In Memory of Dr. Padman S. Sarma, My Father

My father passed away 2 weeks ago today. While we knew his end was coming, it really did not do much to dull the pain. In the spirit of the future and my dad’s wishes, I have tried my best to think positively about the future. He was an accomplished man and always proud of me. I think he would have wanted me to publish my eulogy to him and his obituary, which I had the honor to help him write. While I will always miss my father, I truly do believe the things I said in his eulogy, and will always strive to perpetuate his legacy in my daily life.

I thought twice about posting this to my photography website — this post has little to do with photography. But it does have to do with my life’s inspiration and direction going forward along with my spirit. And photography has always been a channel for my spirit. Besides the fact that my dad was directly inspirational in me becoming a photographer (more on that here).

I also must thank every person who took the time to write a facebook comment or message, a text or email, call me, and come to my father’s services. I really do want to thank each one of you individually. If somehow I miss you, please know I am aware of each of you and sincerely found some solace and comfort in your words. They really meant a lot to me, especially in the days immediately after he passed.

Now, onto words about my dad:

Eulogy to my Father

Many of you here had the distinct honor of knowing my father but for those of you who didn’t know him well I want to give you a glimpse into the life of a man who is so influential to those around him.

My father was a vibrant soul who rode ambition, talent, and hard work to world renown breakthroughs in cancer detection and treatment. In over 20 years of work as a leading NIH lab scientist, Dr. Padman Sarma’s work resulted in significant advancements in animal and human sciences including leukemia, sarcoma, influenza, rubella, testicular cancer, and HIV/AIDS. He was also a brave pioneer who was the first immigrant from our family to the USA from India who inspired an entire community of family to follow him here. 

But it wasn’t for these grand reasons that so many people were enthralled with and devoted to my father. He was a magnetic spirit who charmed everyone he met on a personal level with his wit, humor, and easygoing nature. He was electric and bubbly, eager to strike conversation, make jokes, or band together an impromptu group musical performance. He was a man of positive energy, one who always saw the bright side of negative situations and advised for cooler heads and reconciliation. He was generous with love and selflessly devoted his time to the people he cared about, especially if they had fallen ill. He was a man of great influence, whose decisions altered the course of scores of lives. He was a light hearted person, who loved to simply pass time with someone and provide full his attention to their company. He was an encouraging person, who praised everything I did and provided only support to take it further. He was an agreeable person, who valued the opinion and desires of those around him. He was a doting person, who was so enchanted with love for me as his child that on a whim and casual desire, bought me a 1200 dollar drum set which I never used. He was a patient person, one who rarely lost his cool and offered instead to help, like when I one by one lost my wallet, cash, and travelers checks when traveling abroad. He was an artful and sentimental person, who enjoyed nature and exploring and inspired my own love of the arts. He was a musical person, who appreciated a melody of any form, Indian classical or even electronic. The list goes on and on about the amazing qualities of my father, who I affectionately always called, “Appa”. 

Family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances all can attest to Appa’s kind and friendly demeanor. His personality allowed him to make strong connections across the world, some that have lasted nearly 75 years. He has had many admirers who consider themselves lucky to have found themselves in his company,

The last few years of his life were extremely difficult for Appa, far more than anyone else. He was a victim to a terrible disease that eventually took his life. Each day became harder than the last, to the point where his body finally relented and decided to end his days on earth. But his resilient spirit endured and lasted with him until the very end. Just days before his passing, he was laughing at old jokes and enjoying listening to music, including the many pieces he composed. Despite everything that had happened to Appa, he mataintaned a positive attitude about life to the very end – an inspiration as to the strength of resolve that we can only hope for in our lives.

In some ways, I lost Appa some years ago but was granted a much longer goodbye that many never have with their loved ones. But When he was finally gone, I felt an incredible void carved in my soul which Will never be filled. My father, my biggest fan and advocate, my teacher, role model, my good friend, is lost from this earth. but very soon after feeling this void, my mind naturally switched to the memories of his old self. His voice that progressively diminished after the toll of Parkinson’s, was suddenly rejuvenated and reinvigorated in my mind. While I spent much of the last few years wondering what Appa thought, felt, and wanted, now that he’s free of the shackles of disease and worldliness, I now have a clearer window into his soul, and what wanted for me, than I ever did. 

While I mourn the loss of my beloved father from this earth, I take solace in that I believe his soul endures. His soul has returned to the heavenly, continuous fabric from which we are all woven. It’s the same place that blesses us with new souls, like Appa’s newborn granddaughter Veda. To me, this fabric of soul not only can create new friends and loved ones, but is available to anyone who misses my father and wishes to engage him again. remember his demeanor, relay his words, recall his intentions. Soon you will feel his spirit with you and know his responses to your every question. 

I will move confidently forward with my fathers soul firmly within me and voice In my ear, guiding me through the rest of my life. I will take solace in knowing what he would want for me. He would want me not to worry about him, know that he is finally without pain. He would ask me to take care of the family and be strong for them. He would ask me to chase my dreams and remember that I am capable. And most of all, he would remind me to be generous and love others, as he did. Through these continued actions in life I can maintain his legacy and inspire our family’s future generations to carry the gift of my fathers soul far into the future. 

Obituary of Dr. Padman Subramanyam Sarma

World-renown NIH scientist, avid orator and musician, devoted father

Dr. Padman Sarma, a world-renown research scientist whose life’s work significantly advanced the field of cancer research, including the detection and treatment of cancer-inducing viruses in animals and humans, died on June 24, 2015 at the age of 83 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Sarma was born in India to a physician/surgeon father who was trained under the British during their rule. After receiving his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in India in 1953, Dr. Sarma studied in the U.S., graduating from the University of Minnesota with a Master’s degree in 1957 and another Doctorate in microbiology in 1959. Returning to India, he served as a Research Scientist and Veterinarian in the Pasteur Institute in Coonoor where he worked to improve tissue culture methods to help develop potent vaccines for the smallpox virus.

He immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1961. After a teaching assignment as Assistant Professor in Virology in the University of Kentucky for one year, he was invited to the National Institutes of Health to serve as Visiting Scientist where he began his noteworthy and pioneering studies on avian leukosis viruses. Upon being promoted to the position of a career NCI research scientist in 1966, he continued his research on retroviruses. In 1971, he was promoted as the head of the Animal Virology and Field Studies section.

In over 20 years of research as a lab scientist, Dr. Sarma’s nearly one hundred publications and studies significantly advanced the field of cancer research. He pioneered methods to test for cancer-causing viruses and fight cancer in both animals and humans, and enabled advancements in sciences including leukemia, sarcoma, influenza, rubella, testicular cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Specifically, Dr. Sarma:

  • Dr. Sarma discovered the COFAL test, which was a simplified technique to detect leukemia-inducing viruses in genetic material of chicken tissue cells. This test helped to enable the crucial influenza vaccine, as COFAL tested to see if certain influenza vaccines were contaminated with cancer causing viruses. This test served as a model for a similar approach to detect leukemia-inducing viruses of other species and the human Rubella virus.
  • Dr. Sarma also developed the COCAL test, to detect cat leukemia that grew silently in cells and discovered a wide variance in subgroups of the cat leukemia virus. He developed a purified strain dubbed internationally as the “Sarma C Strain” of cat leukemia that caused anemia in cats and aided further research on anemia for all species.
  • Additionally, Dr. Sarma showed that cat leukemia and sarcoma can cross species and infect human cells and cause cancerous changes and but also confirmed that these mutations do not result in human cancer.
  • Dr. Sarma was among the very first to use interferons to fight cancer. He demonstrated the interferon, an antiviral protective substance naturally produced by living tissue in response to virus infection, inhibited the growth of mouse leukemia virus in cultured mouse cells. These early laboratory studies of animal model tumor viruses paved the way for the use of interferon to treat certain forms of human cancers such as testicular cancers.
  • Dr. Sarma’s later studies showed that blood protein in mice showed the ability to neutralize the infectivity of mouse leukemia virus. Based on this finding he and Wallace Rowe of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH developed a sensitive test for the quantitation of mouse antibodies against mouse leukemia viruses

In 1983, he transferred to the extramural program of the NCI as a Program Director, a position he continued until his retirement in 1995. From 1983 to 1996, he taught a Medical Virology course at the NIH, sponsored by the Foundation for the Advancement of Science at the NIH.Outside of his scientific work, Dr. Sarma also was an avid orator and self-taught musician. An active participant and leader in Toastmasters clubs, he was a charter co-founding member and club president many times of the very first toastmasters club at the NIH, the NIH Toastmasters club, which was chartered in 1969. Subsequently, he founded the NIH Evening Speakers Club in 1982 to obtain the highest Distinguished Toastmaster diploma awarded by the Toastmasters International. Both clubs are functioning very well with the several enthusiastic club members. As a mentor, he helped countless individuals to sharpen their leadership and public speaking skills. He was a composer of piano music and was proficient in several musical instruments, including the guitar, violin, mandolin, harmonica, flute, and accordion. Dr. Sarma was remarkably adept at many other activities, including architecture and design of multiple building and renovation projects in his homes, art as a photographer and proficient drawer, and even acting, serving parts in a TV drama and the movie, “Enemy of the State”. Late in his life, Dr. Sarma kept active in his local community as a real estate agent, helping his contacts and friends find homes in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Family and friends knew Dr. Sarma as a kind and soft soul, one who rarely raised his voice to a point of contention. They also pay homage to his stature as the first immigrant to the United States – whose sponsorship of family allowed a blossoming family tree that now nears one hundred members. His children knew him as a very loving, supportive, and generous father.

Survivors include his wife Raji and their two children, Nalina and Navin, and five children Sheila, Chander, Marla, Lila and Cynthia and several grandchildren through his previous marriage.


My father, Padman Sarma, playing his favorite composer, Frederic Chopin, at his beloved grand piano

My father, Padman Sarma, playing his favorite composer, Frederic Chopin, at his beloved grand piano

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