April 28, 1925 – July 24, 2017
Her family in Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, feared that C. Bhargavi Rao would never get married.
The second oldest of seven children and the only daughter, she defied her parents’ wishes and insisted on getting an education. At that time, school was not considered a priority for girls, and they commonly became brides in their teens.
Nevertheless, with the encouragement of her grandfather, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and economics from the University of Madras in 1945. After she earned a master’s degree in history from Benaras Hindi University in 1947 and a teaching degree from the University of Madras in 1948, she was considered too well-educated to be accepted by a prospective husband. Also too old.
But the mother of C. Radhakrishna Rao, a friend of Bhargavi’s family, did not see it that way. Her son had just completed a doctorate in statistics from Cambridge University in England. She believed that an educated wife would benefit her son's academic career.
That is how C. Bhargavi and Radhakrishna married in Chennai in 1948. He went on to gain international renown as a pioneer in modern statistics.
They came to Williamsville nine years ago when her husband became a researcher at the University at Buffalo.
C. Bhargavi Rao died Monday in her Williamsville home after a period of declining health. She was 92.
“They were a remarkable couple,” their daughter Tejaswini says. “They doted on each other, even to the last moment.”
While he taught at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta, eventually becoming its director, Mrs. Rao began a classroom career at the National High School in Calcutta.
She received a certificate in applied psychology from the University of Calcutta and earned a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1954 while her husband was a visiting professor. She went on to be a professor of psychology at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.
“My father was always doing his research,” her daughter says. “He would get up at 5 a.m. and work and come home and do research until midnight. My mother said, ‘I had to make a life for myself and I had to make a life for him.’ She respected who he was and supported him. She never nagged him. She knew what he needed.”
When her husband reached mandatory retirement age at 60, he accepted a post as professor at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1988, they moved to State College, Pa., where he was Eberly Professor of Statistics at Pennsylvania State University and founding director of Penn State’s Center for Multivariate Analysis. Penn State gives a biennial award, the C.R. and Bhargavi Rao Prize for Outstanding Research in Statistics.
At Penn State, she belonged to book clubs and women’s clubs and was active in Encounter, a group of women who met to discuss current affairs. She and her husband also traveled.
In contrast to her husband’s quiet reserve, Mrs. Rao was outgoing, elegant and enjoyed entertaining and cooking. Her daughter notes that she prepared an elaborate dinner for hundreds of guests at her son’s wedding reception.
“The one thing he gave her was a 45-minute walk every day,” her daughter says. In recent years, they walked every evening in the Boulevard Mall.
In addition to her husband and her daughter, a professor emerita at SUNY Buffalo State and founder of the Natya School of Indian Classical Dance, survivors include her son, Veerendra, a computer scientist; three brothers, Lavakumar, Premchandra and S.P. Yayathi; and two grandsons.
A celebration of her life will be held in August.
Story topics: University at Buffalo