Dr. Raja Parasuraman of Falls Church, VA died on Sunday, March 22. He is survived by his wife and colleague, Carryl Baldwin, daughters Rachna and Shanta Parasuraman, their mother Rashmi Sinha, Russell (Krista) Baldwin, and grandchildren Paeton, Kaleb, and Cailea.
Raja was born on August 2nd, 1950 in New Delhi, India to Rukmani Krishna Iyer and T. S. Parasuraman. He was the youngest of four children: Chandra, Saroj, and Bala. Raja was the baby of the family with an age gap of 16 years between him and Chandra.
Raja's daughters were the center of his life from the moment they were born. He bathed them, cooked for them, played monsters with them, and made up whimsical yet foreboding stories about chubby hippos and elephants and the dangers of eating too much candy, and later took them to their sporting events, music recitals and college visits. He was their biggest support in all their endeavors.
Raja's early education was in New Delhi and Mumbai and then at age 16 an elite English public school. Raja had come in second in a nation wide scholastic competition but the first place winner's parents refused to let him go. Raja's immeasurable strength and courage grew then as he struggled to adjust to the new culture in England (e.g., from vegetarian meals at home to bland meat-based dishes and overcooked vegetables). It was then when he began to learn to cook – a survival skill at first that later became a rewarding hobby much appreciated broadly by family and friends.
Despite little moral or financial support during this time Raja persisted - working various jobs, such as cleaning cargo ships in Calais, France – until receiving a B.Sc. (1st Class Honors) in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College, University of London, U.K. (1972). From there he went on to complete a Ph.D. in Psychology at Aston University, Birmingham, U.K. (1976), and a post-doctoral fellowship at University of California Los Angles.
Among his many accomplishments he held two university appointments, Professor of Psychology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. from 1982 to 2004 and then University Professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, from 2004 till his passing, where he also served as the Director of the Human Factors and Applied Cognition Program in the Department of Psychology as well as the Director of the Center of Excellence in Neuroergonomics, Technology, and Cognition (CENTEC), a field he was instrumental in pioneering. Neuroergonomics synthesizes two areas that Raja loved- human factors/ergonomics and cognitive neuroscience. His bridging of these domains, and the substantive contributions he has made in this area promises to be his fundamental legacy.
Raja had a brilliant mind, a kind heart, generous nature, and a gentle spirit. He accepted others for who they were without judgment. He loved being with people and enjoyed entertaining. His dinner parties were legendary, a friend of his recently declared. He was a superb cook who always had a glass of red wine not far from the stove. He could whip up a delicious and original feast with minimal ingredients. After the meal, when asked eagerly for the recipe, he would reply that it couldn't be reproduced, as he didn't remember exactly what he did, and furthermore, that the dishes were simply made from leftovers.
Raja loved music and travel, which he enjoyed throughout his life but even more with Carryl Baldwin, his wife, friend, and colleague. Together they played music, traveled – often combing work and pleasure and enjoyed endless evenings with friends in the tree house like back porch.
Raja was a devoted father, husband, friend, and mentor, as well as a talented academic. He was the essence of a vibrant, articulate, and emotional advocate for the improvement of the human condition. His passing impoverishes us all, but in this time of sorrow we must remember that each of us has been elevated by our time with him.