Many of Chennai’s who’s who turned up on Sunday to pay tributes to Mammen Mappillai, fondly known as Kunjamma . Wife of the late MRF founder K.M. Mammen Mappillai, she passed away early on Sunday at a private hospital here following a brief illness. She was 87.
Ms. 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 had 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.
Kunjamma 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.
Their Chennai home hosted many a memorable social gathering in their time.
A leading industrialist who spoke to The Hindu 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 her husband, 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 he 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 said.
When the occasion demanded it, she accompanied her husband on visit to employees’ houses — a practice she continued even after his death.
Hailing from Kottayam, Kunjamma, daughter of leading doctor P.K. Kurien, taught briefly at Baker Memorial School there before her marriage and moving to Chennai.