Obituary: Sethu Madhavan of the ICA Asia-Pacific

Balu Iyer pays tribute to 'a mentor, friend, and guide'

Sethu Madhavan (19 February 1952 – 5 September 2020) worked for 45 years in the Asia Pacific office of the International Co-operative Alliance. Hailing from Kerala, in south India, Sethu graduated from the Punjab University and joined the ICA Regional Office for Asia and Pacific in his 20s. He was key in organising regional board meetings, assemblies and high-level conferences such as the ministerial and registrar conferences. He was part of the team that organised the 1st ever Regional Assembly and 1st ever co-operative ministers’ conference in Sydney in 1990. He is survived by his wife, his son and daughter in law.

Balu Iyer, regional director ICA-AP, pays tribute …

“I have known Sethu for 30 years, he was a kind person” … “I have known Sethu for 25 years, he was a gentle person” … “ I have known Sethu for 14 years, he was a warm person” … “I met Sethu a month back, online due to the pandemic, he was very kind to me”’.

I am waiting to hear from someone who knew Sethu for 40 years, I am sure the words to describe would be no different.

Sethu and the International Cooperative Alliance Asia-Pacific (ICA-AP) were one and the same to members in the region. Sethu joined the Regional Office on April 16, 1975, and was continually associated till the day of his passing. For 45 years, Sethu worked with sincerity and dedication for members and co-operatives. He was always there to answer questions and ever eager to help members. An institution, a repository of knowledge, an encyclopedia, a lodestar are words used to describe him.

Sethu was the first point of contact for members – be it to know about joining the ICA, any issue relating to subscription, or seeking clarification on rules (which can be confounding). A member remarked: “This is because he was the one who always responded with correct clarifications/ information!”

He was always there to hear, ever ready to respond, and do his best to resolve. As coordinator of one of the ICA-MAFF (Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture Farms and Fisheries) training programmes, he was a guide and friend to many a co-operator from across the region. As secretary of the Human Resources Committee, he served with sincerity and dedication.

Sethu played a central role in the regional assemblies, board meetings, and in high level ministerial and other conferences. He would be the first person in the hall and the last person to leave after having ensured order of seating, placement of name plates and flags, arrangement for interpreters, handing out of meeting material, and taking care of hospitality. Meticulous, thorough, dedicated, diligent, professional.

To ICA-AP regional directors – starting with Mr G.K. Sharma (1986-1996), Mr Robby Tulus (1996-2001), Mr Shil Kwan Lee (2002-2009), Dr Chan-Ho Choi (2010-2014), and now, me (2014-2020) – he was the right hand man with his knowledge of members, information on board decisions, balanced understanding of issues and finger on happenings in the office.

To staff in the regional office, he was a mentor, friend, and guide. It did not matter to Sethu, whether it was the regional director or a support staff member. He had a friendly demeanour, treated everyone equally, was easily accessible, and every ready to share and guide.

Sethu was the first staff I met, after I interviewed for the regional director position. From that day onwards, we forged a relationship based on respect, trust and dependability. It has still not sunk in and it is difficult for me imagine he will not be there to greet and give me news of member and status of subscription when I return to the office.

Rest in peace, Sethu!

The many tributes to Mr Madhavan can be found on the ICA website. They include:

Ariel Guarco, president, ICA: “We have lost an invaluable colleague, who was always ready to collaborate with everyone, in a caring, responsible and respectful way. He will always be in our memories. I send my most sincere condolences to his family and colleagues from the ICA-AP Office in this painful situation. My heart goes out to all of you.”

Dr U.S. Awasthi, managing director, IFFCO: “My heartfelt condolences on demise of Shri. Sethu Madhavan. His passing away is great loss to cooperative movement. I pray to God to give him place in heaven & courage to his family and dear & near ones to bear this irreparable loss. Om Shanti.”

Bruno Roelants, director general, ICA: “This is a terrible news… I feel so sad…. I have known Serhu for such a long time… Such a faithful person . I will write more later but I wanted to react immediately and share my emotion…. Please convey all my solidarity to his family and to the ICA AP staff. In solidarity.”

Charles Gould, former director general, ICA: “I always found him to be such a conscientious and thoughtful man. There is so much loss from this.”

Martin Lowry, ICA Global Board member, USA: “How very, very saddened we are at the sudden loss of Sethu Madhavan to Covid. I can only imagine how difficult this is for the Delhi staff and for you, Balu.  He was such a gentle soul and always a great pleasure to be with.  A co-operator to the end!”

Bernadette Turner, former international officer, Co-operatives UKWhat really sad news.  I worked with Sethu on many occasions.  It will be hard to think that he will not be around … Sethu and the Asia Pacific Office were one in the same.”

Dr Chandrapal Singh Yadav, vice president ICA-AP regional board, president NCUI, India: “Very shocking news! We convey our heartfelt condolences and pray God for eternal peace to departed soul.”

Dr Nandini Azad, ICA-AP Women’s Committee chair: “Sethu Madhavan was to ICA-AP a pillar par excellence. An encyclopaedia of the Asia-Pacific co-op world. Loved and respected by all. RIP we will miss his wisdom very much.”

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