Romesh Mehra

Obituary of Romesh C. Mehra

Dr. Romesh C. Mehra, 84, passed away peacefully in the early morning of Tuesday, October 12, 2021, at his family’s home in Palo Alto, California. Before moving to California in the early 2000s, Dr. Mehra was a long-time resident of South Bend, Indiana, where he had a storied career as a Professor of Biology at Indiana University-South Bend, following his PhD from the University of Notre Dame. 

Dr. Mehra was born in Amritsar, Punjab, British India, the precocious middle child amongst thirteen siblings who was fascinated by America. He was raised amidst the Indian Independence Movement and the communal atrocities of The Partition, which instilled his life-long empathy for the dispossessed and dedication to secularism, pluralism, and non-violence. 

He received a B.S. from Punjab University and an M.S. from Agra University, where he stood first in his college and second university-wide. In 1962, he married Sushila Seth, who had recently completed her M.A. in Political Science. They moved to Lucknow, India, where Dr. Mehra was a research scientist at the National Botanical Research Institute. The Mehras emigrated to South Bend a few years later, where Romesh completed his PhD in Genetics at Notre Dame, and Sushila worked at the Notre Dame Library. Years later, their son received a B.S. from Notre Dame.

Following his graduation from Notre Dame in 1970, Dr. Mehra joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at Indiana University-South Bend, where he awarded for excellence as an educator, researcher, and administrator. Dr. Mehra taught genetics and biology to legions of future physicians, research scientists, and educators. His research in plant genetics was published across prestigious academic journals and international conferences at a time of extraordinary progress in the field. Dr. Mehra took particular pride in nurturing the careers of talented undergraduates in his research lab and including them as co-authors in elite scientific journals. 

After his promotion to full Professor, Dr. Mehra was the founding director of the International Programs at IU South Bend. In the eighties and early nineties, he pioneered models for the proactive recruitment of international students for undergraduate studies in the U.S., particularly from East Asia.  Dr. Mehra traveled the region frequently to conduct speaking tours and in-person recruitment, and he partnered with local businesses and civic leaders in Michiana to arrange scholarships, internships, and housing to support the hundreds of students he recruited to the program. Dr. Mehra established the university’s first campus housing to accommodate these students, and the talent and diversity of the burgeoning international student body enriched the culture, finances, and standing of the university at a time when local enrollment was otherwise projected to decline. Dr. Mehra was recognized nationally for the meteoric success of IUSB’s international recruiting, and his entrepreneurial model was quickly adopted by universities nationwide. 

The Mehras were also leaders in organizing Michiana’s fledging South Asian community, from the sixties through the eighties. They annually hosted Michiana’s fabled Diwali Dinner at IUSB, invited renown Hindustani classical musicians to perform at IUSB starting in the eighties, and opened their home as a social hub for the community. The Mehra residence was also a home-away-from-home to legions of students from IUSB and Notre Dame, overflowing with music, raucous debate, and Sushila’s still-legendary cooking. For a generation of students in the seventies and eighties, the Mehras’ home was a warm shelter from South Bend’s cold. 

Sushila preceded Romesh in death in 1990 after a twelve-year battle with cancer. Following his retirement in 2002, Dr. Mehra moved to Northern California to join his family and raise his beloved granddaughter, Sania Mehra, his greatest delight. He is survived by her, his son Shailesh (Shaalu), daughter-in-law Madhuri, and their extended family across the U.S. and India. They will always treasure his gregariousness, compassion, fierce intellect, and boundless love. Services have been held for Dr. Mehra in California. 

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