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Indian American in Florida Women's Hall of Fame

By Suman Guha Mozumder in New York
February 05, 2008 15:09 IST
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In a rare honour, Florida Governor Charlie Crist named Tampa-based Dr Pallavi Patel for induction into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.

Dr Patel, a pediatrician, joined Justice Barbara Pariente and US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in this year's induction.

Her selection marks the first time an Indian-American woman has been extended such an honour in Florida, and perhaps anywhere in the United States.

'These women represent the very best of Florida,' Governor Crist said.

'Their accomplishments are not only impressive, but have impacted their communities in a powerful and meaningful way. It gives me great pleasure to honour their contributions to our state through the Florida Women's Hall of Fame,' he added.

Publicity-shy Dr Patel came to the limelight in Florida when she and her husband Dr Kiran C Patel announced a $5 million gift to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to establish a school in her name. That was in 2003.

Since then, the couple have continued their philanthropic work in the US and around the world, including India. In 2005, the family made a donation of $18.5 million to the University of South Florida, one of the single-largest acts of philanthropy ever by an Indian American.

Through their foundation, the Patels are rebuilding some villages in India devastated by the Asian tsunami.

"It is a great honour to be indicted into the hall of fame," Dr Patel told rediff.com.

"But we are even-tempered people and we do not get too excited or disappointed by anything. Honestly speaking, this honour represents the Indian-American community. God willing, we just and pray we can continue to do whatever we can for the community."

Dr Patel, who is used to striving behind the scenes to make the community a better place to live, has worked since 1989 to bring Indian culture to her adopted country by co-founding the Annual Indian Festival at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome. 

The annual festival is now in its 20th year, and one of the largest in Florida.

Does the award mean more responsibilities? "Certainly, it is not a burden," she said, adding, "I would be most happy to continue with the work that I have been doing for the benefit of the community, and I will."

She was born in Ahmedabad, India, to a socially active family. Her father was a lawyer and a businessman who played a key role in Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent resistance of British colonial rule in India.

"He worked very hard for positive changes in social development for all people. He had a profound influence upon me and my decision to become a doctor," Dr Patel said.

She graduated from medical school in Gujarat, where she met -- and later married -- Kiran. The couple moved to Zambia, where they completed their residencies and ran clinics for several years. But the restrictive political and social climate drove them to consider creating a future for themselves elsewhere.

They arrived in the US on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 -- a day that still has profound meaning to both doctors.

"As an immigrant to this wonderful new land of opportunity, I will never forget how important it was to keep part of my culture close to me," she said.

After completing their residencies and fellowships through affiliated programs at Columbia University, they landed in Tampa Bay in 1982 where she established her practice.

According to the governor's office, this year's inductees will be honored at a ceremony March 11 in the Capitol Courtyard in Tallahassee. Honorees are commemorated by a plaque in the Capital Building that includes their biography.

To be considered for induction into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame, that marks its 25th anniversary this year, an inductee must be a woman who was born in Florida or adopted Florida as her home state and base of operation, and has made significant contributions to the improvement of life for all citizens of Florida.

In an earlier interview with India Abroad, Dr Kiran Patel, a cardiologist and former president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian origin, said he and his wife have debates, discussions and heated arguments.

"But at the end of the day," he added, "once we have ironed out the issues, her job is primarily to probe me, into making sure that I am really doing what I really want to do. She would be my mirror in a way. Overall, we have very similar goals, missions and ideals."

"You know what," Dr Pallavi Patel, said last week "both of us are blessed to have each other."

Past inductees into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame include singer Gloria Estefan, tennis player Chris Evert and environmentalist writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

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