Madhuri Patel Lassiter died peacefully on Sept. 18, 2015, at her residence in West Orange, N.J. She was 80.
Madhu, as she was commonly known, and KiKi, as she was lovingly called by her family, was born in Karachi, India, on Oct. 24, 1934, to Dr. Vidyanand Patel and Kaushalya Arya. As a young girl, she attended a Montessori School, and later one of India’s most prominent English-speaking schools, Saint Mary’s Convent School in Karachi.
In 1948, the country was partitioned, creating Pakistan and India. Her family was forced to leave Karachi, and fled to India seeking political asylum in Bombay (currently Mumbai). The family arrived in India as political refugees with little more than the clothes on their backs. Fortunately, after years of struggling, the family was able to reestablish themselves in their new environment. In Bombay, she attended the National College, from which she received her bachelor of arts.
Madhu was very bright and popular, and was designated “Best Actress and Performer” for her passionate acting and Indian dancing. Her talents led to her being chosen to represent Bombay at the International Youth Festival in 1954 in New Delhi, India. There she met an American girl whom she became friends with. In 1956, another group of Americans came to India and were told to look up Madhu by the young woman who had met her several years before. One woman among the group was Barbara Skaife from Dubuque, Iowa. She and Madhu became steadfast friends, and she invited Madhu to return to the United States with her for a visit. The two had cheap tickets that enabled them to travel through Europe for a few weeks, prior to landing in New York. From there they took a Greyhound bus to Iowa, and thus began Madhu’s life in America.
She earned money by performing Indian dances and giving talks about India while taking classes at the University of Dubuque. She then decided to apply to graduate school, and attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her master’s in social work. It was in Philadelphia that she met a young medical student, her future husband, George Lassiter. The two married in 1959, moved to Madison, N.J., and were married for 31 years. Their union produced three children: Naina, Nayan, and Milan.
Professionally, Madhu was a psychiatric social worker, and retired after many years with the Veterans’ Administration. Throughout her career and long after her retirement, she freely counseled people, giving guidance and profound words of wisdom to many.
Madhu was truly one-of-a-kind. She was an extreme beauty who would dazzle people with her unique characteristics and exotic appearance, particularly when dressed in her native garb, a sari. While petite and short in stature, she was a dynamic force in a little package. She was outspoken, opinionated, principle-minded, practical, quick-tempered and private, as well as being kind, loving, a great listener, compassionate, strong in every sense of the word, caring, talented, funny, and extremely family-oriented.
She was a gifted artist who used various forms of media to create her exquisite collages and watercolor pieces, which she graciously parted with. She enjoyed knitting, crocheting, sewing, listening to an array of music from classical and jazz to Indian music and contemporary artists like Prince and Marc Anthony. She was extremely intelligent and interested in current events and politics. She loved poetry, and enjoyed participating in groups that enabled her to both read and write poems.
Nature was her sanctuary, and she loved sitting outdoors basking in the sun. She reveled looking at beautiful landscapes, the sky, green fields, flowers, birds, bees, and trees, and would often comment on the palette before her. And when indoors, she brought the outside with her via her expansive collection of plants that she dotingly tended to.
Madhu lived in Oak Bluffs with her family for many years, and left the Island in 2009. While on the Vineyard, she was active at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center and involved with a poetry group at the Oak Bluffs library, and was inspired to paint and create some of her most prolific art by the beauty that surrounded her there. She was at peace on the Island, and truly became a part of the Vineyard community. One of her creations received a first place ribbon at the All-Island Art Show, and helped to reshape her modest sentiments as an artist.
She adored her family, and is survived by many who loved her dearly, including her daughter Naina, her husband Eric and their children Eric and Kyra; her son Nayan, his wife CeCe and their children Phoenix and Skylar; her youngest son Milan, his wife Cyndy and their boys Tate, Cole, and Dane; as well as her cousin Savita, who was like a sister to her, and her beloved friend Barbara Skaife Busse, who brought her to America. She also leaves behind several friends, loved ones, and her only sibling, her brother Manhar Patel.
A private service will be held in October. She loved and was truly loved in return.