Many of Chennai’s who’s who turned up on Sunday to pay tributes to Mrs. Mammen Mappillai, fondly known as Kunjamma.
Wife of the late founder of MRF, K.M. Mammen Mappillai, she passed away early on Sunday in a private hospital in the city following a brief illness. She was 87.
Mrs. Mammen Mappillai is survived by sons K.M. Mammen, who is chairman and managing director of MRF, Arun Mammen, managing director of MRF, and daughter Ramani Joseph. In 1990, she lost her son Ravi Mammen, who was managing director of MRF.
The burial took place after a church service at Kilpauk cemetery on Sunday evening.
Mrs. Mappillai was involved in a variety of social, religious, charitable and philanthropic activities over the years, but chose to keep a low profile and largely stayed by the side of her husband, whom she lost in 2003.
The Mappillais’ home on G.N. Chetty Road hosted many a memorable social gathering in their time. A leading industrialist who spoke to The Hindu on Sunday recalled the warmth with which the couple greeted and hosted guests on such occasions.
She was an enthusiastic member of the choir of the Orthodox Syrian Church in Chennai, where she consistently sought to encourage youngsters to come to the fore.
She was a source of strength when K.M. Mammen Mappillai, a member of the Kandathil family in Kerala, started the Madras Rubber Factory out of a shed in Tiruvottiyur in the 1950s, an enterprise that grew from a toy-making unit to a globally-competitive tyre manufacturer.
Often, K.M. Mammen Mappillai would, only half in jest, describe his wife as ‘the first employee’ of MRF.
“Apart from helping her husband in building the company, she took active part in corporate events and social gatherings. She must have had a sharp memory as she addressed many old-timers in the organisation by their first names,” an employee of MRF said.
When the occasion demanded it, she accompanied her husband on personals visit to employees’ houses — a practice that she continued even after her husband’s death.
Hailing from Kottayam, Kunjamma, the daughter of leading doctor P.K. Kurien, taught briefly at the Baker Memorial School there before marrying K.M. Mammen Mappillai and moving to Chennai.