Anita Mantri’s unwavering determination, unmatched intelligence and undeniable selflessness will never be forgotten by her family, friends, colleagues and mentors who deeply miss her loving character.
A student in Texas A&M’s MD/Ph.D. program, Anita earned her Ph.D. in May as one of her first steps in achieving the ultimate goal of becoming a NASA flight surgeon. However, Anita’s intellect and personality were not contained solely within the realm of math and science, as proven by her fluency in multiple languages, love for performing and her caring attitude.
Shubha Mantri, Anita’s mother, said her daughter’s passion for space medicine developed at a young age, and even as a child she was determined to pursue a challenging career.
“She had a very long vision for herself ever since she was in kindergarten,” Shubha said. “She would tell the counselor, ‘I want to be a space doctor,’ and the counselor would say, ‘I’m not sure if that’s a real profession’ and she said, ‘Yes, I will make it into a profession. That’s what I want to do.’”
Anita’s love for education did not stop after class hours, and she used every opportunity to delve into other subjects, according to her sister, Trisha Mantri.
“She was super talented at languages,” Trisha said. “She knew Spanish, Hindi, she was learning Italian. She could pick up languages in two weeks. She was an excellent singer and had a really beautiful voice. She trained in both traditional American singing as well as Indian classical singing.”
In addition to Anita’s love for education and her future career, Shubha said she was talented in many different ways.
“Anita was everything really,” Shubha said. “She was determined, she was able to have a clear plan for herself; she was kind very loving, very generous. She felt education was extremely important for her and for anybody who wanted to have a very bright future, and so she always strove to inspire students toward their educational goals.”
For Trisha, the most memorable thing about Anita was her personality and ability to completely change the atmosphere around her.
“Whenever she would walk into a room you could just feel her presence, her infectious energy,” Trisha said. “She always did everything with 100-percent enthusiasm. She had a really beautiful smile and she really motivated people around her. She did a number of service and volunteer organizations. She was just that type of person to encourage you to dream big and believe that everything is possible.”
Anita’s father Vishakh Mantri said Anita’s kindness was evident from the day she was born.
“I have a lot of favorite memories but the first one was when I held her the day she was born,” Vishakh said. “She was our first child and I will never forget it. It was 6:46 p.m. Nov. 7, 1986. When I held her she had a smile on her face. Yes, she was a newborn baby, but she was not crying, she had a smile on her face.”
Vishakh said it was Anita’s character that helped her to overcome even the most difficult life challenges she faced.
“She had setbacks,” Vishakh said. “Not everything was smooth sailing for her in terms of her studies, but she overcame that. A lot of times it was biases and other obstacles she faced, but she overcame them with love and affection for others.”
One of Shubha’s favorite memories of her daughter’s selflessness was on a particularly hectic Thanksgiving holiday. Both her father and sister were out of town, and Shubha was studying for exams because she is working toward an MBA. Anita took it upon herself to make the entire holiday meal.
“It just surprised me,” Shubha said. “Everything from cocktails to dessert. The full turkey and all the trimmings. She laid the table and cleaned up after. It was just such a precious moment.”
Anita was absolutely fearless, and conquered everything she set out to do according to Ashley Jones, Anita’s close friend from their undergraduate years at Rice University.
“Anita was a very brave person and always found a way to do what she wanted to do,” Jones said. “She was interested in the islands so she took a year off between undergrad and med school and she taught elementary school kids in Fiji.”
Jones said Anita was an amazing friend, in both her personality and her never-ending care for those around her.
“Anita was so supportive of her friends,” Jones said. “She always remembered everyone’s birthdays. She would always make time to call even though she had a crazy schedule.”
When Smith Johnsonton, Aerospace Physician at NASA Johnson Space Center, met Anita he was assigned to be a mentor to her for a group project about strength and longevity.
“She was just so happy; she was such a smart individual,” Johnsonton said. “She is such a great loss to the profession and a great loss to all of us who knew her. We saw such a rising star. The sorrow is not being able to fulfill all that she could have fulfilled in the profession of space medicine. The joy is just having known her.”
On behalf of the Texas A&M MD/Ph.D. program, Interim Dean at the College of Medicine Dr. Paul Ogden said Anita will not be forgotten and will be honored with a scholarship in her memory for an MD/Ph.D. student.
“Anita is and always will be greatly missed by our Aggie family,” Ogden said. “There wasn’t a room that she didn’t light up, a place that she didn’t go that she didn’t make a friend. In all things, Anita excelled. I can say that her passion for science and medicine came from her great love for people, and a love for making this world a better place for everyone.”
Jones valued her friendship with Anita and said life without her will never be the same again.
“She would see opportunities places, and have the guts to follow it, Jones said. “That level of dedication and that willingness to follow your goals no matter what those things are, is definitely something I learned from Anita and that I want to incorporate in my own life.”
Anita touched many lives in her short time and for Shubha, Anita was more than words can describe.
“To me she was an angel,” Shubha said. “She loved singing, that was her passion. She loved dancing. She played the piano well and anything she decided to do she did very well. She touched a lot of lives and I think she inspired a lot of students.”
Vishakh said he wishes Anita had the opportunity to meet the goals she set, and knows his daughter will be missed by many.
“I wish she could have completed her goals and used her contributions to the rest of the world,” Vishakh said. “Her loss was not just our loss, it was a loss for a lot of other people also.”
Graham Scott, chief scientist at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, knew Anita as one of the students which NSBRI funded.
“We were just devastated that this happened,” Scott said. “When you see someone who was so talented and had such an exciting future as a leader, and she’s no longer with us just really saddens me and really saddened our institute. It’s a lesson that we need to make every moment count, and Anita certainly did that but I just can’t imagine what she could have accomplished if she had another 50 or 60 years. She was just such a talented person.”
Although Anita’s time on earth was cut short, Trisha said her achievements were truly remarkable and unforgettable.
“She was only 30 but she accomplished so much in 30 years, and did it with a lot of humility, a lot of grace and we were lucky to be a part of her life,” Trisha said.