R. Sampangi (Sam) Ramaiah, MBBS, DTCD, FRCP, FFPH
(born 1948; qualified Bangalore 1972), died on 6 September 2010 at home from sudden and massive coronary ischaemia.
Sam Ramaiah accomplished his life’s journey from Yelethotadapalya near Bangalore, India, where he was born, to Sutton Coldfield in the English Midlands with elegant ease, making the transition across continents and cultures in sumptuous style, acquiring new tastes and revelling in the culture and customs of his adopted homeland while retaining an ardent almost passionate affection for all things Indian.
After junior doctor posts in Wales he took up a career in public health medicine where his easy manner with colleagues and a natural talent for leadership allowed him to flourish. He rose to become district medical officer in South Tees and then in 1993 was appointed Walsall’s first Director of Public Health. He held this post with great distinction, establishing a unique style of leadership, making literally hundreds of friends in the health and local authorities and beyond, becoming in the process the most recognisable public face in local circles, till his unexpected and untimely death.
Over the 17 years he served as Walsall’s Director of Public Health, and despite several reorganisations, ‘Dr Walsall’ as England’s Chief Medical Officer is once said to have referred to him built a large and flourishing department that led the efforts of both health and local authorities to reduce inequalities and improve health. He published scores of reports and scientific papers and in 2009 he was made Visiting Professor of Health and Well Being by Wolverhampton University.
At work Sam Ramaiah will be remembered as a tremendous networker, excelling, in the best public health tradition, in enabling, empowering and enthusing others with his vision and style of public health. He managed to make everyone he met feel special and important; no contribution was too small to pass unnoticed, no achievement unworthy of recognition. These people skills allowed him to build up a strong department in Walsall, attracting talented and skilled staff, including a steady stream of public health trainees, some of whom stayed on or returned to Walsall to join his team.
He loved his job. His working day often extended into the late evening or weekends – an evening meal and a drink in his favourite restaurant in Walsall with colleagues was merely another forum for discussing, influencing, planning or deciding about actions the following day. One of these ‘curry evening’ discussions led to the creation of WELCOME – an informal voluntary group of NHS managers, doctors and public health workers devoted to promoting the cause of minority and disadvantaged groups.
He was a friend to the medical community in Walsall, both as Chairman of the BMA division and as a health authority executive director, and worked with general practices to help them deliver the changes that he knew they alone could make to improve the quality of primary care for the least well off in Walsall. His skill as chair of many a fractious meeting involving general practitioners, consultants and managers was the stuff of legend, artfully defusing fraught situations with self-deprecating humour and disarming wit and grace.
Sam Ramaiah was a masterful organiser of meetings, events and conferences, raising funds to avoid having to charge delegates, and cajoling speakers to give freely of their time.
Sam valued education above all else. He supported a charity school in Bangalore that strove to bring learning and an English education to poor children. In England Sam was a governor of a primary school and a non executive member of the board of Walsall College. He received numerous awards but the one he was most proud of was when he was made Professor of Health and Well-being by Wolverhampton University.
Sam was a long serving member of the Board of the Faculty of Public health serving at the time of his death as assistant registrar. On the day he died he had just returned from a meeting at the Faculty.
Sam loved company, making no distinction between workplace colleagues and family friends. They blended into one large circle, meeting often at the elegant and fashionable home that his wife Jyothi ran when she wasn’t herself involved in community and voluntary work, or teaching English to newly arrived migrants. Divali, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthdays, anniversaries or no particular occasion at all, Sam did not need much by way of a reason to make an event of it. Ever the gracious host, Sam made a lasting impression on all who were associated with him for howsoever brief a time.
Over four hundred people made the time to attend a 2 hour long memorial service at Banks’ Stadium – testament to the high regard his colleagues and friends had for the life, work, and achievements of Sam Ramaiah
In Sam’s death, Walsall lost a devoted and committed public servant, many hundreds lost a friend mentor and colleague, but the most grievous loss was the family’s – his wife Jyothi, daughter India (reading medicine at Liverpool) and son Bharath (reading philosophy at Kings College, London)