Memories of Anita
Anita Ashok Datar, 41 years old, was a light in the world, a highly developed humanist, a friend and mentor and a highly skilled and successful woman.
She was in Bamako, Mali, with many colleagues from the US and Mali, trying to help the region to do better in its HIV/AIDS and reproductive health response and was representing her employer, Palladium, a longstanding international development company, but also USAID, PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for HIV & AIDS Relief) as well as the US Government.
After graduating from Rutgers College with a BA in Psychology in 1995, Anita then embarked on a Peace Corps placement in Senegal from 1997 – 1999, where she worked as a health and agricultural extensionist at the village level. That experience, where she solidified her interest in international health and development, so moved her that she enrolled in and successfully completed a joint MPH/MPA program at Columbia University in New York in 2002. After that she worked at the RAND Corporation and then joined Futures Group in Washington DC to work in the international HIV/AIDS response under PEPFAR in 2004.
After 11 tremendously fulfilling years in international development with Futures (now Palladium) she was a senior international development professional working and in high demand all over the world and leading large teams, most recently to assist PEPFAR in geo-spatial mapping in the HIV response, helping countries to use modern methods to better focus their resources where they are most needed in country. She was revered by her colleagues here in the US and all over the world as well as by her myriad friends.
Anita’s boundless intellectual curiosity and joie de vivre were evident in everything she touched. She was devoted to her son, Rohan, now 7 years old, to her parents, and to the plight of poor women, and she cofounded Tulalens, a non-profit devoted to improving the status and circumstances of women in India.
Her loss is a loss to the world and we are all shattered.
The following are some recollections from her colleagues:
"There are some truly special people in the world and Anita was one of them; she gave of herself without limit every day. She was beautiful within and without. She had no concern for national origin or race but did have a particular focus on helping poor women and their families. It was our privilege to have known her and we will not be the same without her."
Farley R. Cleghorn MD, MPH - Colleague and Global Health Practice Leader at Palladium
“In shock! So young, such a promising career, one of the best colleagues and mentors I have ever worked with.”
Ian Wanyeki - former colleague, now at UNAIDS
“There is a huge whole in my heart with Anita gone. As a colleague, I look up to and attempt to emulate Anita’s courage, professionalism, and mentoring skills. She was always willing to have difficult conversations and do what is right, when it would be so much easier to just avoid it all. She would tell me that we gave each other courage, but I think she was really paving my way. She exuded sincerity, and was giving of herself, even when she could have focused solely on her own career or personal life. Over the past couple of years, as we came to the end of HPP, we became each other’s own personal cheerleaders and motivational speakers, talking through our career plans and working toward common goals for HP+. What I will miss the most, though, is our daily check-ins, which sometimes consisted only of ridiculous Skype emoticons. She made me feel a part of the DC office and Palladium community every day.”
Nicole Ross Judice - Colleague, Palladium
“What I will miss most about Anita is her infectious enthusiasm for her work and life. Anita had a way of taking something that looked impossible or difficult and finding a way to make it work. Her can-do attitude, sincerity and smile (something she did with her whole face) made her a pleasure to know and work with. Everybody was a somebody to Anita. She had a unique way of letting you know that. I owe a lot of what I’ve learned since the start of AIDSRelief project in 2004 to Anita.”
Ed Robinson - Colleague, Palladium
"We are all simply numb at this point. Saddened, disgusted and heartbroken. It is hard to describe what a wonderfully smart, beautiful, caring person Anita was and still is in our hearts and minds. A huge loss to her family, our company and the international development community."
Joseph Ichter - Colleague, Palladium
"I always felt like she brought out the best in people. She took chances on people and found and focused on their strengths. The word "mentor" keeps coming up for many of us. She wasn't a mentor in the pedantic way one might assume when you think of the word "mentor". She mentored you by sharing her stories and listening to yours and being a friend."
Nena do Nascimento - Colleague, Palladium
"Anita was so much more than just my boss - she was my mentor, my work mom, and my friend. I first started working with her in February 2014. I had been in operations for a year and was just starting technical work. I was excited but nervous and doubted whether I was qualified for what we were doing. She had the most amazing way of making everyone feel welcomed and valued and equal. It didn't matter if you had one days' worth of experience or 20 years. She treated everyone with respect and dignity in our work and turned our GeoHealth Mapping team into a little family. She helped me grow professionally and technically more in the past two years than I could have ever imagined.
I could talk to her about anything - whether it be a work related question, a discussion about my career aspirations, or the latest episode of some trashy TV show (her favorite was Empire and she said Cookie was her spirit animal in another life.) Anita was such a beautiful person both inside and out. There is so much I miss about her already and will continue to miss. l'll miss our trips to the food court to get sushi during lunch, I'll miss our hilarious Skype chat conversations where she always tried to get me to laugh out loud in the open office, I'll miss our discussions of the relative merits of various new health food trends, I'll miss making awkward eye contact and funny faces with her from across our "pod" as she typed away at her standing desk, I'll miss how she was my biggest supporter and advocate at Palladium and was always helping me find new opportunities and grow in my job, and more than anything I'll miss her incredible smile that she had every day no matter what."
Isabel Brodsky - Colleague at Palladium
If you would like to contribute to this anthology of testimonials to Anita, please send an email with your thoughts to the following address: AnitaMemories@thepalladiumgroup.com