Thirumathi Esther Mathew was born Celvi Esther Pillai in Karachi, which is now in Pakistan in 1924 to Thiru Arul Pillai and Thirumathi Emily Pillai. She attended Municipal School and Missionary School. Celvi Pillai was awarded her Secondary School Certificate from the University of the Punjab. Because she was fluent in Tamil, English and Urdu, Celvi Pillai worked in the censor’s office censoring letters in three languages. After this, she worked in the High Commission of India where she met Srimaan Thomas Thekethil Mathew Ethrayum Bahumanapetta.
Because both families disapproved of the marriage, Celvi Pillai married Srimaan Thomas in Bangalore, India in 1950. They stayed in Bangalore after the wedding, where Srimaan Thomas worked for a courier company until moving back to Karachi in 1953.
In Karachi, she worked as a teacher and private tutor of English and Urdu.
In 1998, her husband died in Minnesota, USA while on holiday there with her. She stayed in the USA and lived with her children, eventually becoming an American citizen. After a short illness, Thirumathi Mathew died in 2014 at Fairview Southdale Hospital, Edina, Minnesota, USA.