Geetha Ramachandran taught three decades of students as a professor of statistics at California State University, Sacramento, but she was perhaps best known in the Sacramento region as mother and coach of the 1988 National Spelling Bee champion.
Her eldest daughter, Rageshree Ramachandran, became the first California resident to win the national contest. Seven years later, her younger daughter, Sohini, won the Central Valley Spelling Bee and also advanced to the national competition.
“She sought perfection,” Doraiswamy “Chandra” Ramachandran, said of his wife of 41 years. “She wanted you to try to do things to the best of your ability.”
Geetha Ramachandran, a Gold River resident, died Feb. 18 of lymphoma, said her husband. She was 67.
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Although Ramachandran’s name typically was linked to her daughters’ achievements in news stories, she was their role model, Chandra Ramachandran said.
As a father, he said, he could mentor his daughters, “but a mother who had a Ph.D. had a lot of impact,” he said.
Geetha Ramachandran was born Jan. 12, 1949, to A.S. Krishnan and Saraswathy Krishnan in Madras, India. She was the second of four children.
She excelled academically and was ranked “First Class First” in statistics – the equivalent of summa cum laude, her husband said – as a teenager in 1966. She also was the debate champion of Presidency College, an honor earlier achieved by former Indian President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
Ramachandran entered the graduate program at the Indian Statistical Institute, where she met her future husband and fellow mathematician. After earning her doctoral degree, she was a visiting faculty member at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the University of the Philippines, before coming to the United States in 1980.
In 1984, she joined the faculty at CSUS, where she and her husband were professors in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. She retired in January 2015.
Edward Bradley, a professor and former chairman of the department, said he and Ramachandran joined the CSUS faculty about the same time. She came to the university with outstanding credentials, he said, noting the Indian Statistical Institute has one of the world’s top statistics program.
Bradley said Mrs. Ramachandran was a scholar whose work was widely published in statistics journals, and she often spoke to academic audiences in the United States and abroad.
Over the years, she also employed her expertise in statistics as a consultant to several state agencies, including the Controller’s Office, Office of the Auditor General and the Department of Health Care Services. The consulting work, Bradley said, was done under contracts between the university and the state agencies.
Chandra Ramachandran said his wife helped pioneer distance-learning programs at CSUS, offering televised classes in introductory statistics for students whose jobs made it difficult for them to attend classes on campus.
Despite the demands of her career, Geetha Ramachandran found time to assist her daughters in their academic pursuits. In discussing her daughters’ spelling competition successes in a 2000 interview with The Sacramento Bee, she stressed the importance of not just memorizing word lists. True spelling, she said, involves understanding the origins of words and learning their meaning.
Chandra Ramachandran said both daughters have pursued careers in science and academia. Rageshree Ramachandran earned a medical degree and is a pathologist and director of pathology curriculum at the University of California, San Francisco. Sohini Ramachandran is an assistant professor of computational and evolutionary biology at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
In addition to her husband and two daughters, Geetha Ramachandran also is survived by her mother, two sisters and two granddaughters. She was preceded in death by her father and brother.
A service was held Feb. 22 at Mount Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks.