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Laura Suryananda Rao Katta
March 19, 1939 ~ December 15, 2023 (age 84) 84 Years Old
She was born Laura Sarala Devi Jeevaratnam. Her married name was Laura Katta, and her professional name was Laura S. Rao Katta, “Dr. Rao.”
Born just before the start of World War II, she was born into a Christian family, in a Muslim state, in a Hindu country. She lived through the war, through the fight for independence, and Partition. In fact, as a young girl, she, an older cousin, and a young brother, were on their way to see her mother in the hospital when a partition related riot broke out. All the other people on the bus including the driver, ran away, leaving three kids alone. Obviously, they eventually made it home safely while many did not. She came to the US just before the advent of flower power, but during the height of the Civil Rights campaign. She was part of a wave of Indian physicians recruited after the end of the United States long prohibition against Asian immigrants. She made friends, and made a life. When our father was able to join her, after a long paperwork approval process, that all went into high gear. First, a son, then four years later a daughter. She earned an MPH and advanced in her field of Obstetrics and Gynecology. This led to moves away from Baltimore and then back to the city that had become home. Through challenges and successes, she quietly and diligently moved forward. She quilted together a full life in a new world made up of a beautiful patchwork of old friends, new friends, travel, children, chosen family, friends, and a good if wary nature. She was a devoted but never ostentatious churchgoer, and her faith, personal and humble, stayed with her through it all.
There are lots of ways in which she will be remembered. As a beloved first born to our grandparents, and sister to 5 younger brothers and a younger sister. She’s remembered as a joyful, loving, and loyal friend whose friendships survived lifetimes. She’ll be remembered as a “plodding student” who graduated first in her medical school class and went on to be a medical director at Planned Parenthood, and faculty and attending at Johns Hopkins. She’ll be remembered as the brave young doctor who flew around the world to start a new life just a month after her wedding. It was a year before our father’s paperwork would be approved in an era when even a phone call to far off relatives was hard to arrange let alone ever seeing them again. She was the first in the family to come to the US.
She’ll be remembered as a loving aunt to her nephews and nieces. If you know Indian culture you’ll know that transcends blood.
She was an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life, through extraordinary times.
To our dad, she was the most beautiful woman to ever exist and he loved her to the very end.
To Smitha and I, she was “just” mommy and mom.
My earliest memories are of her singing to me (she never sang at any other time), and of her carrying Smitha on her hip seemingly for years. Her joy at the birth of her grandson and granddaughters was immeasurable. Her life became about them, and her most beloved role was as their Ammamma.
Gibran wrote, that “Death removes but the touch, not the awareness of all good.” I know this to be true, but I would give anything for just one more hug.