Picture of Dr. Venkat smilingDr. Chaya Rao Venkat, wife, mother, daughter, scientist, and patient advocate, passed away on September 20th, 2023, at her home in Rancho Mirage, California. The cause of death was heart disease. She was 74 years old.

Chaya was born in Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh, India on November 18th, 1948. Her mother was the celebrated Telugu writer Dwivedula Visalakshi, and her father was the economist Dr. D. N. Rao. As a young woman she won the prestigious National Science Talent Scholarship. This allowed her to attend Women’s Christian College in Chennai where she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and then the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, where she earned her master’s degree. She was one of only 20 women at IITM at the time in a student body of over 2000. While there she met the love of her life, P. C. Venkat. They were married in The Hague, the Netherlands, on July 12th, 1971. They both emigrated to the U.S.A. to continue their graduate studies at the University of Michigan where she received her PhD in chemistry and education.

She taught chemistry at the University of Michigan, at the Mara Institute of Technology in Malaysia, and then at Princeton University. As if her credentials weren’t high enough, she then got a master’s degree in chemical engineering at Princeton in 1981. She went on to start a career at Mobil Oil that would span decades, both in R&D and Technology Sales and Licensing. She was awarded 26 U.S. patents in the areas of refinery operations, petrochemical manufacture, and zeolite catalysis.

She and her husband retired in the spring of 2001. As fate would have it, P.C. was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) that same summer. What should have been a well-earned relaxed retirement suddenly became a super-charged quest to get him the absolute best care possible. She taught herself hematology, oncology and immunology. She started corresponding with experts and other patients. Soon she was writing up her findings and sharing them with the patient community. CLL Topics was born soon after as a non-profit patient education and advocacy website. She was the chief science writer, bringing her formidable talents to help patients around the world. Of the many things she achieved in her lifetime, CLL Topics was one of her proudest.

P.C. passed away in June 2008 due to complications from a bone marrow transplant that was attempted to cure his CLL. She was devastated. In some ways, she never recovered from the loss. However, she continued her patient advocacy work with a re-launched CLL Topics Updates and continued to advise and educate CLL patients for another five years. Watching the success of such blockbuster drugs as ibrutinib for CLL patients was bitter-sweet – if P.C. had survived another two years, he might well be alive today.

After her second “retirement”, she took up competitive duplicate bridge and made many remarkable friendships in that sphere, along with indulging her competitive spirit.

Chaya was a fierce defender of people she loved and principles she believed in. She rarely backed down from a challenge. When she committed, she jumped in with both feet. Her brains were undeniable, but her ability to charm a room full of people, whether scientists, businesspeople, patients or friends, was also remarkable. Her standards were high and could be uncompromising, but her generosity was equally strong and widely felt. She loved teaching and was passionate about helping people understand complex topics in a relatable way, whether it was undergraduate organic chemistry or immunology for cancer patients. She felt very lucky that she was able to use those talents to aid people during difficult times.

She was preceded in death by her parents, her brother Srinath, and her husband P.C. She is survived by her mini Aussie Buddy, daughter Radha, son-in-law Peter, and many family chosen over the years.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to your local animal shelter if you are able.  Per her wishes there will be no memorial service, but please leave a comment below.

Be well.
Chaya and P.C. on a hike in Sedona with their dog Jasper