Posted on: March 27, 2023
Ravi Rao (born January 21, 1969) has died after enduring ongoing cardiac disease and kidney failure. A fierce advocate for building emotional skills in children and adults, he leaves behind a legacy of creative efforts and lives impacted.
His varied career spanned four different pursuits: management consulting, training organizations on principles of “emotional business”, and creative writing-producing, all of which began after years spent becoming a physician-epidemiologist at his beloved schools of University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins. (When he wasn’t wearing a suit and tie, he was often seen in a t-shirt or hoodie with a university name in large letters across the garment front.) He also spent two years in Boston as a neurosurgery intern and junior resident, assisting world-renowned clinicians in the operating room and intensive care unit. It was there he was recognized with the 2000 Award for Excellence in Teaching of Surgery from Harvard Medical School.
He met most of his closest friends in his next chapter, a five-year experience at corporate consulting giant McKinsey & Company in Cleveland. Though a quirky creative scientist was not the norm in the firm of spreadsheets and PowerPoint, he was nurtured by the environment of love and respect there.
After leaving McKinsey, Ravi spent a decade working as an independent teacher/trainer of emotional neuroscience to leadership teams around the world. His adventures brought him to long client commitments in Nashville and Switzerland to deliver programs in listening, collaboration, and leadership with thousands of managers. His 2012 book, Emotional Business: Inspiring Human Connectedness to Grow Earnings and the Economy, remains a familiar item on many corporate bookshelves. At the urging of his long-time friend Jennifer Cain, he delivered a TED talk on workplace emotions.
Always known as a creative thinker, he spent the final years of his life in Los Angeles and Chicago as a prolific poet and storyteller. He aspired to be a television showrunner and authored an entire season of a scripted drama. There was always another idea he was going to write soon. He collaborated in producing the cute Hello Babies with Doctor Ravi video series to online platforms in 2018. He wanted to project a creative aura, and alternated between blue hair and purple hair combinations from salons. His declining health brought him from LA to Chicago to be cared for by family, but he continued to write new poems. Friends saw fewer photos and more verses as time went by. He often said, “Words are the wings upon which emotion flies into the world.”
A common theme across his years was his aspiration to help the lives of children. During his clinical training, he spent numerous on-call nights at the Children’s Hospital of Boston. He later volunteered with a number of children’s causes including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He greeted all infants as if they were long-time friends and beamed when he held a young child in his arms.
Ravi enjoyed working with college students as well. He was a guest lecturer in courses of long-time friend Professor Melissa Hawkins at American University. He also tutored university courses in calculus and statistics online during the pandemic. He was a volunteer mentor for young physicians through the UVA Medical Alumni Association’s Student-Alumni Mentorship program.
In his leisure time, he attended live sporting events, particularly baseball games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He ranted with passion about the success of various teams he rooted for, and claimed basketball’s March Madness was his favorite event of the year. He was also an avid reader of mystery novels, and had read over thirty of Agatha Christie’s books.
Born in southern India at just over four pounds, he contracted a severe case of measles as an infant. He emigrated to the United States with his parents and younger sister in the early seventies. The family originally lived in downtown Chicago while his parents completed clinical residency training programs. Ravi was a bubbly preschooler who struck up conversations with strangers in elevators.
Privilege played an important role in his formative years, beginning with Catholic education and later with prestigious university training. He identified as male and was from an ethnic group free of harmful social stereotypes and burdens. He also had the blessings of a devoted sister, parents, mentors, and friends. At each step of his professional and personal development, others supported him and championed his aspirations. He genuinely believed in the quote, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
Though his personality and achievements brought him attention throughout his life, he suffered challenges silently with the support of family and a small handful of confidantes. As a youth in the 1980s, he struggled with social anxiety and depression; he began seeing counselors as a teenager which helped him incredibly. While he was never of vibrant health or athletic skill, in his final decades he struggled with chronic diseases and sought treatments from numerous physicians to maintain his activities of daily living.
Though never married, he loved deeply and was loved in return in romantic relationships. He treasured quiet moments of connection over a romantic dinner in Barcelona or going to a movie in Hollywood. His favorite novel was the love story, “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”
He is survived by both parents (Sudha and Rama Rao), a sister (Rupa), a niece (Nina), and multitudes of cousins in India and America.
Maya Angelou’s famous quote will hopefully encapsulate our memories of him:
“People forget what you say. People forget what you do. People never forget how you make them feel.”
In lieu of flowers, the family is kindly asking for honorary donations to be made to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Dr. Rao has been a board member of this phenomenal foundation.