Not many would know Edith Greet, but the institutions she had set up will be familiar to Kochiites. She is the founder of Greets School, one of the prestigious schools in the city, which was set up as part of the Bethel Foundation. Even though she is under the care of Dr George Thayil at Lourdes Hospital in Pachalam for old age-related exhaustion, 96-year-old Edith keeps up a cheerful disposition. On seeing this reporter, she admitted she won’t be able to recall enough to make a newspaper report and quipped, “But I know, you will cook up the bits I have missed,” with a smile of a teenager flashing across her wrinkled face.
Edith Virginia Greet was born in New Jersey and grew up an orphan. In 1947, when the the West was in the throes of great changes, a 27-year-old Edith took a ship East, to Madras, to be precise. From there she came to Kochi by train with the mission of doing something for the orphans and street children. On being asked about her first impression of the place, she said, “Dirty...and too many mosquitoes,” with no intention to sweeten things.
She stayed at a government guest house for the night and later shifted to a rented house. Edith began her mission in Kochi with Sunday schools for poor and destitute children. And on the first day, she says, many parents turned up at the school. “Later I found out they were there to see the woman with rubber legs,” she says, and bursts out laughing. “I had my stockings on.”
Edith recounted going to meet Cook Sayipp (Robert F Cook, the prime missionary of the Pentacostal movement in India) at Chengannur, who provided the first few kids for the orphanage she had set up in Kochi. “I remember one of the girls coming in a boat,” she says. The sight seems to have been vividly inscribed in her memory for some reason as she repeated it many times over. Though there were boys and girls at her orphanage in the beginning, she decided to admit only girls, and there was a reason for it. “Boys, when they grow up, want to play tricks,” says Edith.
At the hospital, Edith is being loyally nursed by Geetha who grew up in one of the orphanages. The love and respect she has for Edith bears testimony to the nonagenarian’s greatness.