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Remembering Rameshchandra Patel, beloved in his Indian community, lost to COVID

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For more than a year and a half, we have been remembering some of the nearly 800,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and we've asked you to share their stories with us.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, we are remembering Rameshchandra Patel. Patel was born in India and moved to New Jersey for school in 1965. He was the first in his family to come to the U.S.

SUHASH PATEL: He landed here with no family, no friends, just an acquaintance of my grandfather here - had an address in his wallet. I think once he came here, I think he knew there was a vision of him being the first to come settle down and then bring everyone else behind him here.

KELLY: Although he came to the U.S. to study science and made a home here, his son, Suhash Patel, says his father was Indian through and through. So while he was attending Stevens Institute of Technology, he started an Indian students' association.

PATEL: And the story goes that in order to keep the Indian culture alive, the only way you can do it is through Bollywood - right? - and movies and having Indian movies shown here in American theatres in the '60s. And that was unheard of, and what he had said was they were screening movies. They would actually get them and display that at Stevens Institute of Technology in their theater room, but they watched every top hit movie that would come out.

CORNISH: Patel was a forensic chemist for the NYPD by day, but working within the Indian community was his passion. He eventually became president of the Federation of Indian Associations of the tri-state area. And though he led the massive organization, his son remembers him as a man of the people.

PATEL: People would call him at 12:00 at night. Can - you know, someone, so-and-so needs help because there's an issue with a visa or a passport or something happened. Literally in the middle of the night, he would get up and whatever he would need to do to make phone calls, to get that processed, to get someone home - someone's sick, someone's dying and they need something expedited - like, he doesn't know who these people are. But I think his passion, really his hobby, was helping other people.

KELLY: Patel read everything, but he had a love for medicine specifically.

PATEL: There's notes upon notes at home in books of my medical textbooks that he read numerous and countless times that he's handwritten out. And any new book I would get, you know, that I wasn't going to use or anything, he - I would give it to him, and he would love it.

CORNISH: Patel got COVID early on in the pandemic, when tests weren't widely available and we didn't know a lot about the virus. After he died, his children went through the notes he had written in those medical textbooks, looking for messages he may have left behind.

KELLY: And in those notes, they found their father's guiding principles for life.

PATEL: I don't know what the intended purposes were, but I think he left that for us to see if he didn't make it.

CORNISH: Among those principles - educate yourself. Stay well-dressed. Money isn't everything. But above all, do unto others as you'd want done to you.

PATEL: I think he kind of wrote what he lived his life like. If you asked him for something, he would give you that and more - right? - and whether that was his last $5 or if it's a shirt off his back or he needed to sacrifice something in the way of giving you what he needed to give you. And I think the ultimate sacrifice there was his family. He came here. He brought his entire family here. They lived with him. They got him - he got them jobs. He settled them down. He got them help in getting their homes and settling in their life and in that process probably lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, but he never cared, right? He never looked at it as a loss for him. So for me, his guiding principle always was what he lived and emulated his life, you know, on a daily basis. Just do what you can to help others. That was it.

KELLY: Rameshchandra Patel was 78 years old when he died of COVID-19 in June of last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF BON IVER'S "HOLOCENE")

CORNISH: If you'd like us to memorialize a loved one you have lost to COVID-19, find us on Twitter - @npratc. There's a pinned tweet right at the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF BON IVER'S "HOLOCENE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.