator with his grandchildren. In many ways he was child-like. I have never heard him talking about his Christian faith. But I have observed stunning Christian charity flowing out from him. He silently taught us “giving is better than receiving”. His passion for punctuality, orderliness and perfection in whatever he did was simply adorable. We chose the following verse for his tomb-inscription – “Blessed are the pure at heart”.
My siblings consist of three sisters (Ammu, Leela and Achachi) and two brothers (Bavan and Uthaman). Leela and Bavan have passed away. I am the youngest of all, and received immense attention and affection from my siblings. My sisters, in particular, have made considerable impression on my personality-formation.
Ammu (Dr. Mary Kane) – born on 8 January 1926 - is the eldest and she graduated from the Christian Medical College in 1949 as the best outgoing student. She did M.D in General Medicine from Madras University. She is married to Dr. P.P. Kane, and they have three daughters Rohini (India), Madhuri (India) and Nandini (USA). Ammu retired from the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital and lives in Mumbai, India. She was the first from our family to travel to the United States of America (USA) in May 1955. She specialized in Gastroenterology at the University of Rochester, New York (19955-56) and at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (1956-57). Later she worked as a physician at the Connecticut State Hospital, Middletown, Connecticut during 1957-59.
Bavan (K.T. Thomas) was the second – born on 18 March 1928. He was a BA in Economics, worked for many years in Singapore, and finally retired as the Superintendent of a Palm Oil Estate in Kerala. He passed away on 16 November 2007, and was buried in Ernakulum. His wife is Omana and their four children are Judy (UK), Julie (UAE), Jagan (India) and Timmy (India).
Uthaman (Mathew Thomas) – born on 28 August 1930 – is a BA in Philosophy. He served as an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and retired from Kerala State as District Superintendent of Police. His wife is Annamma and their four children are Lekha (USA), Sneha (USA), Vinod (UAE) and Pramod (USA). Uthaman is settled in Trivandrum, India.
Leela (Dr. Elizabeth Leela John) – born on 31 July 1933 – graduated from the Trivandrum Medical College. She did her MS in General surgery from Delhi University (Safdarjang Hospital) and became Kerala State’s first woman-surgeon. She died in a car accident soon after her retirement from Trivandrum Medical College as its Director of Surgery. She died in June 1989, and was buried in Trivandrum. She was married to A.D. John, and left behind two children – Tara (USA) and Deepu (USA).
Achachi (Acha Grace Abraham) – born on 28 May 1935 – is MSc in Botany. She was the first faculty at the Botany Department of St. Teresa’s College in Ernakulum, Kerala State. She and her husband later worked at the University of Science & Technology at Kumasi, Ghana. Her husband Dr. Abraham Thomas passed away in Pune in February 2008. She has two sons – Ajit (UK) and Arun (USA). She lives in Pune, India.
Baptism and Confirmation
I was baptized by Late Rev. Abraham Koshy at the Christ Church, Trivandrum. Mr. and Mrs. W.O. Chandy were my God-parents. They were quite faithful in their roles, and kept close watch on my faith-journey till their passing away.
I was confirmed on 4 December 1960 at the Christ Church, Trivandrum by Late Bishop M.M. John of the then Central Travancore Diocese. Confirmation classes were imparted by Late Rev. M.V. George. I received my first Holy Communion on 11 December 1960.
Very few memories spring from my childhood. One of the earliest memories is my watching a procession through the main road of Trivandrum when Mahatma Gandhi’s mortal remains (as ash) were carried in an urn on an open truck. I was hardly 5 years old, and remember crying profusely along with other onlookers. Little did I know what the commotion was all about! Somebody told me that “they shot and killed our Gandhiji.”
I remember my first teacher (a middle-aged male person whose name I forget) who taught me Malayalam alphabet and basic arithmetic. He was a private tutor, and he came home on a bicycle. He was quite strict, and didn’t hesitate to use the cane when I went wrong in my lessons.
I went through my first surgery for tonsillitis at the General Hospital in Trivandrum when I was 10. Later I visited the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore for another minor surgery when I was 12. My eldest sister was then serving there as a medical doctor. This was my first travel outside Kerala. Vellore is in Tamilnadu. Surprisingly my second visit to CMC came in 2005 - after 50 years when I had the honor to be the Chief Guest at CMC’s Graduation Ceremony.
I remember my primary and middle school teachers– all were female teachers at the Barton Hill High School. I left that School in 1956 to join the Model School for my high school studies.
I remember my Sunday School days at the Olivet Sunday School. This was a Church of South India (CSI) – Mar Thoma united enterprise. Annual functions were enchanting. We used to go singing Christmas Carols at the houses of the Christian community around. The Head Master C. J. Chacko was a role model in many ways. Later, I taught at this Sunday School for a couple of years.
Surprisingly I am not in touch with any of the friends from my early school days. We are all scattered. The waves of time have taken us to different destinations or shores.
The faces of some close relatives and family friends come up – my paternal and maternal uncles, aunts and cousins. I was always looking forward to their visits.
After completing my higher secondary education, I joined the Government Engineering College in Trivandrum and obtained a BSc in Engineering from the Kerala University in November 1964. Thereafter I served as a Lecturer in TKM Engineering College, Kollam for an year. Then I joined the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai for my Mater's Degree - MTech in Structural Engineering. I left the IIT in late 1968. My MTech thesis was about ferrocement folded plates, and was prepared under the supervision of Professor R.S. Ayyar. My Department-Head was Professor C.K. Ramesh. The then Director of the IIT was Brigadier (Retired) S.K. Bose.
I married Susan daughter of Late V.T. Titus and Mary Titus on 31 December 1970 at the Mar Thoma Church in Madras (now Chennai). I was working in New Delhi and she was a medical student at the Kilpauk Medical College, Chennai when we got married. It was an “arranged marriage” where the seniors of our two families first decided that ours would be a perfect wedding! Susan and I got to see each other for about an hour just a few weeks before our wedding. Both she and I happily concluded that our parents knew what is best for us!
Susan’s father (Late V.T. Titus) and grandfather (Late Professor Titus Varghese) were well-known educationists of Tamilnadu. They enjoyed good reputation within our community, and I was quite pleased with my parents’ choice. Late V.T. Titus was the Director of Public Instruction of Tamilnadu, and closer to his retirement he served as the Vice Chancellor of the Annamalai University in South India. Their family-name is Velliampallil.
According to our community-custom, the engagement ceremony was conducted in Trivandrum (the bridegroom’s place) and the wedding was held in Madras (the bride’s place). Both Susan and I were not present at the engagement ceremony though it was attended by about 50 close relatives from both sides.
Susan was born in Ernakulam on 31 May 1946. She has a younger brother - Alex. She had lost two younger brothers.
Susan and I were of course required to be present at the wedding! The Church Service was followed by a grand reception party that was attended by almost 1,000 guests at the grounds of Madras Christian College High School. The guests included some VIPs such as the then Governor of Tamilnadu, the then Mayor of Madras, Late former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu Bhaktavalsalam and the then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Madras. The then Education Minister of Tamilnadu (Late V.R. Nedunchezhian) proposed the toast to the newly wedded couple.
We didn’t have any special honeymoon trips after the marriage. Lunch and dinner invitations to the homes of close relatives and friends kept us busy for a full week after the wedding. It was two years after our wedding that Susan joined me in New Delhi for her Internship at the Safdarjang Hospital. That was the “first migration” for Susan – from Madras to New Delhi!
Marriage is a demanding institution with attendant struggles, challenges and adjustments. Its beauty and purpose get revealed over time. It takes an hour to complete the marriage service but it takes an entire life to fulfiil its mission. Three distinctive factors helped us buttress our marriage – our common faith in Christ Jesus, our parents and our God-given children. I was particularly fortunate to obtain two humble souls as my in-laws. They never interfered in my family life but gave pure unconditional love.
Today, after almost 40 years of married life, my wife and I will wholeheartedly say how blessed are we to be life-long partners. I often think about Psalm 128 which was sung by the Choir at our wedding. It says “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” By God’s grace this has come true in my life.
Arrival of Children
Our first child, a daughter, was born in Chennai (former Madras) on 21 October 1973. Susan and I were determined to give Indian names to our children. Accordingly she was named Anupama (which means one who cannot be compared). She took, according to our community custom, my mother’s name – Susan (Achama in the old style) – as her Christian name. She was baptized at the Mar Thoma Church in Madras. Since my wife Susan was doing House Surgeoncy in New Delhi, little Anupama was looked after by her maternal grand parents in Madras for over a year.
Our second child, a son, was born in New Delhi on 9 June 1979. He was named Abhay (which means shelter). He got Thomas as his Christian name from my father. Abhay was baptized at the Green Park Free Church in New Delhi.
Anupama studied at the Convent of Jesus & Mary in New Delhi (Grade 1-10) and at the Woodstock School in Mussoorie at the foothills of the Himalayas (Grade 11-12). Abhay studied at St. Columba’s in New Delhi (Grade 1-4) and at the Woodstock School in Mussoorie (Grade 5-6).
Both Anupama and Abhay took lessons in Piano while at New Delhi. Susan used to accompany them – normally in a three-wheeler transport – after her tiresome duty at the Holy Family Hospital where she was working at that time.
Both Anupama and Abhay got confirmed in their Christian faith at the Christianskirke (belonging to the Danish People’s Lutheran Church) in Aarhus, Denmark by Rev. Esper Thideman. Their early Christian faith foundation was laid at the New Delhi Green Park Free Church under the supervision of Rev. and Mrs. G. Grose.
Life in New Delhi (1968-1991)
I spent more than 22 years in New Delhi, the capital city of India. New Delhi was an adorable city in 1970s with plenty of trees and well laid roads. We lived in apartments at Lajpatnagar, South Extension Part I, Green Park Extension, Kalkaji Extension and finally at Greater Kailash Part II – all in South Delhi.
I worked at the Cement Research Institute of India (CRI) and Holtec Engineers Private Limited (previously an associate of Holcim, Switzerland) during this period. I have maintained uninterrupted relationship with Holtec and Holcim since then.
I served as the Honorary Assistant Secretary of the Institution of Engineers (India) Delhi Centre for two years (1970-71).
Susan worked at the Holy Family Hospital as the Head of Community Health Department, and still celebrates fond memories of her work and colleagues there. During her tenure at the Holy Family Hospital, she did her MCH (Master in Community Health) from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Susan worked as an intern and house surgeon at Safdarjang Hospital, New Delhi.
My first overseas visit took place in early 1974. I visited Britain for almost three months under an exchange program between the British Council and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This was followed by visits to Indonesia, Switzerland, Nepal, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, USA, Canada and a host of West European countries.
Susan and I travelled together to Switzerland and Egypt in 1986. She travelled on her own to Nepal, Malaysia and Singapore in 1986.
Since 1984, my activities de facto shifted to Switzerland where the Holderbank Group (now called Holcim) is headquartered. Holcim is one of the top three multinational cement producers with whom Holtec had technical collaboration. This move really opened my professional horizon. I served on a couple of World Bank missions representing Holderbank. One of the missions brought me in contact with Danida (the bilateral development agency of Denmark).
Let me recall some of the significant events of our life in New Delhi:
- Our wedding in 1970
- The birth of our children in 1973 and 1979
- My first overseas journey (to Britain) in 1974
- The passing away of my father in 1974
- My first securing a car driver’s license in 1974
- A car accident on the Grand Trunk Road near Karnal City in 1977 when I escaped with minor injuries
- A confrontation with some members of the CRI staff association on 1 May 1978 that gave a new vision to my professional life
- My first mission with a World Bank team to Bhutan in 1983
- The passing away of my mother in 1984
- Our children leaving home for the first time to go to a boarding school at Mussoorie in 1989
- Our buying an apartment in Greater Kailash Part II in 1990
- Our daughter Anupama graduating from the Woodstock School in 1991
We enjoyed the warmth of friendship with several people. Some of our friends have maintained close contacts with us since then.
Some of the senior personalities with whom I had the privilege of working included:
- Late Professor Y. Nayudamma (ex-Director General of CSIR and Secretary to the Government of India)
- Late Dr. Lal C. Verman (ex-Director General of the Indian Standards Institution)
- Lt. General R.A. Loomba (Engineer-in-Chief of the Indian Army)
- Late Dr. R. R. Hattiangadi (ex-Managing Director of the Associated Cement Companies)
- Dr. H.C. Visvesvaraya (ex-Director of the Cement Research Institute of India)
Life in Aarhus, Denmark (1991-1999)
I arrived in March 1991, and the family joined me in July 1991. We stayed in a beautiful villa facing the sea at Studstrup Strandvej. Looking back, I admire the ease with which Susan and children integrated with the Danish society. We bought a new villa and shifted therein in 1992 at Aadalsvej in Risskov.
My professional life at Rambøll (one of the top three Danish consulting firms) was indeed challenging and rewarding. My seniors (Jan Løgstrup, Bjarne Mathiesen and Hans Hartelius) were extremely supportive and encouraging. I was surrounded by a bunch of warm hearted colleagues. From Danida I received plenty of support. Some of the prestigious assignments that I handled were: (i) Industrial restructuring of the Helwan-based cement plants of Egypt for the World Bank, (ii) Master Plan for the cement sector of Vietnam for Danida, and (iii) Industrial restructuring of the Philippine manufacturing sector for the World Bank. My assignments took me to several countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Egypt, Eritrea and South Africa.
Our Christian fellowship began at Christianskirke. As mentioned earlier both our children got confirmed at Christianskirke (belonging to Den Danske Folkekirke). Our children took an active role in establishing an international English worship service at Christianskirke. Also, they both hosted a Christian radio program for several months.
Some of the major events of our life in Aarhus were:
- Confirmation of Anupama and Abhay in 1992 and 1993 respectively
- Admission of Anupama and Abhay to the Aarhus University for their graduate studies
- Visit of Susan’s parents from Chennai in 1995
- Visit of my eldest sister from Mumbai in 1996
Life in Washington DC, USA (1999-2007)
Susan and I reached this last work-station of my professional journey in March 1999. It was the fulfillment of a life-long dream and ambition to work at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group. We stayed at the Columbia Crossing apartment complex on Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia. The place was hardly a kilometer away from the Pentagon. We attended the Trinity Episcopal Church at Columbia Pike.
This was indeed an enriching and exciting period of my professional life that brought me in contact with some of the best professional men and women from all parts of the world. I travelled throughout the world appraising cement and other building materials projects emanating from practically all the continents. I used to travel approximately 120-150 days in a year.
Some of the major events of our life in Washington DC were:
- Our daughter Anupama’s wedding in 2000
- Anupama’s graduation (Master in Economics) from Denmark in 2000
- My reaching the 60th milestone in 2003
- Arrival of our first grandchild Caruna on 3 January 2004
- Susan’s turning 60 in 2006
- Susan’s father passing away on 3 February 2006
- Our son Abhay’s graduation (Master in Public Policy) from Denmark in 2007
My work has taken me to the following 65 countries. I have been privileged to visit some of the most exotic places in the world and to stay in some of the best hotels and guest houses. Susan was able to accompany me to a few countries (mainly while I worked at the IFC). Countries visited include Japan, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Israel, West Bank & Gaza, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Ghana, Togo, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Eritrea, Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia, Russia, Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia & Hezegovina, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil snd Venezuela.
I have retained at least one souvenir from each of these countries. My travel to the Holy Land took place in 2000 coinciding with the historic visit of the then Pope John Paul II.
Professional Life Overview
I have had a fulfilling and rewarding professional life spanning 42 years. It encompassed teaching, research & development, consulting and development financing. It took me from India to Switzerland, Denmark and USA. It enabled me to work with multinational and multicultural teams. I passed through five work-stations and worked with some of the finest men and women of all age-groups. It was my dream to work at the World Bank, and my dream-job came to me in 1999 as my last job in a long career dedicated to one single field – cement and building materials.
Two former bosses played a remarkable role in shaping my professional ethics and attitude. They are Late Mr. Abdul Hamid, Principal of T.K.M. Engineering College, Kollam (India) and Dr. H. C. Visvesvaraya, Director of the Cement Reserach Institute of India (CRI). I learnt several finer aspects of professional conduct from them. They taught me ruthless objectivity in decision-making and ceaseless search for perfection and excellence in deliverables.
My stint at RAMBØLL in Denmark was undoubtedly the golden chapter of my professional journey. Work-environment at that multidisciplinary Danish consulting firm was positive, creative, supportive and totally tension-free. My family and I witnessed a society which respected human dignity and practiced social democracy quietly but surely. It is this unique experience and impression that encouraged me and my wife to choose Denmark as the country to spend our retired life.
Retired Life in Copenhagen, Denmark
My retired life began in April 2007. We live in a small (about 100 square meter) but beautiful apartment in Christianshavn – close to the sea channels and an old majestic church called Christianskirke. Both Susan and I continue to learn the Danish language and to integrate with the Danish society. We are blessed with a fine network of friends from different parts of the world. We attend the International Church of Copenhagen (ICC) – an affiliate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). We both are active at a couple of multicultural forums - Tværkulturelt Center and Better World Denmark. Since the start of 2013, I serve as the President of the ICC Council.
On the professional front, I serve on the Boards of Directors of few companies which keep me engaged for about 30-40 days in a year. These companies are: Zuari Cement (India), Asia Cement (Thailand), Fuping Cement (China), Obajana Cement (Nigeria), Asamer Cement Holding, Austria, Trinidad Cement (Trinidad & Tobago) and Antea Titan Cement (Albania).
Susan and I spend a lot of time at our personal computers – staying in touch with our near and dear ones all around the world through the internet. I enjoy reading the news and various developements from all over the world but with particular focus on India, Kerala State, USA and Denmark. I listen to music (Western pop and classical and Indian classical) and read history, religion and politics.
I always dreamt of the “evening of life”, and now here it is! My wife and I were mentally prepared to accept a new rhythm and pace. By God’s grace, our plan has worked to complete satisfaction. We have time to pray, relax, socialise, volunteer, read, listen to music, go for walks and to open our home for others.
We spend a lot of time together reflecting upon and celebrating the lives of our ancestors and various persons who had touched our lives as God’s faces. We realise how quickly we tend to forget some of the people and events which were very pivotal in our life-journey. We discover how swiftly we have forgotten some of the threatening or intimidating situations in our lives and the amazing grace with which we have overcome those “Goliaths”.
Our daughter Anupama completed her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley in May 2013. She is now appointed as an Assistant Professor at the Azusa Pacific University (APU) near Los Angeles. Our son-in-law Biju Jacob (son of Mr. Jacob Samuel and Mrs. Lilly Jacob of Koodathinaal family) who is a MS in Computer Systems from the University of Illinois, Springfield is presently attached to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).
Our son Abhay moved to Brussels (Belgium) from Copenhagen. He qualified to enter the EU Civil Service and started working for the European Union (EU) Parliament since 1st July 2013.
Our grandadughter Caruna’s phone calls provide some of the awesome moments of our retired life. It is fascinating to watch her growing with faith and wisdom. We call our son-in-law Biju our “2000-son” since he married our daughter in 2000. The joy that we experience with our children is indescribable. Susan and I try to remind ourselves of the following mantra:
“You may give your children your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you can't visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, for life goes not backward. You are the bows from which your children are sent forth as living arrows.”
We start every day by listening to a short 15-minute worship service relayed by Denmark Radio from the Cathedral of Copenhagen. It is a refreshing and renewing experience. We live very close to a 250-year old church, and attend a Holy Communion Service every Thursday noon. Ringing of the bells from this Church constantly reminds us of our journey towards our Creator God besides the manifold blessings we have been receiving over the years.
Yes, this journey of amazing grace continues......