Obituary: Fr. McGrath – a Guru, Philosopher and Guide


Fr. Edward Hugh McGrath, SJ, one of the founding fathers of XLRI, is no more. He passed away on August 4 after prolonged illness. He was 95 years old. He came to India in 1949 when he was 26. He was born in New York to Dr John F McGrath and Lillian McGrath on January 7, 1923. At 36, Fr McGrath became the second director of XLRI in 1959. XLRI was born to strengthen industrial India, and bring in ethical management practices strengthening both the  trade unions and personnel managers. He held the position till 1962 and had his second stint as the director between 1981 and 1982. He conducted several courses for management and trade union groups at XLRI. During the 60s, XLRI, under his leadership, started offering courses for unions in collaboration with the steel unions at the Steel Worker College.

In 1987 Fr McGrath moved to the Human Life Centre in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, and took over as director there. He developed vocational training courses, such as written and spoken English, computer operating, tailoring, and carpentry among others.

I walked into XLRI as a young 19 year old, fresh out of college, raw in life experiences and with a lot of apprehension as this was the first time away from home for me. Amongst the first persons I met on campus was this tall, handsome, pleasant old man with a big smile on his face and sparkling and inquisitive eyes. His warmth in the way he interacted with each of the students, the fellow faculty and the guards on campus was what attracted me to him. This was Fr. E H McGrath—Maggie for all of us.

Maggie taught us basic managerial skills in our first term and I must admit that, what I am today, as a professional and as a human being is because of this selfless person. His teaching style was so natural and experiential that each one of us took away a lifetime of learning from his sessions. He personified a humane spirit and one of the most important lessons learnt from him was that of humility. Irrespective of what he had achieved in his life, he was so down to earth that he made everyone, who interacted with him, feel the need to be humble. I try to emulate this learning from him and find that this has helped me build and maintain relationships across different sets/types of people in my life.

His experiential style of teaching made each one of us acquire and retain much more than what we would have learnt in the traditional style.  For me, Fr McGrath was more than a teacher of a subject. He taught me what it is to live life to the fullest and be compassionate. He made me what I am. I bow before my guru, philosopher and guide and place on record my heartfelt gratitude for his hand in making me a person and a professional.

With his passing away— a noble soul who lived selflessly for others—a void and vacuum has been created in my life, which will be very difficult to fill. Will really miss him and his humorous one-liners. May his soul rest in peace! 

(The author is former CHRO & head of corporate affairs, TATA SIA Airlines)

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