Raj Marphatia (left), who died last month, is pictured with Jim and Marilyn Copeland, the Jefferson couple who hosted him as a high school exchange student in 1977. From Jefferson, Raj would go on to become the very first nonwhite president of the Harvard Law Review in its 100 years of existence. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

AN UNBROKEN BOND

The late Raj Marphatia never lost touch with the Copeland family

The untimely death of Raj Marphatia, 60, of Palo Alto, Calif., last month meant a deep loss for Jim Copeland Sr., of Jefferson.

Longtime Jefferson residents may remember Raj as a Rotary exchange student from Bombay, India (now Mumbai), in 1976-77. He stayed with the Joe and Lucy Wyatt and Norm and Jean Lindhart families before spending his final seven months here with Jim and Marilyn Copeland and their family. 

The close Marphatia-Copeland bond continued unbroken for 46 years until Raj’s death, through continued communication and periodic visits. 

Jim and Marilyn attended Raj’s marriage in India, and Raj visited them in Phoenix during Marilyn’s final illness. There were other visits as well.

In conversation with me following Raj’s death, Jim emphasized Raj’s intelligence, but also his humility and his dedication to helping others.

“His brilliance of mind was excelled only by his love and compassion for all mankind,” Jim said.

Raj shared Jim’s interest in sports, and became devoted to baseball. The Copelands took him to games at Sec Taylor Stadium (now Principal Park), and he quickly learned the players’ names and kept their batting averages. He became, like Jim, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.

Jim recalls that when Raj first saw a heavy snowfall in Jefferson, he took off his shoes and walked outside into the yard to experience it firsthand (or firstfoot).

In India, Raj’s family had always emphasized education. He was planning to return to India after high school graduation, but decided to stay on with the Copelands through the summer. An outstanding student in both Mumbai and Jefferson, he took the initiative on his own to apply for a scholarship to Harvard University and was accepted.

That inaugurated a jaw-dropping higher education stint and a very successful law and accounting career, as noted in his obituary in the Wall Street Journal.

As a Harvard undergraduate majoring in economics, Raj wrote sports for the student newspaper and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He then earned a master’s degree in accounting from Northeastern University in Boston, and was hired by the accounting firm of Peat, Marwick and Mitchell, where he worked for three years as a tax specialist.

Raj took the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam, rising to the top 100 out of the 73,140 CPA candidates that year.

His academic interests drew him to law, and he entered Harvard Law School. By his senior year, his abilities were recognized there with his selection as one of the 82 members of the Harvard Law Review, one of the most prestigious law journals in the nation.

But as they say, “Wait, there’s more.”

Out of 13 candidates, Raj was selected as the first nonwhite president (chief editor) of the Harvard Law Review in its 100 years of existence. Barack Obama attained the same honor three years later.

Jim Copeland fondly recalls Raj’s wit. 

At a banquet in Boston with 1,000 notable guests to mark the 100th anniversary of the Harvard Law Review, Raj, as its president, gave the keynote address. 

His first sentence: “Let me begin by making a remark that Henry VIII made to each of his six wives, and that Elizabeth Taylor made to each of her six husbands: I’ll be brief ...”

After earning his law degree, Raj clerked for a judge in Puerto Rico and then joined the law firm of Ropes & Gray, first in Boston and then in California, where he specialized in transactions involving private equity funds. He became the managing partner of the firm’s offices in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. (He was always a top contender in the firm’s fantasy baseball leagues.)

Raj met his wife, Nalini, a social psychologist also with outstanding academic achievements, and they married in 1988, returning to India for the ceremony. 

Nalini taught at Tufts and Holy Cross universities in Massachusetts. She took an internship at Stanford University in Palo Alto and upon its completion she accepted a tenured position on the Stanford faculty.

The Marphatias had two daughters, Maya and Leena, who graduated from Stanford and Harvard, respectively. Nalini passed away in 2013.

Raj remained grateful to Rotary throughout his life.

His funeral remembrance program included a request that “in lieu of flowers, Raj’s girls would like you to donate to the Rotary Club of Bombay – North. When Raj was 17, he won a Rotary scholarship to study in the U.S.A. and began his life in America in the lovely Midwestern state of Iowa.”

Jim Copeland was honored to speak at the memorial service.

I have no doubt that a big chunk of Raj’s success — and his life of service to others — came from his year in Jefferson, and the close bond that developed here with the Copelands.

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